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April 16, 2012 / Dan Whipple

Baseball in Kenya

The Saturday before Easter Sunday was the most important day of the adult year, the fantasy baseball auction draft for the Wyoming Rotisserie Baseball League (WRBL), proudly launching it’s 23rd season. Draft day is bigger than birthdays, bigger that Christmas, bigger than the Second Coming, bigger than the singularity at the beginning of the universe. It’s h-u-g-e. The auction starts promptly at 10 a.m. U.S. Mountain Daylight Time, so I had to be on Skype at a little before 7 p.m. Nairobi time.

But first, I volunteered to take my brother-in-law Tom Gates up to Webuye, about a six hour drive from Nairobi. Tom is a doctor who in the mid-1990s ran the Friends mission hospital in Lugulu, about three miles from Webuye. He was going back for a visit at the hospital and with friends. I thought it would be nice to see some different country, so I offered to take him there, rather than consign him to the EasyCoach. We’re gonna go up Friday, I’ll drop him, I go back to Nairobi Saturday morning in plenty of time for the WRBL fantasy auction draft. (Did I mention that it’s huge?) What can go wrong?

I don’t know if you’ve ever driven around Kenya, but the police set up these “police checks” at which they pull vehicles over. I’d like to say that they pull vehicles over at random, but there seems to be very little random about it. The vast majority of the time, they stop matatus, buses, trucks and such. Very seldom do they stop private passenger vehicles. I’ve never really understood what these checkpoints are supposed to accomplish. Everyone assures me that they are simply a method for the police to extort kitu kidogo—a little something—to supplement their income. I’ve heard some matatu drivers have a little pocket attached to the driver’s door in which they place fifty shillings so the police officer can simply reach in and take it. I have no idea whether this is true, but everyone—everyone—believes it.

About twenty kilometers outside of Nakuru, a policeman at one of these checkpoints points his baton at me, waves me to the side of the road. I’m so shocked by this that I simply ignore him, keep driving. I gulp. They don’t have many police cars to chase me with, so there’s really not much they can do.

But still.

Then about five km later, another cop at a checkpoint points his baton at me and waves me to the side of the road. Okay, they don’t have cop cars, but they do have cell phones. I figure, I’ve done nothing wrong—unless you count driving like a maniac, but that is the Kenyan custom and culture, not a crime. I pull over.

The cop is a beefy but baby-faced guy, not too tall but sturdily built.

License, please.

I give him my Colorado license, which he studies.

Where is insurance?

Hah. Right here, I say, pointing to the little sticker on the windshield that acknowledges me as a faithful customer of Jubilee Insurance.

He reaches in through the passenger side window, peels the sticker off its perch, shows it to me.
It’s expired.

I look at it. Sonofabitch. Expires December 31, 2011. I cover manfully.

I have insurance.

Where is it?

I rummage through the glove box, which has nothing in it but a first aid kit and a tourist map of Kenya.
I have insurance, I repeat. I just don’t have the insurance sticker.

The polisi informs me that we have to go to the police station, where he will write me a summons for both my crimes: driving without insurance, and failing to display that I have insurance. Also, he says, he will have to impound the car until I get insurance.

I have insurance, I say. Really.

Tom says, I’m a doctor. I have to be in Webuye today.

Nice try.

Can I have my license?

I will be in car with you.


The cop shop is only a little ways away. I ask, Isn’t there some other way we can settle this?
Tom whispers to me, Don’t offer him a bribe We’ll be in worse trouble than we already are.
What did you have in mind, polisi asks.

Can’t I pay a fine?

That’s up to the judge.

Can we see the judge?

It’s a holiday.

Right. It’s Easter Weekend, a four day weekend for Kenya. It’s also WRBL fantasy auction draft weekend—have I said that?—which it will be hard to get back to Nairobi for with my car in the Salgaa impound lot. We argue about the car. The fine is 5,000 shillings. In the police officers’ station, the official photo of Kenya President Mwai Kibaki looks down at me reproachfully.

For 5,000 shillings, I say, tunaweza kuendesha gari. We can drive the car. I figure I’ll dazzle him with my command of Swahili.

Polisi considers this. I’m thinking he doesn’t really want to impound my car, because it will just mean more work for him.

He says I have to call my lieutenant. He steps outside with his cell phone.

Comes back. The lieutenant says we must keep the car.

He paces a while, considers. Sawa, he says. Okay. You can take the car if you promise me that you have insurance.

Well, of course I’ve got insurance. Mzungu driving around Kenya without insurance? Mjinga kabisa.

So after these delicate and tortuous negotiations, I give him 5,000 Ksh, get a receipt and court date for Wednesday if I want to contest the charges. I would, but it will cost me more than 5,000 shillings to drive back up to Molo for the appearance. Polisi knows this, of course. As we leave he tells me, “I don’t want you to beat me in court,” which makes me think he doesn’t want me to show up.

So I take Tom to Webuye, spend the night and head back to Nairobi in the morning, dreading all the way another stop from a police check. But they have returned to the routine of stopping only matatus, buses and such. Polisi don’t give me a second glance. It’s clear sailing for the WRBL auction draft now. What can go wrong?

As I’m driving up the street to our Nairobi house, I notice that Kenya Power and Light is replacing a transformer on the lines in the neighborhood. This usually means the power will be out at our house. Which means I won’t be able to get internet service. Which means I won’t be on Skype when the WRBL fantasy baseball draft day auction starts. Did I mention I’ve been doing this for 23 years without missing even once?

Kathy suggests I could go one of the coffee houses that offers wifi. This seems impractical. Many a normally patient coffee purveyor will bristle at a single customer monopolizing their wifi for the eight hours of the WRBL draft. Oh, yeah, just let me finish this cup of coffee. I’ll be right out of your way.

Still. I’ve got a few hours. KPLC should be able to replace a transformer in a day. I mean, what can go wrong?



Leave a Comment
  1. Dan Neal / Apr 16 2012 4:58 pm

    My goodness, Whipple. That was an especially close call. Get your sticker yet?

    • kathybogan / Apr 17 2012 6:45 am

      Sticker applied. After “ten minutes” wait at the insurance office. Note that “ten minutes” means “an hour and a half” in Swahili. Or, “haraka haraka haina baraka” (there is no blessing in speed).

  2. Nadia / Apr 17 2012 3:57 am

    Yeah, this could have happened in Missoula.

    People of fantasy familiarity, my students raised this question in Sports Reporting the other day: Should professional sports officials be allowed to have a fantasy team in the sport they officiate? I linked to this post, so if you share your learned opinions here, they might actually read your answers which will undoubtedly be more interesting than mine. (Uh, I dunno. I can see how that might cause problems.)

  3. Dan Whipple / Apr 17 2012 5:09 am

    It depends a lot on the stakes, but I’d say that it would probably be a bad idea to have a sports official with a fantasy team. Except in golf, maybe.

  4. Carol / Apr 17 2012 11:32 pm

    Sounds to me like you are a pro Dan! Good job.


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