In the summer following my first year of university and a long bout of boy troubles that I couldn't seem to get disentangled from, I felt that the best course of action would be to isolate myself in a third-world country for two months and presumably forget the entire ordeal.
Just your typical heartbroken teenage rebellion.
Two weeks later, I set foot in the Nairobi airport, lost in the exhilaration of the rich, red soil and the declaration of my independence.
About halfway through my stay, one of the other volunteers and I decided to take off to Mombasa — an eight-hour bus ride from where we were staying — for a five-day vacation. What was supposed to be five days of dancing, laughing, and basking in the hot sun on endless miles of white-sand beaches turned into a three-day bender filled with vomiting, involuntary urination, and multiple rejections.
Not surprisingly, these recurring humiliations ended with my resolving to cut the so-called vacation short and begin the long trek back to Nairobi. Alone.
So, I packed my bag, said a quick goodbye to my friend and started down the winding dirt road to flag down the next matatu (mini bus). After an hour of successfully transferring between matatus to get where I needed to go, I marched into the bus depot. Glowing with pride despite my exhaustion, I showed the lady my ticket, relieved that the bus would be here any minute and I could take a much-needed nap.
"You came to the wrong depot," she informed me. "You can use this ticket, but the bus won't be here for another hour. It's just leaving from Mombasa now."
Of course there was another bus depot in Mombasa. That would explain everyone's apparent confusion at my leaving in such a hurry. Oh well — it was only an hour. I could last another hour here, and there were chairs outside to rest on. What was the worst that could happen?
So, I skulked back out the door, chest now thoroughly deflated, and settled myself into a seat beside a sharp-looking man. Not in the mood for conversation, I angled myself away from him as I plucked an orange from my backpack and began peeling.
"I'm George," he said in a thick Kenyan accent. "What's your name?"
Evasion aborted. "Sadie," I forced a smile. He seemed nice enough. We got to talking, and I told him my predicament, for which he offered his sympathy as well as instructions for which bus to catch home when I arrived back in Nairobi. I hadn't even thought this far ahead yet and was glad for his insight.
An hour later, the bus finally arrived and George eagerly collected my phone number and an empty promise that I would try and find a job for him in Canada before we exchanged our final farewells and he released me to the sanctuary of the bus.
Naturally, I realized I had to pee shortly after pulling out of the station and silently cursed myself for taking in so much liquid beforehand. I turned my music up in an attempt to distract myself from the discomfort, knowing I had no choice now but to hold it for the duration of the ride. Even though the bus would stop halfway through the journey, there was no chance I was getting out of the vehicle until I was safely back in the city of Nairobi.
A thrice-repeated playlist, sporadic fits of napping, and an extra-salty bag of chips later, I arrived. Despite being a non-flesh-eating version of the walking dead at this point, I managed to race out the bus doors and into the bus depot's restroom at a pace that my all-star-sprinter sister would have been proud of.
Upon relief, I carefully followed George's instructions and found my way to the city bus stop. Letting my guard down, I all but pranced to the next bus in queue at the station.
"Green Village Mall?" I asked nonchalantly.
"Green Village? Yeah. Yeah, get on," the fare collector assured me, snatching the coins out of my hand.
My whole body relaxed as I happily wiggled my butt into the upholstered seat. Green Village Mall was only a 20-minute walk from my house. Finally, my journey was nearing an end.
I was busy bopping my head to tunes enjoying the Kenyan sunrise when the bus came to an abrupt stop and the fare collector rushed over to me. I tugged out my headphones and looked up at him.
"You get off here," he stated. The matter was not up for discussion.
"But this isn't my stop," I countered. "I said Green Village Mall."
"This is Green Village," he assured me.
"No," I told him. "It's not. I've never seen this place before."
"You need to get off now," he stated more firmly and grabbed my arm.
I looked around at the other passengers for support, but they met my desperate gaze only with icy glares.
Realizing I had no one behind me on the matter and that I was currently residing in a country where turning a blind eye to murder was routine, I relented. Yanking my arm back and gathering my things, I rose and strode as dignified as I could off of the bus.
I stood in a cloud of dust, watching in hazy disbelief as the bus sped away, leaving me to bask in the peaceful quiet of early morning in a place I didn't belong.
This couldn't be real. Was it real? It was real.
Presented with no other options, I crossed the street and continued walking in the direction the bus had been headed. I felt nothing but a pull to keep on moving, that somehow as long as I kept walking, everything would be fine. Having a breakdown on the side of the road wouldn't do anything but attract attention anyway.
After about 45 minutes, I saw a clothes-vending tent that looked vaguely familiar. Where had I seen it before? A few more blocks ahead and I recognized a driving school as one that I had passed in my explorations a few weeks before (located on the complete opposite side of town from Green Village Mall, for the record). A friend of mine lived near here — I knew where I was!
I wormed my way through the familiar streets and slums, and in another hour, I was marching triumphantly through my bedroom door and snuggling delightedly into the safety of my bed, counting all of my lucky stars before finally falling into the sleep I had been craving for far too long.