We are speeding. It is pitch black. My driver is drunk. There are potholes. And speed bumps. I remember it from the day… as a dirt road. As my head hit the ceiling of the 30-year-old French car, the feeling of incredulousness exploded all over my body. “Hi, My name is Anna and I am about to die.”
The jetlag probably did something to numb my sensation of life at that point because I couldn’t understand why I didn’t claw my way out of the car or at least scream at the driver to stop and let me out into the Nairobi Night. Yes, good idea, let me out into the lightless suburb, to fend for myself in this foreign land. Maybe some level of subconscious logic, which had assessed the whole situation and taken everything in to consideration, had taken hold of me after all. All I knew is that I sat there, calm, ready and incredulous at my imminent death.
Lets play a game of which is worse! My mind flashed back to the time when I had a choice.
Option one: I could call a taxi (but first I had to find the number, or better yet, just ask everyone in that whole bar if they knew a taxi driver). Then I would have to trust the taxi to take me from the only light in this neighborhood on the edge of Nairobi somewhere (I wasn’t sure where) through the darkness to any hotel that I could trust. I might end up spending half of my tuition for next semester, which is the price that it could cost a foreigner like me in compromised positions such as mine.
Option two: I could pick any African man at the bar and chat him up with the hopes that he would help me out. The looks I was getting made me feel as though I was quality prime rib on the auction table at half price. So I would seek amongst the hungry eyes that noble butcher who was willing to keep me over night. The one who didn’t feel entitled to taste. The very wolf who wanted to protect a vulnerable, bleating and lost lamb. I would trust in the power of vulnerability to find me a safe place to sleep for one night.
Option three: I could find Brian, my couch surfing host in the bar. Try to wake him from his passed out state and somehow convince him to take me home. Home – was his jail cell sized apartment with matching metal door and metal bared windows and a queen sized bed taking up almost the entire floor. The night before we had shared this bed for sleep only. If there wasn’t so much black mold, the smell of gasoline, which came from his camp cooking stove and preconceived notions about african men, there might have been some sleep to be had.
Option three seemed like a much more favourable choice except that I had not been successful yet. If I were to rewind with you through the last excruciating hours, of jet lag, of begging, of pleading, of reasoning and finally of crying and making a public scene, then you would see how something so simple was actually impossible.
Yes, option three was my choice and somehow the plan when horribly awry. I can’t remember all fuzzy details of how I managed to wake this 6’3 young African man. I found him passed out at a table full beer in his hand. Perhaps, I slapped him awake. Perhaps, I tried to pick him up and half carried him out. Perhaps I had tried this more than once that night. In the end, movement happened when he found his ‘brother from another mother’ Lewis. Lewis would drive us home.
It seemed like the stars were finally aligning into their rightful place. It seemed like things might go, as my sleep deprived self would have dictated. It seemed like I might actually be allowed to close my eyes. And hallelujah I would arrive on punctual time for the mandatory literary workshop tomorrow.
An eternity later, we all arrived at the car in the parking lot. This gathering should have, in my mind taken 30 seconds. Brian and I had affectionately been calling the phenomenon of 30 seconds turning into 3 hours: African time.
In the process of getting to the car is when I realized that Lewis was stumbling. Stumbling drunk. Two people jumped in the car to catch a ride with us sandwiching me in the middle. This added to the chaos, which happened at a relatively slow pace but was so acute in my experience of this far away land.
My mind was churning the options again but I remembered that I was here for some culture shock and I was here to go with the flow and I was here to learn about a way of life that I have never lived. There was a sweet sweet sleeping princess at the end of this journey and I was ready to climb the Everest type mountain, cross the rickety bridge and fight the flying, fire breathing dragon with one hand tied behind my back or ride with a drunk driver. We would be home soon. I would be asleep. Tomorrow morning I would be fresh as a daisy ready to make logical choices again.
I got in the car and told my-self outrageous propaganda such as “you only live once” and “just do it”. Thank you Nike, you have just help me make the last decision of my life.
“Bang!!!” two cars collided, right behind us… at an African walking pace. Each car had a small dent in its bumper. The presumably drunken drivers got out to discuss the matter. A crowd formed, of the bars drunken patrons. It was a riot in that parking lot! This was incredible. My hopes, my dreams, all crushed along with the slowly colliding metal. We were enclosed on all sides by people and chunks of metal meant more or less be driven. Completely trapped.
Just when all was lost someone proposed we move the two motorcycles parked in front of us. A group assembled and made relatively short work of the two-wheeled vehicles. Freedom. There was no wind blowing my hair. I was a sardine jam packed in the back of a metal box but I never felt so free as the moment we pulled out of that parking lot.
Driving away I was so sure that we would finally make it to that safe moldy place to sleep. That is when Lewis decided to show “this Canadian girl how Kenyans drive”. I look in horror as the car moved into the oncoming traffic lane, to play chicken. Our opponent is a bus.
Of all the sinking feelings I got that night, of all the bars that Brian and I went to and I begged and pleaded to leave from, of all the times I down right cried because I was so frustrated by my host, so very tired, and so powerless to chose, that moment was so low, my gut straight up and left my body.
An instant later I was high. I had chosen this death. I had known the consequences and still gotten in a car with an intensely drink driver. Finally, I had regained control of my situation. I gained a sense of peace as I hallucinated that I was the one pulling all the strings of this universe.
The one thing I was sure that I wasn’t hallucinating, was the headlights of the bus becoming clearer and closer. Reminding me I had split seconds left to go. I gave myself into the oncoming death. The bus drew nearer, and our ancient French model speed up over the uneven ground. The car managed some semblance of stability, failing only at the deeper potholes.
We swerved into the left lane at the very last African minute. Inches from death only to find that someone decided at that particular moment to pass the bus and were now in our lane, as coming traffic. Saved from death only to die.
It seems magical how that car maneuvered out of our way. Ballet like grace preformed by a French rust bucket on wheels. From the reactions of the others this seemed like your average Friday night. I could tell from their unfazed expression and occasional complaint upon head bumpage, that this near death experience was not something exceptional. I felt lost in my own personal world of culture shock.
“W.T.F.?” It’s amazing how many times you can repeat this phrase to yourself in such a warranted situation without actually getting any answers. Almost death had given me almost life and I occupied a liminal space from where risks were an opportunity to shift in perspective. “Hi, My name is Anna and I am about to learn life.”