Flying to Kenya

Trip Start Jan 15, 2009
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Trip End Feb 15, 2009


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Monday, January 26, 2009

Today was a travel day. I was up at 06:00 so I could have breakfast when the restaurant opened at 06:30. Jacob arrived at the hotel with a car and driver at 06:45 and we were on the road to the airport by a little after 07:00. Sunday morning is a good time to be on the roads. Traffic is light and people sleep in a little so there is little congestion even of foot traffic.
 
The drive out to the airport took about 45 minutes. On the way we stopped to put some fuel in the car. The driver pulled up at a pump island where there was an attendant lounging on the curb, and said "diesel." The attendant motioned for him to pull over to a different pump island on the side of the complex, which the driver did. But the attendant didn't move; he just sat there. We sat and he sat. I was wondering what was going on, when another attendant came out from the office and ambled our way. There were separate attendants for each island and apparently they couldn't infringe on each other's territory....
 
Finally at the airport, we again had to park far away from the terminal, outside the parking lot compound walls, to avoid paying the exorbitant fee. The whole huge parking lot essentially goes to waste, and passengers have to walk in dragging their bags through the accumulated sand or pay a porter to carry them. It's the custom to have a porter and a fixer, whether one needs them or not. It only costs a few dollars, and those who are wealthy (all westerners by African standards) are expended not to be stingy but to share the wealth.
 
The first immigration officer who examined my passport tried to pull something. He overlooked the entry stamp from four days ago, and instead fixed on the one I had from my October visit. He said "you arrived in October, you have overstayed your visa" and put my passport aside for future reference as he began examining the passport of the person behind me in line. The visa, I pointed out, had only been issued last month - as he could plainly see, and so there is no way I could have used it in October. It didn't matter. He repeated that the stamp said I had arrived in October
 
We, in effect, had to do his job for him, or it looked like he was going to hit us with a "fine" for helping us out. My fixer reached over and took the passport over the agent's mild protest and we flipped through the pages until we found the correct stamp from last Thursday. I handed the passport back to him. He looked at it suspiciously for a while. Finally, in silence, he pushed my passport and ticket across to me and ignored us as we walked away.
 
The check-in procedures went smoothly. Kenya Airways is pretty well organized. When I got to the official immigration desks, I went to the desk where there was an agent, but she looked up through the glass and said I needed to go to the next desk, she couldn't help me. When I looked over, it was clear there wasn't anyone at the next desk. "He is not here" she said helpfully, "you must wait." So we waited a quarter of an hour until the appropriate agent arrived.
 
Through that formality, I arrived at security. They ran my carryons thought the x-ray machine and patted me down. I had about $10 worth of Congolese Francs in my pocket, which meant about 15 bills. The security man asked me to take the lump out of my pocket, which I did; he let me pass. The female agent at the other end of the x-ray machine stopped me. "You have Congolese Francs?" she asked sternly - there's some hypothetical limit on how many Francs you can take out of the country. I told her I had a few. She told me to show her, so I pulled the bills out again. "Ooh that's a lot of money!" she informed me, heading in the direction of wanting to confiscate it. "No it's not" I told her with a smile, and walked away before she could say anything more. She didn't try; it was just a bluff.
 
I was finally in the departure lounge. I went out a side door and up the stairs to a balcony from where one has a good view of the tarmac. There's always something interesting going on there. This time was no exception. There were a number of older model McDonald-Douglas airliners, DC 9s I believe, and a Tupolev and an old 707. Several bore the markings of Hewa Bora which I guess is back in business. It was shut down for a while due to its dismal safety record. There were several cargo planes, and in the distance I could see some big white cargo planes with "United Nations" painted on the side.
 
A delegation for a personage of some importance came from the VIP lounge and went to one of the Hewa Bora liners. After the big man got on, there was some altercation between his cortege and the ground staff. It was amusing to watch from afar without being able to hear anything. There was gesticulating, pouting, strutting, appealing, scolding, threatening, all that was clear from body language. And it went on and on with little pauses now and again. About twenty people were involved in one way or another. A security agent arrived carrying a riding crop as proof of his authority. It didn't make much difference. It was still going on when I finally went back down the stairs again. It may still be going on.
 
While the argument was running its course, I noticed a man in a white lab coat was walking around the huge parking ramp area, twice the size of a football field, with a dustpan on a handle and a broom. Apparently he was supposed to be cleaning the while area by hand with his small broom. It looked like he had pretty good job security.
 
The Kenya Airways flight landed on time, and we were able to board on time. We took off at 10:45 for the 3 1/2 hour flight to Nairobi. It was cloudy on the way, but once, over what must have been central Congo, there was a large clear area and we could see the ground. It was jungle as far as the eye could see, broken only by the serpentine lines of rivers here and there. The scale of it was very impressive.
 
With the time change (we lost two hours) it was well after four when we arrived. I negotiated a taxi to take me to my hotel for the night. Tomorrow I go on to Johannesburg, and I think I'll have time to take a drive out to Hell's Gate Park tomorrow for a few hours before my flight.
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Comments

maryhendren
maryhendren on

Hi Joel
We appreciate being able to follow along day by day and get a glimpse of what it's like on your trips. It seems that having a 'fixer' for airport security is a good thing at times, also knowing when to call a bluff--not something easily learned, I'd venture.

manxswede
manxswede on

enjoying your blog
Hi Mr Meeker

enjoying your blog very much, you have a great ability to put us the audience in there with you.Thankfully you are our guide!! May have said this beofre but I'd love to read a blog of your's from home, cutting the grass,emptying the trash and that sort of thing.

anyway safe travels and you are doing a great job over there. We have the Kubiks in on Friday, so enjoying their blogging as well
best wishes
Paul Spenser
Sweden

fmeeker
fmeeker on

hey dad!
I always love reading your airport stories! Somehow they always seem to happen to you though, and when we're in Africa with you it's always a lot less exciting... Love you lots and take care of yourself!

joelmeeker
joelmeeker on

Re: hey dad!
Hi Fiona,

Thanks for all your comments and encouragement. I wish you could be here too - well some places:). I can't wait to get back to you.

Love,

Dad

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