The South African town of Eldoret

Having moved to Kenya, there are many things I miss about home. There is one glaring thing that I don’t miss however and which I thought I appreciated Kenya for. I do not miss the, I don’t know how else to say it, need for strange men to chat me up. And they come from men of all races and in different places whether it’s the street sweeper asking for my phone number in Port Elizabeth; the BMW driver driving beside me as I take a walk in sweatpants, sneakers and t-shirt asking me whether I need a ride in Polokwane; the policeman telling me he loves me in Durban; or the taxi driver wanting a minute of my time so he can pay me a compliment at a Johannesburg taxi rank (the compliment? “Sisi, you have hips made for twins”). And not having to deal with a random male who feels the need to chat to me as I walk is one of the most enjoyable and freeing experiences for me as a woman in Nairobi. In this city I go around my merry way and, save for polite hellos, the only ‘stranger’ who talks to me for any length of time is the local mad man who tells me he loves South Africa every time he sees me and then proceeds to sing Yvonne Chaka Chaka’s Umqombothi before letting me continue my journey. I was beginning to think this freedom to walk without any form of harassment from the male species was widespread in Kenya having experienced it in more than just one town in this country until recently.
The advent of South Africa’s Women’s Month found me doing a literature seminar at a university in a Kenyan town founded by some Afrikaners who trekked northwards back in 1908. Eldoret is the name of the town. In addition to having some brilliant alumni now academics at South African universities, Eldoret is also famous for its long distance runners. I think everyone in town is a long distance runner because on arrival, I saw a sign for a hotel that was supposed to be 50 meters distance but when I tried walking there, it turned out to be a kilometer away. In my mind, Eldoret is also now famous for its men with the bad habits of some South African men. As I walked with my partner, I cannot tell you how many truck drivers blatantly hooted – some even stopped – and then proceeded to give a thumbs up or vocally compliment my partner on HIS woman. Partner reckons it’s because most of the women in Eldoret are marathon runners and do not have the sort of curves the truck drivers saw in the woman in jeans and fitted top. Me? I am convinced that the South Africans who founded this town over a century ago imported their bad male habits and passed them on to the forbears of the town. I enjoyed lot of things about Eldoret and will probably go back there as often as I go to SA, but just as I do not miss SA’s leering strange men, I certainly will not miss Eldoret’s truck drivers.