Convoy joy

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by Cynthia Vukets on January 12, 2010

Me and the crew, cruisin government style

Me and the crew, cruisin government style

My first government-sponsored media trip. And I find out about it at 9:30 p.m. the night before.
“Do you know what it’s about?” I ask my producer.
“Farming.”
“Do you know what’s happening with transportation?”
“Call this guy.”
So I send said guy a text message because I’m worried he’s putting his kids to bed. He calls me back at 11:15 at which point I’ve already put myself to bed.
Up at 6:00 the next morning, just to make sure I don’t miss my ride up to Laikipia in Central Kenya.
“We’re leaving from Utalii Hotel at 7:30,” says guy I was supposed to call.
Even though I calculate that 7:30 Kenyan time can’t be earlier than 8:00, I’m at the hotel by 7:45. I really don’t want to miss my ride because I love getting out of Nairobi.
I needn’t have worried as we waited another hour and a half – ish. But the government official we were shadowing for the day sprung for the hotel breakfast. So we chowed down happily.
I was dreading a huge bus crammed with reporters barrelling down the highway. But I was lucky. Just me, the NTV cameraman and one other crew in a 4 x 4. With seatbelts! Things were really looking up.
So we travelled all the way to Mount Kenya and back in a good, old-fashioned convoy. At railway crossings and in traffic jams, the government guys would lean out the windows and glad hand people. I was impressed, as I don’t think I would recognize the assistant minister of anything from Canada. I’m also ashamed to say it took me several minutes to come up with the name of my MP. (Sorry Lawrence, although technically you’re not exactly my MP, me being a resident of nowhere and all.)
The tour goes a bit like this: convoy stops at a farm. Bigwigs disembark and are given rapid tour by farm owners with about 100 people, including myself, following. Each time I stop to take a photo or try to talk to someone I look up and find the convoy is leaving. At one point my cameraman is nearly dragged under our vehicle because our driver accelerates off when Boni has half the tripod in the side door and half in his arms. When we’re on the road, there seems to be a hierarchy of which cars get to be first. So we’re constantly getting passed and on the dirt roads, all the dust kicked up by the first four vehicles floods our car and we’re choking.
We have a police escort, which I’m told is to control crowds. The tour is such a big deal, 7-year-old Steven tells me his school was closed for the day. Everything the big wigs say is echoed by a unison “eeeh” from the crowd. (Rough English approximation – we hear you, we may or may not agree, but we thank you for expressing that thought)
I cut my toe climbing through a barbed wire fence to visit Muite Mwakunga’s farm in Nanyuki. Momentary dread of tetanus subsided when he started to enthusiastically tell us about his “conservation agriculture techniques.” The guy decided 13 years ago to become a farmer – had never farmed a day in his life – and he now cultivates 10 acres, has enough produce to sell, and is promoting eco-friendly natural farming methods to his neighbours.
Of course, we didn’t have much time to chat with him or inspect his lovely, HUGE, cabbages because after five minutes, the 4 x 4’s were rolling out and Boni and I had to run to make sure we weren’t left behind.