Monday, March 05, 2007

In my country, there's a problem...

And that problem is the transport.

As I mentioned in my last post, at the end of last week, I had been pretty eager to get out into the field and start doing interviews; I arrived in Nanyuki on Wednesday and had been in a bit of a holding pattern all day Thursday and Friday, as Saaya had some meetings regarding his HIV/AIDS initiative. At any rate, he and I had sat down on Thursday night and sketched out a relatively ambitious schedule for Friday and Saturday night whereby we would interview 5 or 6 elders from in various neighborhoods in his home community, Il Ngwesi, and then return to Nanyuki sunday so he could have a final meeting about the HIV/AIDS initiative. We arranged to rent a small Suzuki four wheel drive vehicle from his uncle, who works as a community facilitator for the Laikipia wildlife forum. I got a bit nervous when I saw the car, as it looked pretty old and beat up, but he assured me that it drives well.

So around midday on Friday, we set off, eager to get to the village where were going to be doing our first interview. About 15 minutes out of Nanyuki, we started to smell smoke, and when we pulled over, the engine was totally overheating, and it looked like a tube from the radiator to the engine had cracked, meaning that no water was getting to the engine, which is why we were standing at the side of the road looking at a hot, steaming mess. Luckily, while were stopped there trying to figure out what to do,Githeri, a family friend of Saaya's who just happens to work as a mechanic, was coming by on a bus, and he stopped and gave us a hand, changing the tube, and riding with us to the next closest town, where he proceeded to tinker with the engine for the next 2 hours or so- as soon as he fixed one thing, something else seemed to blow.

At any rate, once he got everything fixed and running, we were quite eager to get back on the road. Saaya, Githeri, and I piled into the Suzuki, and we headed off towards our first interview. However, once we got out of range of this village, the roads started to get terrible, until it narrowed to little more than a dusty, uneven path. How bad was it? So bad, in fact that at one point, we skidded off the road and the vehicle TIPPED OVER ONTO ITS SIDE. Everyone was fine, as we were wearing seatbelts, but we were definitely a bit rattled, as was the Suzuki. There were relatively substantial scratches and dents, and the rear view mirror on the driver's side had come off completely. In addition, all of Githeri's intrepid tinkering had apparently been undone, and for the rest of the day, the suzuki stalled out every 20 minutes or so. By the time we got to our first interviewee, it was 6 PM. We decided to just do the interview, and then cut our losses and head back to Nanyuki to have the car looked at by a car repair shop.

The interview went well, but on the way back to Nanyuki, I couldn't help despairing a bit. It sunk in just how tough it is to do research (or anything for that matter) here, and just how bad the transportation infrastructure is. Even though one of my big aims in my dissertation is disproving arguments that state weakness in Africa is solely due to bad roads and other infrastructural problems that make broadcasting power difficult, I am now certain that this is in fact a part of the picture that it is IMPOSSIBLE to ignore.

1 comment:

mpc said...

I have never been in a car/van/truck/bus that has tipped onto its side. It's something I'd like to try, once, in a controlled setting. Definitely not something I'd like to do while running late in a car with engine problems on a dusty, windy road in the middle of nowhere.

My question: do people get pissed off when you guys roll up late, or is it just an understood thing that yeah, vehicles tip over sometimes?