Life in Kisii: Of microenterprises, slippery roads and wild traffic

This second post in my series of Life in Kisii (my three months volunteering placement with Balloon Ventures ICS) is about the town itself. It’s about how Kenyan drivers scare the shit out of me and I’ve almost slipped a million times on the muddy dirt road until once I actually landed in a ditch. But more about that later…

With about 60,000 inhabitants, Kisii is a bustling town and is full of microentrepreneurs –  one of the reasons Balloon Ventures decided to start its sustainable development programme supporting small business owners and startups here in Kisii. Wherever you look, all you see is people selling goods and services of some sort. Typically the same type of businesses are bundled in one area so you fill find a row of men offering shoe repairs and shoe shining in one parking lot, followed by a bunch of women selling the three same kinds of fruits, e.g. mangoes, oranges and and apples. Many of them have set up shop for the day on the side of the road while others have their stalls at the market which is in full swing on Mondays and Thursdays.

Getting my sandals glued back together

Second hand clothes sellers everywhere

 

Market days… That reminds me… They’re most certainly my two least favourite days of the week because for me to get into town, I have to walk right through the market. That can be anything from annoying to dangerous or painful. Here’s why: Picture a dirt road that’s full of street vendors on either side who’ve set up shop. There are no sidewalks so you’re trying to fend your way through people, trucks, matatus (public mini busses), umbrellas, bicycles and motorbikes. You need to duck underneath a few big bags of goods that people carry on their heads. You need to quickly sway sideways to evade the unforgiving traffic. Nobody will stop for you, everybody fends for themselves and if you’re in the way, you’re in the way until you’ve been run over. The amount of times I’ve jumped sideways, shocked by how closely this car that’s driving way too fast has just passed me… once a car even hit my shoulder while I was walking. It’s madness.

Cabbage sellers after market day

 

So now picture all of this after four hours of heavy rain, or maybe even during a heavy rainfall… You’ve probably forgotten it’s market day today so you’re wearing your light blue jeans. Now, there’s this little bridge where all the water and mud in the world seem to accumulate and if the journey described above doesn’t sound like it’s been hard enough, try to survive this madness while trying not to slip in the mud or fall off the bridge without rails for safety. Good luck surviving and never mind your mud stained feet and light blue jeans!

Surprised I’ve not yet landed face down in that puddle…

There was this one time when we went without any rain for two weeks and everyone, including me, was cursing the dry weather because you could hardly see your own hand in front of you when you walked that dirt road and a vehicle passed. You wiped your face and the tissue was full of dirt like you’d just taken off a too thick layer of makeup. God, did I thank the rain when it finally came, only to curse it again a week later.

How your feet look after five minutes on the dusty road

Seeking shelter from long awaited rain

So here goes the story of me in the ditch: It was one of those nights when the rain didn’t want to stop falling and I did actually contemplate taking a matatu into town the next morning. Had I done that, I’d have one funny story less to tell. You’ve heard about the little bridge I have to cross by the market. Well, it was muddy as hell and the water was still standing in the middle of it. There seemed to be no way to get across without being ankle deep in water or red mud. Then I’d seen that Kenyan lady who seemed to have found a solution that involved a comparatively non-slippery looking path divided by a ditch. So I followed. I must have jumped from or onto a different part of the path because the story ends with me almost hip deep in the ditch full of dirt and my feet covered in mud until above the ankles.

Sure fire way to make a good amount of people laugh, very hard. Including myself. If only someone had recorded me, I might have become a famous “Epic Fail” star…

If you’re thinking about public transport, matatus that is, then be prepared to be squashed into an 11 seater van with about 16 people and cargo. I’ve also sat in the front passenger seat of a car with another woman while 6 people were squeezed in the back. They overtake carelessly, drive too fast and you’re likely to bump with your head against the roof when you smash into one of the endless holes in the roads. It’s an experience for sure. But none I’d prefer over walking even if it means landing face down in the mud.

What are some of your funny travel stories? Have you encountered any challenges or experienced something so different from your own culture that it took you time to adapt?

By the way, Kenya is also amazing for safaris and you have plenty of options. Check out and book some great safari offers here.

Read the all posts about Life in Kisii:

Life in Kisii 1: Of drop hole toilets, bucket baths & cockroaches

1 Comment

  1. Omg just looking at your pictures make me homesick, and the fact that i know exactly where those places are in your pictures is crazy lol.

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