#3 - Brokedown in Kenyan
Jody Finver - 10 August
(Moyale, KENYA) – This week’s entry was
to be about my propensity to be singled out and bitten by all
things that crawl and fly. In Capetown it was bed bugs. In Tanzania,
mosquitoes. Topped off in Masai Mara (Kenya’s Serengeti) with
an insect of unknown origin that caused my left hand, wrist
and forearm to swell to Oompa Loompa proportions. In Nakuru,
Kenya I saw two doctors. The first, concerned with secondary
infection , a risk of compressed arteries leading to nerve damage,
referred me to the second. Nervously and itchily, I waited 6
hours, with Gulin and Jeff rotating as my chaperone, to be seen
by Dr. Mariuki. He was a dermatologist, but I have a sneaking
suspicion that the line of patients waiting to be seen (15)
probably had more to do with the fact that he was not only a
dermatologist, but a venerologist. He treated STD's. Outside
of him asking that I take my top off for him to examine my wrist
(I so did not) I'm pleased to announce my hand is better. The
antibiotics worked. And there's no permanent nerve damage.
As I said that was to be my topic, but
it has been replaced. The following is pretty much a play-by-play
account of the most ridiculous breakdown and repair. Followed
by a bone of contention/letter to the editor.
We were driving through Northern Kenya
heading to the border of Ethiopia. The drive required an armed
escort. We had Stanley. He was to protect us from rebel Somalians
and highway bandits. In the middle of nowhere, we stayed in
his village that night -- a smattering of aluminium huts and
a pseudo volleyball court. Early the next morning, we remarkably
encountered another traveller, Jane, who was staying up the
road. She was recounting how she came across this village, years
ago, when she was driving and broke down in her truck. She eyed
our Landrover jealously remarking how lucky we were to have
such a truck. Uhhhh, can you say foreshadow?
As we said our goodbyes to her, Jeff broke
the news. We had no officer to accompany us on the road. Sally
looked at me. I looked at her. We looked at Gulin. Gulin glared
at Jeff. Jeff looked at the ground. We all stared at Jeff. Hmmmm.
“Well if anything happens, I'm warning you now… I am not stopping.
You girls just duck down,” and Jeff started the engine.
Duck down. Riiiiight.
First blunder of the day. We stopped to
photograph and film Turkana’s (local tribe), herding their cattle.
In exchange we gave them pens. We obviously overstayed our welcome.
A Turkana appeared next to our truck with a big, automatic rifle
asking for money. Jeff, speaking Swahili, exchanged words with
the young man. Sally quickly offered him a few pens. He took
them and considered what his next move should be. He again asked
for money. Jeff said no. So he took more pens. Actually, he
took the whole box. We drove away before he could argue anymore.
In retrospect, it would have been cheaper to pay him. Pens are
valuable in negotiations.
Next. If there is any advice that I, the
inexperienced manual transmission driver, can give to you about
driving a Landrover around the world it is this…
DON’T HIT A COW.
I was turned around in the back seat, arranging
our day packs behind a bungy cord and well, see…. the thing
with the truck is that it doesn’t brake fast.. it takes a bit
of time to stop. So when Jeff hastily smashed on the brakes
and I lurched forward, snapping back into my seat, I knew that
the sound of a thud indicated something was up. In the made
for TV movie version of this trip this scene would be seen in
slow motion… Sally saying “No, no, no, no.” Through the windshield
I saw a cow’s head looking at us and then gracefully being replaced
with four hoofs pointing up to the sky. Jeff closed his eyes
and looking up to the heavens.
My jaw dropped, as did the cow's, spear
carrying, Turkana owner. He was standing three feet away from
Jeff in the road trying to steer his cows out of the way of
the oncoming, braking truck. The Turkana stared agog. Magically,
the cow stood up from our love tap and walked away. Jeff rolled
down the window and as we rolled by the still shocked Turkana,
Jeff smiled, “It’s OK.. Pole, Pole (slowly, slowly).” Then we
high-tailed it out of dodge.
At the next police barricade/stop (where
you sign in and register the car) we had no luck getting an
escort. The chief wanted too much money and insisted we take
two guards. We only had room for one. He spoke to Jeff as we
drove off. We asked Jeff what the man said. “He said, don’t
worry... God will protect you.”
Finally, in Marsabit, the last stretch
to the border, we had to concede. Upon asking the police for
an escort, we basically had no choice but to take Joseph and
Michael and pay twice as much as the previously asked price.Gulin
offered to contort herself like a swami and sit on the back
ledge of the truck. Fine when we are stationary, but the way
the day had been going, chances are she would have done an impression
of a football and been lobbed through the windshield with Jeff's
fancy braking. Instead, she, Sally, Michael, his big automatic,
assault weapon and myself crammed into the back seat and off
we went. One hour into the trip, on the most extreme, craggy,
dirt road, through the most desolate landscape, in a region
where it was not ‘safe’ to travel alone, much less break down...the
truck began to lurch…
Jeff’s eyes conveyed the “not again” look. He said, “I think
we have bad gas.” I pointed out to Sally and then said aloud,
“The battery light is flickering.” We all looked to see the
gauge was now reading dead. And chug, chug, chug, then chug,
chug it chug happened chuuuuuug. The car just died. On the side
of road. Miles from anything. Drops of rain would float down
every now and then, just enough that I'd look up from under
the hood and stare at the gray gloom above. It felt like the
closing scene of the Terminator 1.
We set about to find and check the fuel
filter as well as siphon some gas from a jerry-can (the reserve
fuel tank once again was not working.) I grabbed the Land Rover
manual and Sally and I began translating. Did I mention our
manual was in Spanish? “Cambio del filtro combustible…” G'head
laugh. After locating the filter and seeing the gas was clear,
we decided to be on the safe side and use one jerry can. Gulin
called me over and asked if I could help her lift the can to
pour it in. I could lift it, but there was no way to pour. So
I looked over to Mike and Joe, our armed escorts and grinning
I said, “Boys, c’mere.” I handed Mike the can and said, “Be
useful.” I handed Joe the hose and said, “Start sucking.” As
Mike set down his gun (bigger than Joe’s) I said, “I’ll take
that.” And there I was in the desert, holding an assault rifle
on two officers ordering them to siphon and with great spirit
and humor, the constables complied. Gulin documenting our breakdown
Back under the hood, I went to Jeff and
said we should call Paul (our Land Rover guy in Zambia). Paul
was amazing and diagnosed the problem immediately. Jeff grabbed
our voltammeter and tested the fuel injection line. Dead as
a door nail. He looked and me and said, “Jody, do you have any
electrical wire?” What am I Ace Hardware? I said, “Noooooh,
but I have a cigaretter adapter to my cd player we could strip
or we could use the wire from the light that broke.” Sally interjected,
“I fixed that last night.”
Having no idea as to whether wiring from
a lamp would replace wiring for an engine, we grabbed our wire
stripper and crimping iron. Sally and Jeff did a MacGiver and
made a makeshift replacement. We plugged it in and it made clicky
Sally started the engine and it worked.
Hoorah!!! Jeff said, “OK, Sal cut the engine...uhhhh….. Sally,
cut the engine.” From behind the driver’s seat Sally said, “Jeff,
it won’t turn off.” I walked over to see Gulin, Jeff, and Sally
staring quizzically at Jeff's hand. In it were the car keys.The
engine was still running. “Interesting,” Jeff said.
After a bit more adjusting and also removing
one of our spotlights, a livestock casualty, the truck ran (we'd
have to stall to cut the engine). We set off for a bumpy three-hour
drive to the border.
One hour later, my super-sensitive, Radar
O'Reilly nose compelled me to ask the question I seem to nauseatingly
propose all too often, “Jeff, what’s burning?” We pulled over.
He got out. We watched him walk around the truck. From the right
rear an exasperated Jeff said, “Well ,we just blew the world’s
best shock absorbers.” We stifled ironic laughter as we drove
40 kph to Du bru, the next town.
Dubru is a small collection of twig huts
and concrete single-room, cell-block buildings all remarkably
claiming to be hotels. Sally and Gulin searched the 'hotels'
for a place to get food, while Jeff and I changed the shock
absorber. I handed off wrenches. I passed pliers. And then I
got under the truck, changed a washer and tightened the bolts
back up. Sooo coool.
The road was too bumpy to play cds and the silence was deafening.
Fortunately, Gulin had bought a tape of Swahili music while
in Nairobi. For two hours, we sang along to the same tape. “I
love you like fish and chips. I love you like Nyama Choma (roast
meat).” And at 6:20pm, we arrived to Moyale. The border. It
was closed. We said goodbye to Joe and Mike, and set up camp.
Hakuna Matata. It might sound hellish to you ,but I think all
of us would agree, it was an awesome day.
Now to the bone of contention.
Jeff says the truck has no name. But it
does. He is Max. No ifs ands or buts about it. Way back in Zambia,
I went in to a store to use up my Kwacha and buy us water. At
the checkout counter, I saw condoms that said Maximum. “It’s
your life. It’s your choice,” was their bold tag line. As a
joke, I bought packages for everyone as souvenirs and told Jeff
this should be the name of the truck. He looked appalled. I
said, “It’s like our trip. It’s our life. It’s our choice. Maximum
will protect us.” Sally’s boyfriend was still with us and began
to chant “Maximum... Maximum... he was a slave turned gladiator.”
Gulin said, “I like Max.” Jeff just shook his head saying, “...no....you
can’t….that is so wrong…”
We fought over this for a week. Finally,
after dinner the night of the breakdown I said, “Jeff, I bet
we wouldn’t have so many problems with the truck if you just
embraced the name Max. That’s his name. It's his job to protect
us. C’mon, it works.” Sally said, “Yeah, cause sometimes he
breaks.” “And then we’re screwed, “ I finished. Through laughter,
Jeff just shook his head and said “Ohhhh, that is so wrong.”
Later, smoking a cigar and sipping French
pressed coffee Jeff said, “I wonder if I should name the truck
Jinx”… Gulin said emphatically, “Jeff, the truck's name is Max.”
I said, “The truck's name should be Maximum Jinx Willner.” Gulin
grinned from ear to ear. She said, “Max.” Sally said, “We can
call him MJ.”
“When the truck is being bad we’ll call
him by his full name,” I said, completely ignoring the fact
that Jeff was still resistant.
We’re now in Ethiopia.. It’s 11:45am. Jeff
just said,” Great, now the left rear shock just blew.” The windshield
wipers are stuck at a 90 degree angle. And the speedometer is
the only gauge that works. On that note, Ladies and Gentlemen,
meet Maximum Jinx Willner. Fondly referred to as Max. I think
Jeff just needs some time to accept it, which is ok. After all,
we have a year. Provided the truck holds up.