Sunday, 22 November 2015

‘Early Morning Run in… Nairobi’

Jambo! Karibu!

"Life is simple. You are born, you do your thing, and you die. It's easy. Anyone can do it." Joan K., a young Kenyan businesswoman.

I'm here in Muthaiga, an upmarket suburb of Nairobi. Feels good to be out of Juba. Reveille 0630 hrs. Press the Uber app. 15 mins later? Watch the taxi arrive on Google maps. Already know from my smartphone; the make, colour, number plate, drivers name, mobile number, even a photo. Please meet Samuel... the plan - take a taxi to the start point...

Uber recently opened for business in Nairobi. I've never used it before. Signed up yesterday. Let's give it a go. Will it work in Africa?

While waiting we warm up with excellent Kenyan coffee and some gentle stretching. ‘Ops’ has a couple of cigarettes. She looks good…

Ops, how are you feeling? Ready? Like a startled gazelle came the reply. Kids, never ever smoke...

0645 hrs. Chilly. Sun slowly rising. We drive downtown. We ask Samuel plenty of questions en route. Uber? His opinion? The type of conversation you'd never dare have with a black cab driver in London...

"Excuse me, do you have a view on Uber?" Frank’s eye line adjusts slowly upwards into his rearview mirror…

“Uber? Bleeding disgrace, that's what it is, should never be allowed. Even the French have the right idea. Uber? Cowboys, unqualified, unlicensed... that’s what they are, don't get me started mate. Know what I mean. Uber.... now I'm all for progress, not like some of em… by the way, what's that idiot Boris doing about it; sod all, that's what he's doing, don't get me started... Sorry governor, where did you say you were going...” 

Post-Juba (previous outing), I'm staying with close friends who some readers will know. The Dingles from Nairobi. One of whom is my guest runner this morning. I give you, 'Our Man in Port Loko'. 'Ops' for short. Last seen bouncing enthusiastically on a trampoline in South Sudan...

We arrived back a few days ago. By KQ. Kenya Airways. Those old jokes about Kenya Scareways are wide of the mark (apart from their pricing). A bit like BA being called, Bloody Awful. Er, um…simply not true. Mind you a KQ yarn/true story which did the rounds several years back is worth another airing.

"What is all the fuss about?" Watseka Sambu asked a hastily convened news conference at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. 

"A technical hitch like this could have happened anywhere in the world. You people are not patriots. You just want to cause trouble." 

Sambu, a spokesman for Kenya Airways, was speaking after the cancellation of a through flight from Kisumu, via Jomo Kenyatta, to Berlin. 

"The forty-two passengers had boarded the plane ready for take-off when the pilot noticed one of the tyres was flat. Kenya Airways did not possess a spare tyre, and unfortunately, the airport nitrogen canister was empty. A passenger suggested taking the tyre to a petrol station for re-inflation, but unluckily the jack had gone missing, so we couldn't get the wheel off. Our engineers tried heroically to reinflate the tyre with a bicycle pump but had no luck, and the pilot even blew into the valve with his mouth, but he passed out."

"When I announced that the flight had to be abandoned, one of the passengers, Mr Mutu, suddenly struck me about the face with a life-jacket whistle and said we were a national disgrace. I told him he was ridiculous, and there was to be another flight in a fortnight.” 

Right, enough jokes. KQ are my favourite African airline. Let’s get back to Uber…

Samuel tells us he was one of the first drivers hired. He enjoys working with Uber. He was one upbeat, happy fellow. His one minor gripe was success meant too many new drivers were being recruited. Too many drivers, less work…

He drops us at the Intercon Hotel downtown. No cash to pay, straight to my credit card. Receipt straight to my smartphone. Distance covered, route, duration and fare. 750 Kenyan Shillings. Just over $7.

What about heart and soul? Meaning those painful, but often comedic taxi ‘negotiations’ all over Africa, in particular, Cairo. Lagos anyone? Bandido taxi drivers in large cities in Africa could become a thing of the past. Strangely, I’ll miss them. I actually purchased a taxi once in West Africa, a story for another time.

Samuel gets out of his pride and joy and waves us off. I adore Kenya. I’ve made hand gestures before at taxis, but today everything feels like a feel-good moment. I wave back at Samuel. Let’s run…

0715 hrs. Right 'Ops', the plan for this morning? Perhaps do a couple laps of Uhuru Park, the hills for cardio, the monuments, the old boating lake, bandstand, back through downtown, go past Parliament and the historic buildings; oh, and I need some snaps for the blog. Finish at The Stanley for breakfast. Ops looks at me, and ex TLM folk will know this look, 'whatever'.

I’m thinking about this as we climb to the top of the park. Uhuru in Swahili means freedom. I imagine those early settlers coming to Africa a few generations ago.

“Look here Carruthers, the Foreign and Colonial Service is sending you to Africa for a few years. You’re an excellent fellow, the right material to represent King and country. What do you say?

“I’m not sure sir; Africa?”

“Good, that’s settled then. You are made of the right stuff Carruthers.”

“Where in Africa, sir?”

“Well, the most popular location is definitely Kenya. Indian Ocean, Rift Valley, a fantastic climate. Ruddy great elephants everywhere. Great hunting, if you like that sort of thing. We don’t need anyone there. Can’t get the buggers to come home.”

“There’s the Cape down south. Absolutely spectacular. Good for your health. The sea. Wonderful climate” We’re fine for people there. Can’t get the buggers to come home.”

“Many like the east as well. Abyssinia. Great climate, spectacular hills. We have everyone we need there. Can’t get the buggers to come home.”

"Then there are the Arabs in the north. Troublesome fellows. The Mediterranean. Many of our chaps absolutely adore Cairo. Can’t get the buggers to come home.”

"I understand sir. Is there anywhere left?"

"Yes, there is Carruthers. You’re going to West Africa. Most chaps don’t like it. Can’t get the buggers to go there.”

"Why sir?"

"Well, you see Carruthers, quite primitive. The place is ridden with disease. Fever. Many don’t come back. A lot of our chaps go crazy out there. Rains non-stop for half the year. Wild animals. Huge forests. Even headshrinkers according to some. You’ll be fine Carruthers.”

“Headshrinkers sir?”

“Don’t fret Carruthers. Send us a telegram, and I’ll send you a new bowler hat size 1 and a half, on a passing steamer if necessary. Let’s focus on the positives, shall we? Get packed up now, there’s a good fellow…"

Divas… Kenya. You know what’s coming… yep... I could live there. 

We’re running well this morning. Over 5,000 ft above sea level fires up the heart and lungs. Ops starts telling me about a recent family mafia wedding in Toronto, I encourage her for details. Maybe it’s the altitude, she’s never short of a word or 50 usually.

Here are a couple of smartphone snaps of the sights… see you at The Stanley Hotel…

The Stanley Hotel. Breakfast here we come...

Thank you Ops, you're the 4th best guest runner to-date. Hey, let's have every course this morning, we deserve it. Then another Uber back to Muthaiga... 

Let me close out in Swahili, "Gari langu linaloangama limejaa na mikunga." A saying useful in all languages. 

Now it's back to West Africa. Sayonara... or, perhaps more appropriately Kwaheri, see you in London for the end of year wrap up...