I woke at about 4 a.m. because a man outside was shouting, “Why are you running away from me?” He repeated the question maybe three times, and then tires screeched as a car sped away. I could hear the security guards outside chatting and laughing, so I knew there wasn’t any immediate danger. I fell asleep and woke up in time to get to the Ngong town by 8 a.m.
I had invited myself on my friend J’s day out with her other friends. We’d agreed to meet in Ngong town. As I was waiting for her to arrive, I had breakfast at a place that served very hot mixed tea from a Thermos flask accompanied by big fleshy triangle mandazis. It was bright inside the restaurant and I was reading Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa. There was the chance that I might see Denys Finch Hatton’s grave on Ngong Hills—he had an affair with her—but this was not the motivation for waking up so early to climb five hills. I needed to escape Nairobi for a few hours, to remind myself that the everyday destruction going on in the name of development and progress was not all that Kenya provided. I read a few pages and then went to our meeting point close to a supermarket.
I’d just reached the meeting point when J texted to say that she and her friends were 13 minutes away. There was a noisy construction site and the sun was already blazing hot. Not even in Ngong town could I escape the sound of progress. I was also close to a water collection point so there were people coming and going carrying yellow 20-litre jerrycans. After 20 minutes J hadn’t arrived. She didn’t know that I’d spent much of the previous day waiting for a chair delivery that eventually got cancelled, and waiting generated anxiety–would she turn up? Would she, like the chair delivery, cancel on me? And, if so, would I still go hiking?
I went to another café to read my book. The waiter served me a cup of hot diluted milk and a tea bag on a saucer. It was the only way to justify sitting in the empty restaurant.
J called to ask where I was because they had arrived. The delay was caused by two wrong turns that led them to Kikuyu instead of Ngong. She came up to the restaurant to get me. There were six of us. We crossed the road to purchase fruits from a fruit vendor who told us we’d only get a discount if we came back the next day. We bought eighteen bananas and six mangoes. We got into the two cars and drove about six kilometres to the Ngong Hills gate. J who’d been here most frequently said we didn’t need to pay for the armed guards. We’d just trail behind the groups that had a guard with them. It was 10.30 am.
We met with cyclists and professional looking runners coming downhill. The largest groups were of students who had arrived in school buses both ahead and behind us. I’d expected that the wind would die down once we got past the wind turbines but it never did. Depending on how steep the hills we climbed we’d split into two or three groups and the first group waited for the others at intervals. We kept our jackets on. I struggled up the hill while J remarked that Ngong Hills wasn’t a real hike, just a nice walk. J’s climbed Mt Kilimambogo, Mt Kenya, Mt. Kilimanjaro and a few others outside Kenya—these were just hills.
At one of the summits we met a tired runner sitting under a tree. He warned us not to go as far as Kona Baridi if we intended to walk back. We gave him a few biscuits and kept going. J assured us that we wouldn’t be walking back. She’d planned for us to exit at the Kona Baridi gate, go by matatu to collect the cars in Ngong, or stay in Kiserian for nyama choma. This motivated us to walk faster. We passed children selling beaded bracelets, necklaces, and earrings, and men and boys herding cows, goats.
I was struggling up another hill when a man came by selling a walking stick. He held it to my face and said the hike would be easier if I purchased it. I wanted to grab the stick, but I ignored him instead and kept climbing. We passed through a narrow stretch and met a group of primary school students who’d sat down on the grass and were getting told about flora and fauna and such. They chorused what the teacher said. They looked tired.
After the last hill we met a group of hikers who’d hired a chef to provide a meal at the Kona Baridi gate. There was more food than they needed and so they invited us to have some. We had to hide behind the guard’s shelter to keep the wind from blowing away the food on our plates. I enjoyed the mango and sweet green and red pepper salad, chicken and rice. There was also tea. After eating I felt worse. I wondered if it was the food. I was told to lick salt and soon after I felt better. We walked downhill to find a taxi to Kiserian. Three of us got a free ride from the pastor of the AIC church close to the hills. He dropped us off at a petrol station where we met the other three who’d taken a taxi. Our group reduced as two of us had to leave. Three of us proceeded to the nyama choma place. There was an unusual large number of police officers along the roads controlling traffic or just standing. They were anticipating President Kenyatta’s arrival.
The nyama choma place we settled at had wooden bandas with irons sheet roofing, and sitting space under large umbrellas. Lingala music from the 1970s and 80s filled the air. It was packed already so we had to wait for seats. The waiter recommended that each of us have half a kilo of roasted goat meat. We ordered this, but asked her not to serve our food until K arrived.
A drunk man came and sat at our table. We ignored him. He didn’t stay long. As we waited for K, hawkers tried to sell us their wares. There was the faux gold jewellery, beaded sandals, beaded belts, and other beaded accessories, car accessories, shirts, underwear, and bags. They waved them in our faces. Two women in long purple dresses and headscarves walked around with notebooks asking for donations. The hike had not been restful, filled as it was with all the runners and students. And all the traders made it difficult to find some kind of peace.
K joined us more than an hour later than expected. The president was in the general area, and there had been a traffic jam. We were relieved to finally have our meal. We were all very hungry. The nyama choma was brought on a wooden chopping board along with a plastic bowl of kachumbari and two bowls with ugali. We ate the meat very fast. We sat around talking and drinking until sometime after 8pm.
Later when dropping off J, she told us that whenever she tried using Uber taxis, they’d cancel as soon as they figured out her destination. After the first turn, off the main road, to her destination I understood. The road was bumpy. It may have taken us about twenty minutes to cover a distance that could have taken five minutes on a good road. It was the kind of road you couldn’t speed through. J went into the house and returned with sachets of coffee beans she’d received at a conference. K and I left. It was past 9 p.m. and yet there many cars on the road which made it just as well that we’d had the delay in the morning because the traffic would have been worse if we’d tried to leave Kiserian earlier. I yawned big when the car approached my place. I alighted after thanking K for the ride. It was all quiet outside.