“In Kenya, everything is road.”

My daily commute can be described in one word: muddy. I walk about 20 or 30 minutes (the muddier it is, the longer it takes) without a speck of tarmac or concrete from the point I leave my gate until I arrive at the office. Here’s the road when it has not rained recently:

You can imagine what it looks like just after the rain passes. Or when it’s still raining. Some mornings I go into the office late so that I don’t show up soaked. Some mornings I think the rain is done, so I head out, only to have it start again. My colleagues have said they can send a car for me on days like that, but on this section of road, you may be better off on foot than in a vehicle. Cars often drive a dozen meters off to the side, because it’s easier to drive on the footpath than on the “road”. Here’s a picture of one section of that footpath:

During my second week here, I was walking on the footpath next to the road on a particularly muddy morning. I heard a “beep beep” behind me. I didn’t react until I heard the “beep beep” again, at which point I realized that a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) was trying to pass me. I stepped aside into the grass and muttered an apology. “It’s okay,” said the guy on the back of the motorbike, with a big smile. I laughed and said that I heard the honking, but assumed that it was coming from the road. (The fact that we had this whole conversation while the motorcycle passed me should illustrate just how slowly it was travelling through the mud.)

The passenger laughed again, with his arms outstretched: “In Kenya, everything is road.”

I laughed and thought that, around here, nothing is road.

I should clarify that I live on the outskirts of town. Eldoret is actually a small city. It has a vibrant nightlife, a variety of businesses, and quite a lot of pavement. It just so happens that our office is located 2 km south of town, about where the tarmac ends. My house is another 2 km south of that. If you keep going past my place, eventually you’ll reach the paved highway, which curves around my neighborhood and heads south-east toward Nairobi.

On my commute, I see exactly one shop. It stocks a surprising range of products, from airtime to eggs and other household essentials. The sign reads “Shop”. Pretty straightforward. See below:

If I walk a little bit out of my way, I also pass by the “Obama Mini Shop”. It boasts fresh milk, but has never been open anytime I’ve walked by. I took a picture anyway:

I don’t see many people during my commute. I’ll see a few Kenyans walking to work or school, plus a few people on bodas or regular bikes, and at least one runner — after all, this is the Rift Valley. I also see a lot of cows. As fellow commuters, cows are far more courteous than New Yorkers. You just have to watch your step. Actually, you should watch your step in Manhattan too — and we can’t blame it on cows there.

Given the state of the roads here and in other locales around the world, it should be no surprise that expats love Land Cruisers and drivers. I don’t know if this goes for others expats, but I would add something else to the list: shoes that can handle these roads but still look semi-professional. I wear hiking boots on the really bad days, but on most days I get by with an amazing pair of Rockports. Sturdy sole, decent traction, and basically waterproof. I’m not a paid spokesperson. I just really love these shoes:

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P.S. Although hipstamatic photography seems to be the new thing (see here or here), the graininess of the above photos is the result of simply having a crappy old camera phone.

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