By Oroni Tendera
“The impulse to travel is one of the hopeful symptoms of life,” Agnes Repplier.
It is Saturday afternoon. The Machakos heat is almost unbearable. I am in a tuk-tuk taxi, with two other passengers, packed like sardines in a can. The driver shows no sign of worry or hurry. My clothes are soaking in sweat. I run out of patience.
“Are we planted here forever?” I mock his laxity.
He breaks into a thunderous laughter, before rolling the key in the ignition. The tuk-tuk roars into action and hits the road, Kenyan style. The woman on my left slumps against me as we approach the Machakos-Nairobi highway. “Excuse me, mama. Kindly give me some space. I am quite uncomfortable,” I plead, gasping for air. “I am not your mother,” she grumbles before muttering innumerable curses in her native language.
She assumes an upright sitting posture. Silence rules. The driver turns left, a few kilometers past the governor’s office. We follow a long narrow tarmac road, overtaking other tuk-tuks. A boy runs across the road abruptly, the driver sways past him, narrowly missing a stationary motorcycle parked in the middle of the road.
“There is a problem with the front wheel,’’ says the driver in rhythmic coastal Swahili, applying the brakes. Instead of dancing to the musicality of his accent, I nod in agreement. The driver jumps out of the tuk-tuk. I force my way past the hefty woman besides me, following the driver. She clicks and stones me with a cruel stare. The driver inspects the tyre. “Nothing unusual!” he remarks.
We return to our seats. My neighbor puffs up instantly at my sight. I wear a sarcastic grin in self defense. We get back on track, destined for the historical Machakos People’s Park.
“Where are we?” I ask impatiently.
“Open your eyes. We are entering Machakos people’s park!” the driver exclaims pointing at a blue gate in front of us. I cannot wait for further instructions. My patience is on trial. After parting with Ksh 100, I jump out of the tuk-tuk and run towards the gate. Children playing at the gate laugh at me. Perhaps at the sight of a super-slender man, running like a suspended marionette.
“Entry fee?” I ask the security guard at the gate.
“Entry to the park is free like air for individuals and groups of less than 10,” he says patting me gently on my back.
Concrete pavements snake through the park. A water fountain stands distinctively near the entrance. Every Saturday, holiday makers and business people converge here at the People’s park. Face painters and happy-go-lucky children. Slay queens and the pedicurist. Love-birds and the ice-cream man at the Lover’s corner garden. School girls and commercial photographers. University students bargaining for skateboards amid laughter. Senior citizens reliving their youthful days at the bar.
An artificial lake overlooking the park gets hold of my attention. I walk past a bouncing castle, a revolving merry-go-round and screaming zip-liners. Large water bodies have always driven me crazy. In 2014, I almost spent the whole day boat riding at Lake Tanganyika. This was barely a month after I had had a nasty experience with the Congolese marine at the Rwanda-Congo border. Excited by the sight of lake Kivu at Kamembe in western Rwanda, I dived into the lake without a second thought. I swam, unknowingly crossing the international border. Were it not for my mastery of Kingwana dialect of Kiswahili, I would have found myself crying behind bars in a foreign country.
“Welcome to Maruba dam. I charge Ksh100 for boat rides,” a middle-aged man standing at the shore of the lake announces at us rather than to us. I step forward. I am later joined by a lady and a man. We board the canoe and venture into the dam like free spirits, rowing it gently, taking dozens of selfies.
Conscious of my past experience with large water bodies, I remain cautious. One lap around the dam quenches my curiosity. I bid my three new friends farewell and retrace my way back to the gate, burning with a strong desire to rediscover the gems of magical Machakos county.