The Standard Gauge Railway. Dubbed as the most expensive project since independence I had a lot of expectations for this experience. Probably you might’ve have already guessed how this went. Same ending like any grand mega super-duper multi billion project we’ve had in Kenya. Blatant smoke blowing that’s as intentional as my puns. Now I might have been three years late, very ironic for someone who lives down at the coast so I’ve been told. However, I’m certain my experience would haven’t been any different as it was during its maiden trip. Unless, it got robbed in the middle. And after saying this out loud and realizing our track record so far as a country, or records for literally accuracy….. Just maybe. We got a reputation to maintain.
“Ticket purchased successfully. Departure time 22:00 on 10/02/2021 from Mombasa Terminus, Coach7, Seat 1. Please print your ticket at the terminus one hour before departure.” How delightful! Now I have seen trains before. A couple of times from miles away and a million times from the magic box my dad guards so dearly. His supposed “element of motivation” every time he sits us down and goes like, “Unataka kutoka hapa ukaishi Na TV unachungulia?” And I have never felt so challenged to get a telly that could fit him in his fullness. Maybe twice. With his telly just to confirm. But that’s totally off the rails of what we were to talk about. The point is they looked good. They looked comfy. They looked perfect. On second thought, perhaps that’s when my sight started failing me.
However, before this train leaves the station, let’s give Ceaser what belongs to Ceaser. Arriving there and seeing the station for the first time up close was beautiful. Not mind boggling but it definitely met my internet expectations. The architecture was immaculate. A staggering 12/10! The security and hotel staff around the station, chef’s kiss. The menu was a bit overpriced but nothing above the standards of the atmosphere. I made myself comfortable. I had two hours of wait but I was okay with that. A little dilly here and dally there while avoiding eye contact with the constant different hotel staff trying to persuade me to buy from their menu. But for someone who’s done this in renowned coffee shops and hangout spots just to wait out the rain, it was technically child’s play.
The stewards and stewardesses ushered us to the train. First class treatment for a second class ticket. You could even hardly figure out the plastic smiles and built up steam as part of the crowd totally disregarded all the rules in and out of the handbook. And salute to this noble country people because with my kind of pressure gauge I would have slapped a couple of “How to Survive a Pandemic for dummies” on their ignorant disease ridden faces that they’d actually need those masks to hold up their lower jaw. But for now, that was the least of my concern because “beholdeth brethrens the seateth!”
I once heard that the difference between a sinner and a saint is a good reason and at this point I didn’t have a good reason to condemn these seats. Yet. “Maybe they don’t feel as bad as they look… Maybe they sink in. Flat and square but yeah…” No good enough reason if I hadn’t sat in them. They had my favorite color though. A slightly different shade but they were definitely blue. I reach out for the overhangs, barely, and put my bag before reaching for my sit and suddenly something didn’t feel right. Apart from the fact that I’d be directly staring at a complete stranger with hardly enough leg room for one person let alone two, I already knew this was going to be a long journey. I needed my jacket. Woke up, did some gymnastics again to get my bag on and off the racks and got my pea jacket.
Half an hour in and I would have gladly accepted lying on the aisle if I didn’t have an ounce of shame. I looked at the other passengers and they don’t seem as fazed. In fact some of them were chugging (Pun definitely intended) on beer and seeming to get overly comfortable by the minute. Yes, there was booze in the caboose but that’s not the rant. Two hours in and it was clear the seats were after me. At this point I had tried every dignified and undignified position in the book but it still felt as rock solid. To put it in perspective, I’m very easy to please. I’d sleep like as if I’m begging to be robbed inside buses in Nai-robbery. I mean my high school chair was made of wood but it had comfortable enough ergonomics to make the usual 2:30PM Food Comma during the Biology lesson worth it. But these….
These were right angled monstrosities that would make anyone feel the weight of the $3.6 Billion debt that went into building it. Approximately 110 million DOLLARS on every individual vertebrae. Now I did a little research for you and that’s about freaking 36 tons of pressure and it definitely felt like it!! An equivalent of six fully grown African elephants or evidently a very expensive way to get scoliosis. With 5 hours to spare, and constantly confirming the cushion and pulling up sick calisthenics, you couldn’t help to think that holy seat! This could have been deliberate. Very ill and loco motives by the Chinese or a very weird sense of humor by the designer.
Bottom line, for something to be called a coach it was rather ironical not to be able to get an ounce of sleep. The serving trolley rolled in and stopped at our seats. There wasn’t much of an assortment but the beer started making a whole lot of sense. “Would you like to order anything?” I survey its contents and call out for what they have to offer as if I haven’t already made up my mind. I mean if I wasn’tmeant to sleep, I better be comfortable being awake.
“A cup of coffee please”