February 7, 2014
In 2010, a driver named Mumias picked me up at Wilson Airport when I returned from South Sudan on AIM Air (Africa Inland Missions). The pilot had called ahead to arrange for a driver, and Mumias often drives for them. He’s been driving for me on every trip to Nairobi since.
I’ve been to his two-room home, met his wife and four children, and if I have time in my schedule, I take them to dinner and introduce them to surprising foods like pizza, spaghetti, sushi, and salad. On this visit, they loved the sushi and pizza. Lilian, an eighth grader, communicates with me by email when I’m in the US, informing me of special holidays in Kenya as well as breaking news like the fire at Jomo Kenyatta airport and the bombing at Westgate Mall. I write her my arrival times, and she lets her father know when he should meet me at the airport. On this trip, I visited the three oldest at their school.
Though I tried to arrange visitation to Kakuma Refugee camp before leaving the US, my contact person was out of the office. I finally reached her by phone, and she assured me she would authorize my visit. Though she was able to book reservations for Jessica and I on the UN plane to return from Kakuma to Nairobi, the flight from Nairobi to Kakuma for Monday was already full.
Our choices – join an AIM Air flight to Lokichoggio on Tuesday which would allow us only three actual days in the camp. A commercial airline, Fly540, flies to Lodwar every day according to their website, but the online booking showed no availability. When I called, it turns out they fly only a few times a week, and the only available seats were on Thursday. There are no longer any commercial airlines flying to Lokichoggio.
Mumias said he would drive us. We were heading to Nakuru on Saturday to visit some of our Kenya students (South Sudanese from Kakuma Refugee camp) at Roots Academy, a primary boarding school. We could proceed from there past Eldoret and stop at Kitale, driving the rest of the distance on Sunday. Moses, the first of our Sudanese students in our Kenya program, suggested that the road was too rough for Mumias’ small Toyota station wagon and that the drive was as long from Nairobi to Lodwar as it was from Kitale, so we could return to Nairobi after visiting day and take the bus from there on Sunday. Of course it turned out, even the bus had to go through Kitale from Nairobi.
Not yet knowing that, Jessica was up for the bus ride, and though I didn’t look forward to it, I agreed it would be something we could cross off our bucket lists: 1. Travel to a refugee camp over tough terrain through dangerous areas for 12 hours on a crowded bus with no bathrooms. DONE.
But there were complications. We would have no opportunity to buy tickets until Sunday morning, we hadn’t yet heard from the contact at Kakuma to inform her of our arrival date and time, and we did not have housing confirmed.
Since we had already separated belongings to leave nonessential clothing and items at Mayfield Guest House, we went to dinner that evening with Victor, who had been the pharmacist at the JDF clinic in Duk Payuel from my first visit there in 2007. Now he is back in Kenya earning another degree in community health. When we got back to Mayfield that evening, it was bedtime. Assuming that we were not leaving on our six-day adventure until Sunday, we dropped into bed, neglecting to pack up for an early morning departure.
In the morning, Jessica searched for a map of Kenya – something we should have done from the beginning. This was when we learned that returning to Nairobi from Nakuru would simply add more hours to our drive. There is no other road that leads to Kakuma.
Meanwhile, Mumias had talked to other drivers and to police to learn the particulars of the drive and security. We hadn’t even told him we had decided to take the bus. He was certain he and his car could manage the road to Lodwar. What we didn’t realize was how really, really tough the drive would be.