one of our favorite sights

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Hole in My Day

a simple solution!

my least favorite pathway

the source of my misery

this is a fun exercise!

 At first I thought it must have deeper meaning, and that it might indeed symbolize  something important,  because I have found it so personally upsetting.  However, after now watching it grow, deteriorate and destabilize, fill with water, stones, mud, men, rebar, wood and concrete, for some 6 weeks, I have accepted its presence, and I see that it is actually just a Big hole. The fact that it affects my daily routine and I must think about it every morning has got me thinking of it as somehow emblematic  of something here.  Mostly it just bums me out.
They dug  the hole about 7 weeks ago. At first it looked like a normal public works project, and there seemed to be some purpose. We were not clear what the purpose was, but after speaking to a few people who have been here awhile it seemed they were trying to deal with the drainage issues on our road. Apparently, our road, becomes “like a river” during the rainy season, something we have not yet had the joy to experience. Wisely, they  decided to work on the issue long before the rainy season begins, which should be in March or April if all predictions hold true. In fact, a couple of months ago, I walked by this corner, which is my normal path into town or to the hospital, where I volunteer, and there were some guys  digging a big hole by hand next to the drainage ditch and they were quite pleased with themselves, calling out to me “see! We are fixing the ditch!”, with big grins on their faces. I waved and acted as if I knew what they were talking about. They may have thought I was a different white woman, maybe the woman who used to live in our house; or maybe some other mzungu complained to  the city about the enormous amount of water flowing down the road making it impossible for pedestrians, last rainy season. In any case, they dug a big hole, and then left the large pile of dirt sitting for a couple of months. At first I wondered what they had planned to do but then I just forgot about it and got used to seeing the sort of harmless hill of dirt along my way.
So when the work started a month and a half ago, we felt somewhat optimistic that they were going to actually continue that job and perhaps even finish. Fixing a drainage issue shouldn’t be too difficult, right?  The first couple of days seemed to have ended up rather disastrously, with this large, I mean as big as your living room, LARGE  hole which takes up the entire intersection, being left. Well, it may not be as big as some American living rooms, but you surely could fit a few chairs, a couch, and an entertainment center in there. That is how big it is.
That same day, and maybe because of the hole, a large digging machine got stuck in it and lots of people gathered round to coach, discuss, laugh, and who knows what. Then it just seemed to fall apart from there. The hole filled with water from rains, the paths for pedestrians disintegrated, people fell into the sewage, etc. It was awful. Unfortunately for me, there is no better way to get to town and the most convenient “diversion” is a dirt road down the way which during the dry season gets so dusty you can’t see or breathe.  It became particularly bad during the first two very dry weeks that the construction was going on, because ALL of the diverted traffic went on that road. It was literally like a dust storm 24/7.
Luckily for us, the holidays were upon us and we were able to borrow a vehicle from AMPATH to get around. I don’t like driving around in Eldoret because there is so much pollution and the traffic is terrible. However, I dislike twisting an ankle, breathing in voluminous amounts of dust,  or falling into a sewage ditch even less, so I did let Michael take me to the hospital a few times at the beginning of this saga. 
Since my volunteer work was slowing down at about the time the first phase of the giant hole started, I didn’t have as much need to go in as I had had, but it was definitely cramping my style and making me grumpy about feeling dependent on Michael for a ride. It was, all in all, ridiculous.
Liam, of course, has no issue jumping over the various objects that are in the way, or the various small tributaries that have been created since the hole was first created. The pedestrian passages have changed configuration multiple times and they never seem to bother him.  In fact, for him and Michael, it is an endless source of amusement and entertainment.
Now that we no longer have a vehicle, I am braving the paths which run through a side hole, filled with rocks, trash, and some  broken  part of the sewage system.  I fear for my life each time I try to cross and Liam or Michael often have to take my hand so that I don’t get paralyzed part way across. It’s not high, it’s just treacherous. It seems like they would have put up at least a plank so that people could cross more easily. In fact, this is a major pedestrian, bicycling zone. It’s a major artery, really. But they did nothing to ease the way for all the people who use it. Michael, being in construction, has been trying to encourage, coach, give a bit of input to the crew and supervisor since the beginning, but to no avail. The thing is, no one else has complained, it seems. The Kenyans just keep walking through it as if it were completely normal, which, I am afraid, it is. Me, I want to yell at them every time I go by, “YOUR MOTHER IS A PEDESTRIAN!” but Michael says it would do no good.
On a daily basis now, being discouraged and pissed off, I  stand at the edge for a couple of  minutes before crossing, and grumble and moan to myself, sometimes striking up a conversation with a fellow walker.  I feel better bitching about it but everyone else seems to just want to get through it and get to where they are going. It takes a lot of nerve for me to go in that ditch. And I am not wearing high heels, or carrying a bicycle, wood on my head, children, or anything! Again, it seems ridiculous. A few days ago they put rebar in the hole. So now I have the added potential of being gored on rusty rebar if I do fall in! Yea!
The fact that the people in this city have not raised hell because of this work is in itself stunning to us. Perhaps we are spoiled, or perhaps we are just lucky to come from a place where the powers that be give a damn how the citizenry feels about what is going on. I think of all the letters to the editors and angry calls to city hall people at home make if say, the roads don’t get cleared fast enough after a snowstorm!  People just accept the misery. Their leaders are taking their money, and they know it, yet the same leaders get reelected time and time again. If you mention to someone from here that they could vote for change they just look uncomfortable and laugh. Or if you mention that the public works project is making it terribly inconvenient for the entire city, they will just laugh and shake their heads. “Yes, this is the way Kenyans are, “ they say.  One has to wonder what is up.
Maybe it  comes from generations of just having to accept that bad things happen and no one is going to make it better necessarily. There's a certain amount of complacency that is curious.  The other thing is , as we note, on a daily basis, most of these folks are busy trying to make ends meet, get from place to place, feed their kids, and pay their school fees. I doubt they have the energy to make a big stink about something so seemingly minor as a big hole in their way. They just climb through it and make their way. Me, I am not quite there yet, but I have learned two important things: 1) I am not nearly as nimble as your average Kenyan, and 2) I still want a plank.


  1. Get that industrious son of yours to fashion a walking stick for you Liz. It helps with balance and you can shake it at the public work employees!

  2. Hi! I've been trying to comment on your post with my "smart" phone but it's obviously not smart enough.

    Anyway, I think you are going to have to get Michael and Liam involved and go buy a freaking plank yourself! Now you know where to go, right? And you will be setting a good example of American know-how and proactiveness for the locals! :)

  3. Clearly, there are more solutions than the plank.
    Did you not bring your golf shoes, Liz? (I am shocked!)
    Or, maybe some bonafide mountaineering shoes with pitons?
    The first thing I thought when I say that pass was, "OMG! What if i rained?"

    Hey, by the way, I really am going to write you an e-mail and update you on me and mine. School started again and then it got crazy.

    Hugs to you and Michael and Liam!


  4. Update on the Hole! Progress is being made...unfortunately, Michael had to shout at the job supervisor and call the main office in Nairobi to get any action. The hole became deeper and more treacherous, then Michael yelled at the guy, then they built a bridge. My only concern now is that the motorcycle taxis are riding on it, they have dug an enormous amount of dirt out of the hole and it seems like it all may collapse. We will see, however! See picture above!

  5. Another update... the work has been completed...the culvert is built, they let it sit for a good amount of time and now it is covered so that traffic can go over it again. My only complaint now is that they've left loads of piles of dirt and lots of rubble and rubbish on the sides of the road so that pedestrians still have to maneuver a lot....well, at least the HOLE is gone!That one anyway!