Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22, 2009 - Fourteen Falls

No, Grace did not fall down 14 times.

We took a little trip out of Nairobi on Saturday to visit a natural attraction called the Fourteen Falls: a waterfall site about an hour and fifteen minutes north of Nairobi. We've been talking about going to see the Falls for almost as long as we've lived here, although we have never actually talked to anyone else who has done it. It was just something we saw in our "Rough Guides" a long time ago and it kind of stuck as something we should do. After one week of being stuck in the house with a virus, I was eager to get out so we left at 8 in the morning to visit the Falls.

The Falls has the potential to be a great spot for those who want to get out of Nairobi without having to travel very far; there is great potential for camping and really appreciating a bit of nature. And, to give more context, we are used to visiting parks here that are run by the Kenyan Wildlife Service (the gov't), which are clean, well-maintained and employ trained, uniformed guides who are friendly and smart. Our expectation, therefore, was that the Falls would be similar to other places we have been.

The reality, however, is that the Falls are dirty and smelly and mostly unimpressive. When we arrived we paid a huge fee to "get in" to the site. Supposedly that money goes to the local council of the district, but we are not convinced (we wouldn't be surprised if the guys collecting the fee were pocketing some of it). Then we parked the car and were greeted by several young guys who wanted to be our "guide" of the Falls. Kristoffer asked how much and, of course, they told us not to worry about it, which classically foreshadowed the haggling that would take place at the end of our tour. The guy we ended up with was named "Steven" and within 5 minutes (or was it 2 minutes?) we could tell that he was drunk. Not only did he smell more-than-faintly of alcohol, but he started saying the same thing over and over and over (and over) again. If he told me fewer than 8 times that the river was called the Athi River then I am surprised. And, ok, maybe once just for fun at the end of our trip I did ask him, "What's the name of this river?" just because it was TOO EASY and I could not resist creating a bit of humor for myself. He repeatedly complimented Kristoffer's sneakers (so we were surprised that he never asked for them outright) and told us over and over and over (and over) again that his wife was dead and that he loved Grace and that I was a wonderful mama.

The water in the Athi River is essentially sewage from Nairobi and you can see below how dirty it is (imagine the smell to go with it). It was such a beautiful day and if the water had been bright blue to match the sky, it would have been a spectacular natural site. After looking at the falls, we took a bit of a "nature walk" with Stephen - who didn't tell us anything we didn't already know - to a small hippo pool and then we were ready to go.

So began the debate about how much to pay him. He asked for 2,000 Kenyan shillings, or about $25. Kristoffer offered him 500, or about $6.50, which I thought was even too generous. Stephen insisted on more money saying that this was his business and he had a large family to support, etc. So Kristoffer asked him, "When was the last time you drank alcohol?" Stephen thought that was irrelevant and kept trying to negotiate for more money, and Kristoffer kept asking him about when he last drank. After several minutes of this Kristoffer said, "Stephen this is your business. And if it were my business I wouldn't drink the night before and come to work drunk. If you had been sober and not told us the same thing so many times, maybe I would pay you more." So Stephen said he would take the 500. And as we were driving away Kristoffer reminded him from the car, "Stephen, stop drinking and use your money wisely for your family."

He (Kristoffer) was all fired up! As we were driving away and discussing this, he said to me, "I just hate Kenyan men. They are such a disappointment and I hate to see their wasted opportunities," which is a very good way of summarizing what we have learned in almost-two-years here. Kenyan men - and of course there are many exceptions to this generalization, but the reality is that generalizations usually exist for a reason - are lazy and spoiled and very, very frustrating.

So now we have been to the Fourteen Falls. I wouldn't say it was a wasted day at all, but it was a disappointing site, for me at least. Grace was very well-behaved and it was nice to get a little nature under our belts for the weekend.


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