Thursday, November 13, 2008

Keeping my ears open

To make up for a day spent in a high-up classroom trudging through a cross-discipline mash-up of theorists and confronting just how little I know, the end of my day rewards me with the rich sounds of downtown Nairobi. On my walk to the bus stop I pass a woman in slightly muted but still colorful kangas, shaking a maraca-like rhythm instrument and singing songs I wish I understood from her now familiar spot. Today she hits a cadence higher than normal and so beautiful it makes me stop for a moment, wishing my bulky bag was easier to maneuver so I might offer her some change.

A block further I hear one of the local mosque's familiar call to afternoon prayer, then a bit of conversation about the sister of the woman to my left. Crossing the street I am surprised to see the crossing light is actually green – a few days ago I caught myself subconsciously walking to the crosswalk before I corrected myself with a reminder that there’s really no need for such formality – in Kenya you just cross (sometimes in a sprint) wherever the traffic offers a bit of respite (or you can at least make eye contact with the drivers coming your way).

I walk alongside the barrier in front of the post office that separates the passengers from the buses we are attempting to load. I listen for the call of the #46, which in full is “Hurlingham, Ya Ya Center, Kangweri,” but sounds like “Hurlingyakangweri, kangweri kangweri!” It’s really only perceptible in auditory hindsight. Before we leave another driver approaches our driver to ask him to move forward, calling out a friendly, “Hey, boss” to get his attention.

We wait for the bus to fill then the engine revs and we lurch forward, passing through the puddle-filled roundabout as the ticket lady starts to collect our change. She issues our tickets with a quick crank of the ancient metal machine she wears over one shoulder. As we climb Valley Road we take the sounds of downtown Nairobi's car horns with us in the direction of the setting sun.

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