For a moment I developed cold feet about the trip altogether as it turned out the guy booked in the seat right behind me showed up with raw fish hanging down his neck.
Clad in white branded jersey, grey khaki pants and bare feet, Fazul bragged about his dress code, saying his ‘neck tie’ was internationally recognised and he planned to don it all the way to Kigali. My imagination swept across the landscape wondering how on earth I would survive in the vehicle when saturated fish fat went rancid and oxidised. The stench would be unbearable.
Extremely high in the morning of May 4, 2018, Fazul seemed like a guy not easily dissuaded from a course. I wondered who or what might change his mind about having his ‘neck tie’ on the 1,163km journey. Another one carried a big drum loaded his gear, while others, men and women, young and old, milled around with their paraphernalia. The journey had all the hallmarks of an epic trip.
When 16-time Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia qualified for the group stage of CAF Confederation Cup, football talks rose several decibels in local circles. The last Kenyan club to scale such heights was Kenya Breweries way back in 1994. Gor Mahia’s last stint on the lofty grounds dated back 31 years.
Their 2018 breakthrough multiplied craze among an ordinarily hyper fan base, popularly known as Green Army, and arrangements were hastily made for as many as possible to cheer their beloved club against Rayon Sports of Rwanda on May 6 in Kigali. That was the first of Group D matches.
A fortnight prior, three fans had perished along the Nairobi-Nakuru highway when the bus they were hanging on collided with another while returning to the capital from a league match. All three hanging on the bus door were crushed to death. Seven others trapped in the luggage box above the bus survived unscathed, but just.
Yours truly wondered if such daring antics would be witnessed in the 24-hour ride from Nairobi to Kigali. So, it took a little convincing for me to get approval and facilitation for the road trip with the loud and ostentatious Kogalo fans from Nairobi to Kigali, Rwanda. Excited, I made reservations with the firebrand club secretary general Judith Anyango and promptly showed up at the pick-up point, City Stadium, on the travel date, ready for the ride.
A number of respectable fans were in the same bus as myself, and random selection and vetting ensured various ‘unruly’ characters were moved to a different bus for a little comfort and peace of mind of the rest during the journey. But we had Fazul, and as it later turned out, four other melodramatic passengers among us.
Two other journalists, two lawyers, a medic, a civil servant and a contractor also took their seats among the 39 passengers as the coach set off in a carnival mood. Canned beer hissed open randomly, rephrased religious songs exulting Kogalo rent the air while one woman suggested the trip would be much longer should Gor Mahia lose to Rayon.
The journey, scheduled for 10am, delayed by 120 minutes, as up to 20 travellers turned up without yellow fever vaccine certification, and a City Hall wheeler-dealer, also in the trip, dashed to town to sort his fellows and cash in while at it. For Sh800, the booklets were given to each passenger who did not have one, and off we rode. Besides the usual excitement characteristic when a group of people known to each other set off for such lengthy trip, all seemed calm. A minor altercation with a Somali hawker in Nakuru was quickly diffused and traffic police ushered on the buses upon noticing their passengers.