Mount Kilimanjaro is the world’s tallest freestanding mountain. Qualified, but breathtaking nonetheless. Its wide flat top is speckled with snow, giving it a “white hair” look, which, combined with the aforementioned flatness, gives the mountain a Dick Tracy villain-esque appearance. Kilimanjaro is accompanied by is sidekick, the almost-as-tall, not-as-flat-looking “mountain next to Kilimanjaro.” The two are connected by a raised plateau and combined stand, monolithic, on the Tanzania (tan-ZAN-ee-uh) side of the Kenya borderline, casting a shadow in the evening on the small Kenyan town of Loitokitok (Loy-TOKE-toke).
The mud in Loitokitok is thick and smacks under its residents’ feet as they casually avoid the dozens of motorbikes that buzz around the one petrol station at the center of town. During a rain the Kenyans bold enough to drudge through the mud roads, no pavement in sight, find themselves growing, a layer of mud accumulated with every step. At the end of a walk it is common to feel like a schoolchild at skate night, rolling aloofly around the arcade well after the other children have taken off their skates.
Downtown Loitokitok has the aforementioned petrol station at its heart, and the far edges of the business district can be reached via a five minute walk. There are enough shops to provide sufficient competition for nearly every business type: grocery, mobile phone and phone charging shops, and restaurants (“hotels”). Like everywhere in Kenya, nearly all Loitokitok shops display signs inviting passers-by to “top up” their mobile phone SIM cards. Because Loitokitok homes usually do not have power, many shops also allow shoppers to pay to drop off their electronics to be charged while in town.
Loitokitok proper extends for about an hour’s walk in every direction. Shamba (SHOM-buh) owners, business owners, and telecom workers make up the upper class, and employ the peasant farmers and clerks, respectively. Shambas are typically a few acres in size, and are big enough for a single farmer to keep himself busy. Maize and beans are popular crops, and the local Massai (muh-SIYE) shepherds will lead their goats to the taller, weedy plats, as a part of the local checks and balances. The landscape is vividly green, with rolling hills in the foreground and Kilimanjaro either watching in the background, or hiding behind the billowing clouds, moving at the pace of a Kenyan sprinter, but always replaced by another cloud in quick succession, like the river in Sidhartha. Kilimanjaro is most visible in the mornings, before the clouds wake, and it is at this time that I step outside and slip into my choo (CHOE) slippers, pink or blue, depending on my mood and testosterone level, and head for the outdoor toilet.