Preceeding Paul Theroux (page 4)
Preceeding Paul Theroux
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Getting into Kenya is another story
We had covered the distance, but we weren’t really in Kenya yet. After the usual breakfast on Friday morning, the four of us walked to the Kenya side and spoke with an immigration officer. He told us in a deferential manner that no foreigners would be allowed to enter Kenya by land. What a shock! Now what? The officer suggested that we fly to Nairobi or go back to Addis. The bandits, as the Kenyans called the shiftas, were also attacking anything that moved on the road south. We had hoped to join the next military convoy so we could be safely be escorted through the dangerous Northern Province of Kenya. We said that we had come through southern Ethiopia without any problems. The officer smiled. “You were just lucky.”
     The next plane was due Sunday morning, leaving us ample time to do some sightseeing within the confines of two-sided Moyale. The Ethiopian side had the police compound where we were camping, four or five little shops with canned food, soap and all the odds and ends for nomadic living — plus a little Coptic church built by the government, and possibly a mosque (I don’t remember seeing it). That was all. But, on the Kenya side it was a well-organized little frontier town: approximately two dozen dukas (shops), plus some restaurants and bars, lined both sides of a wide road that was in good repair; there were also government buildings, a clinic/hospital, a school, etc., all clean and neat in contrast to the Ethiopian side. I guess it was because of the British colonial legacy. Kenya had become an independent African nation only three years before.
     We heard that the military convoy coming up from Nairobi had been attacked, so we certainly would not be going that way. Then we were told that we would have to wait another six days for another flight out of Moyale. Four Beatle-haired backpackers had priority on the next flight; they had run out of money after hanging out in Moyale for several weeks, and had worn out their welcome. For the wait, all I could do was to go to the bars and drink beer, but since my traveling companions were tea-totalers (herbal, at that), that turned out to be boring.

Saturday was observed as Sabbath by Gerhard and Nelson (they were Seventh Day Adventists). Gerhard and I went for a little walk, while Laurie read her book and played with a baby goat. Nelson read his Bible. Since we had to leave the Jeep in Moyale, we needed to eat up all our food. We splurged with pudding, canned pineapple, and orange drink. For dinner Laurie and I had liver from a freshly butchered cow, while Gerhard and Nelson watched and ate rice. We celebrated with the Ethiopians – it was Emperor Haile Selassie’s 75th Birthday.

We had slept poorly — first, we worried why a policeman had come during the night to say, “Do not be afraid. We put three guards near you;” second, there was drumming all night long. Then it started up again and continued throughout the day. Disgruntled, we went next door to see what was happening and an Ethiopian bride arrived. We joined the wedding celebration, with drumming, singing and dancing, to pass the day.
     Even with all the partying, we heard the plane fly over the town, so we rushed over to the Kenya side and met the pilot. After we explained our problem, he said that he had unfortunately brought up only a two-passenger plane, but he could bring up a four-seater the following Tuesday for the remaining two Beatle-haired travelers and two of our group.

Day 9, Monday. Gerhard decided to sell his Jeep and fly out on the next flight after ours. Nelson hoped to go with a convoy, if one ever arrived, as he was East African. Laurie and I prepared to leave on Tuesday. Laurie finished her only book, all 573 pages. Now we had to leave, because she had nothing left to read, and we couldn’t venture outside of town because it was too dangerous. Waiting was hell, due largely to the sitting around in the stifling heat with nothing to do and no place to go.

Tuesday — Day 10!. When we heard the plane fly overhead, we piled into the Jeep for the last time and Gerhard rushed us across the border into Kenyan Moyale to meet the pilot. The pilot said: Yes, we could go, but Gerhard would have to wait for three more days. Laurie and I climbed into a police truck with the Beatle-haired brothers and went out to the dirt runway under armed escort. We were overloaded, and the small 5-passenger Beechcraft had trouble taking off. On the second white-knuckled attempt we made it, barely clearing the flat-topped thorn trees at the end of the runway. The weather was beautiful with fleecy white clouds, but every time we went into a cloud we hit a strong updraft, and in between we hit downdrafts. On this roller coaster ride to Nairobi, only Laurie and the pilot arrived with grounded stomachs.

News from whence we had just come
That night, as we were safe and comfortable in our Nairobi hotel room, the shiftas attacked Moyale. Sneaking close to town, they opened up with a machine gun, spraying both sides of town with bullets for 15 minutes or so. Then the spear throwers rushed in. The police fired back into the dark. Gerhard and Nelson lay flat at the bottom of a shallow foxhole for several hours as the battle raged over and around them. Bullets whistled overhead, thudding into buildings. They heard the shouts of the policemen as they fired back out into the darkness, sometimes from only a few feet away. In the end, the Ethiopian police killed several of the raiders, stripped four of them, and hung them upside down in the police compound where Gerhard and Nelson were staying. They didn’t get much sleep that night with naked mutilated corpses hanging upside down a few feet away. For Laurie and me, the trip was exciting, but it was beyond exciting for Gerhard and Nelson. The end was horrifying.

A trip that only increased his interest
Our trip had everything: good companionship, tension over mechanical breakdowns, fear of lions and shiftas, great photo ops, seeing different ethnic groups and Nelson’s reactions to them, and the boredom of just waiting around. And most important, it augmented two of my major interests. One is a life trip of photography as I was fascinated with documenting people’s way of life; this eventually led me into more than 20 years in portrait photography. The other is my interest in international development. The trip laid before me the needs of traditional people and opened a discussion within me over the ways to help them live better lives without destroying their culture in the process. This discussion still continues.
     After reading Theroux’s description of his trip from Addis Ababa to Moyale in 2000, I wondered if he was trying to find our kind of adventure but found instead only desultory boredom in a changed Africa. I would like it if Paul Theroux and I could get together and compare notes.

Wayne and Laurie went back to Eritrea and lived and worked there for seven years, then returned to their home in Shingletown, California, in 2002.

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