Ripped Off In Kenya, And The Amazing Return.

What was supposed to be an early start for the Ethiopian border crossing now was looking to be a mid-afternoon departure. First things first. I had to get the bike unloaded from the lorry. My preference was to unload it somewhere away from the hustle and bustle of this Kenya border town. Getting both the bike and I suited for the ride into Ethiopia would be project. I needed to change out of my lorry riding clothes and into my riding gear. I needed to refit the bike with the top box, Jesse Bags and pack the few items I’d been carrying in the cab back into my Ortlieb duffels. Simple enough. But this is a process. Everything has its place. I’d rather set up and change without standing on stage in front of the glaring eyes of dozens of Kenyans.

As you can imagine, the bike was a dusty mess. After unloading shoes, clothing, and some bags of dolomite it took about six people to pull the bike down. Covered in white powder, sand and dirt, I only could think about the chain. It’d need a good cleaning along with the forks, brake discs. Abdulah refused to unload the bike where I wanted: an unused building just 100 meters from the border post. Instead, they unloaded me on a side dusty dirt side street. And soon enough I was surrounded by peering eyes of dozens.

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My bike was destined to get unloaded amongst a crowd of Moyale locals.

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Everyone wanted in on the unloading action — anything for a few shillings in this poverty stricken border town.

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First the shoes, clothes and then the dolomite – that messy powder.

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Huge sacks were unloaded before Doc could be freed.

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Despite the rough roads, slamming around and nearly tipping in the mud, the bike didn’t move.

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A gang of ten unload the machine from its home for the past 60+ hours.

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The poor old AirHawk “ass pad” and everything else got covered in sand, dust and dolomite.

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It’s Alive!

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I tried to perform my duty as methodical as possible while keeping my eyes on my gear. At one point an inebriated man plowed his way through the crowd and pushed his face and with alcohol tainted breath simply put his arm around me and demanded, “Give me something muzungu!” He leaned over and picked up one of my gloves and started walking away. I grabbed the back of his shirt color and yanked him back.

“Give it back!” I demanded. Meanwhile the crowd backed away and I pushed the drunk into the circle. He came back.

“Give me something.” I ignored him and pushed him back again. My patience was taxed. I didn’t have much time and I knew crossing the border could take more than an hour. The last thing I wanted was to stay on the Ethiopian side of this remote border post.

The crowd just stood there watching forming a semi-circle completely around me. Perhaps thirty or forty people. “Isn’t there school today?” I asked. It was Good Friday. Even though I could hear the praying from the speakers of a nearby Mosque, this town and all of Kenya recognized Good Friday as a holy day. “Am I that interesting?” I asked again. I played a few language games and impressed the crowd with a few funny phrases of Swahili I’d learned, while I equipped the bike for my journey into Ethiopia.

The drunk finally disappeared and as I stripped down to my underwear and pulled on my riding pants, I remembered my cell phone in the pocket of my light-weight Ex-Officio convertibles. Sitting on the concrete step of a closed-up shop, I had hung my heavy BMW Rallye2 Pro jacket on the padlock latch of the store behind me to keep it off the dusty and dirty ground. I was almost ready to go. I packed away my “street” pants and then turned around to put my cell phone in the zippered breast pocket of my riding jacket — where I’ve always carried my cellphone since departing on this journey nearly three years ago. I then sat back down and put on my boots. Took only a few seconds and I popped up and went for my jacket eager to blow this town.

That’s when I noticed the breast pocket was unzipped. I reached in and came up empty-handed.

Someone ripped off my SonyEriccson PIi mobile phone. I was flushed first with desperation. Then emotionally spent. I’d spent all but about five of sixty-hours in the cab of a Mitsubishi truck across perhaps the harshest terrain in Kenya, I was hungry and while I could see Ethiopian hills just a scant few kilometers away, I seemed stuck and down and out in the dusty dump of Moyale. I wanted to cry.

With a cracked voice wreaking of disappointment I addressed the crowd while rising up my hands in angst, “Don’t do this to me Kenya!” As I walked into the crowed the space around me thinned, “I’ve travelled for more than two years and no where has anyone stolen anything from me,” I turned to the oldest and frailest man in the crowd, “do you really want Kenya to earn the first price of thievery ?” I asked.

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The crowd that gathered here on Good Friday staretd wiht kids and before I was ready to leave it few to more than 30 people. Who stole my mobile phone?

Silence fell and a two stroke motorbike buzzed by and stopped to listen.

“Who stole my phone?” I demanded. “I want it back right now!” I’d try anything but overreacting with anger or rage would only worsen my predicament. “Someone here saw the thief who stole my phone.” My back was to the jacket as I put on my boots, but more than 20 eyes had a clear view of the robbery. “Who stole it?” I address a young boy on a bicycle. “Did you?” I asked turning to young Muslim woman. “You?” I thrust my arm with forefinger extended pointing at the forehead of a man with five inch scar going diagonally across his cheek.

Finally a young boy who stood barely to my waist came forward, “I saw him.” Then another older guy came forward questioning the kid who spoke very little English. “Who? Where is he?” I demanded. Just then another motorcycle rode by with two older men wearing clorox clean white robes with white traditional Muslim caps. My voice cracked again with disappointment, “Can you help me please?” I asked slowly, “Someone has stolen my phone and someone here saw it happen.” The men questioned a few people in the now growing crowd.

“You must go to the police,” they insisted, while another boy offered to take me to the station. I wasn’t about to leave my bike here. My pleas for someone to go bring the police here fell on deaf ears. It’s just not done that way. Just as I was riding to the station a police truck pulled out of a side road only 300 meters from where the theft took place. And the crowd along with my informants and witnesses still lingered.

A bunch of Swahili and what sounded like an angry diatribe went on for about ten minutes. Turns out the chief of the police was in the truck. He and his deputy got out of the truck and disappeared down an alley into a maze of ram-shackled buildings, dusty tracks with goats, chickens and an idle bull. I stood and waited. And waited. Twenty minutes passed and the police were still gone. Then I heard the buzz of a small motorbike and the crowd shifted to let the bike get close to me. It was the two while gown and capped Muslim men. One of them was holding my phone.

“Is this your phone?” he asked. I assured him it was and he took the phone and whirred down the alley in search of the police. Ten minutes later and the guys and police emerged. One boy urged me to just take my phone, not cause any problems and make no report or file no charges. The police asked me to follow them to the police station where I could retrieve my phone.

I wanted to heed the boy’s request and just get to Ethiopia. But the chief, David, his deputy Joseph and Simon the sergeant explained that in order to stop petty crime they needed support and asked if I’d file a statement. I did and headed for the border.

Passing through customs and immigration on the Kenyan side of the border was a breeze. The customs agent even helped find me a money changer and let us do the transaction in his office, ensuring no funny business and a good rate. This blew me away, cause nearly every other border crossing guards shoo away the hordes of money changers and any transaction has to be done outside the view of any official. Here there were no money changer hordes. My Kenya experience ended on a positive note.

I rode into Ethiopia at about 4pm where a glitch on the passport reader (something I pointed out and perhaps shouldn’t have) in immigration caused a 30-minute delay but soon enough I was free and crossing into the 29th country of my journey.

Whew.

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Goodbye Kenya. Hello Ethiopia.

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