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From Nairobi to Sotik by motorcycle back in 1971

 

I started my education in 1961 at Kibichoi Primary School. The institution was just a stone’s throw away from our house, which my father had recently built of fine timber sourced from Meru where he was district assistant.

When I joined the school, I was excited to note that my favourite aunt Beatrice was also a teacher in there, mistakenly thinking I would therefore enjoy a privileged status. I soon learned that this was not the case as each time I got into trouble for coming to school late or not bringing water to school to wash the compacted earth classrooms, the teacher on duty would cane me and then hand me over to my aunt for more caning. As if to rub salt in the wound, my aunt would later report me to my mother who then proceeded to cane me with almost joyous abandon. Fortunately for me my father was often away in Meru.

My aunt did not stay long in the school as she left for Denmark where her husband was undertaking an advanced course in Veterinary medicine. However, by that time I had got the message and mended my errant ways.

With the benefit of hindsight, I am eternally grateful to my aunt Beatrice for teaching me that having relatives in high places put me in a position where I was judged by a higher standard than others.

After they returned to Kenya in 1965, her husband was posted to various stations in Kenya and I made sure I visited them at each one. Aunt Beatrice cooked the most delectable “mikunjo” (chapatis) and any time she came home I knew there were delicacies in her reed-woven basket.

Years later in 1971, after I had completed my “O” levels I was employed at Sapa Chemical Industries on London Road (Lusaka Road) and I owned a Yamaha 180cc motorcycle. Armed with my salary of Sh300 and some pocket money I was able to wangle from my father, I decided I was going to spend my Christmas that year with my aunt Beatrice and her family. Everybody thought it was a crazy idea to ride a motorcycle from Nairobi to Sotik but I was determined. I had just turned 16 and I had never been to Sotik.

On Saturday 23 December 1971, I packed my bag for the safari, filled up my tank with fuel (full tank for my bike was Sh10 then for 12 litres) and retired to bed early. All this time my father tried his best to change my mind but I would not relent.

Sunday was a bright sunny day and I left our house in Nairobi at 7am. The road to Nakuru was familiar as I had been there before to watch motor racing at the Langa Langa racetrack. As I motored into Nakuru town at about 10am my motorcycle suddenly lost power and upon inspection I discovered the left-hand piston had burnt a hole on the crown due to an air leak in a crankcase seal causing a lean mixture.

After a light snack at the old Stag’s Head Hotel I decided to proceed on one cylinder anyway as there was little else that could be done to repair the malady. In addition to being very young I was also very light at about 114 lbs(50kgs), so that helped the now underpowered motorcycle.

The roads were tarmac and in good condition and traffic was relatively light compared to today’s fiasco. After refuelling in Nakuru, I made slow but steady progress; the biggest problem was climbing hills with only half of the engine power available.

Arriving in Sotik at about 4pm I found my uncle waiting for me at the local post office in his GK Landrover. My uncle was the Veterinary Officer in charge at Sotik and his government house was not far away. Aunt Beatrice had prepared a great welcome for me and they were all relieved to eventually see me in one piece. Of course, the “mikunjo” featured prominently in the menu and as usual they did not disappoint.

I spent a lovely Christmas with my aunt and her family. My uncle took us around the beautiful landscape of Sotik in his Landrover.

Leaving Sotik on Wednesday 27 December 1971 at 7am I rode back to Nairobi on one cylinder, a journey which took 10 hours with fuel stops in Kericho, Nakuru and Naivasha.

Perhaps with the benefit of hindsight it was indeed a crazy idea but I made it. I am still a stubborn old goat and when I put my mind to something it is nigh impossible to change me.

Years later I was to find out that my father was incessantly on the phone with my uncle asking whether I had arrived in Sotik.

I dedicate this memory to my aunt Beatrice who is currently in hospital. She played a big role in shaping my character.

I wish her a speedy recovery.

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