Layover in Nairobi
Trip Start Jan 15, 2010
29Trip End Feb 17, 2010
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Where I stayed
Jacob was right on time, early in fact, with a taxi and driver to take me to the airport. This early Sunday morning there is much less traffic than usual so we arrived in about half an hour, a little after 7:30.
The fee is already exorbitant to park in the airport parking lot, so the huge lot is perpetually empty. Now a checkpoint has been set up on the way to the side approach which gets one fairly close to the International terminal, but without entering the parking lot. Soldiers and guards were on post assuring us that it officially cost 2500 francs (six dollars) to drive the extra hundred meters. Jacob tried to brazen them down, but they weren’t budging – and they had Ak-47s – so we didn’t insist, but we didn’t give in either. I told Jacob we would walk, and we did, much to the chagrin of the soldiers trying to supplement their pay which hasn’t been delivered in two months or so. We took a porter for my suitcase and walked down to the side-entry gate where there were a group of about 8 uniformed policemen, this time unarmed. An animated discussion took place in Lingala between Jacob and the policemen. I obviously didn’t get the details but figured out I knew what was going on: another pitch for money. This time Jacob bluffed our way passed them. I tried to look bored and unimpressed with them as we pushed our way through – it’s best not to look intimidated.
After we were through I asked Jacob what they’d said. "They said they need money" he told me,
“I told them they should at least look ashamed when they ask for money for innocent people” he concluded. Whatever he’d said, it did the trick.
We walked another 200 meters to the International Terminal entry. There was a new booth outside the door. It was to collect the newly decreed departure tax: $50 US to be paid in cash. The usual departure taxes to fund airport costs have already been included in the ticket price at purchase, but this is a new one in addition. There had been no warning, but there was no choice: I handed over $50 and got a two small pieces of paper in exchange. Then I had to say goodbye to Jacob. He had money given him earlier for expenses, with which he could pay the porter, so we shook hands and said “until next time.” Another, “in-door,” porter took over my suitcase.
Passengers had to show their itineraries and passports at the front door. Then my suitcase, laptop bag and carry on, had to go through an electronic screening. After that an agent had me open them all so he could rifle through them, looking for who knows what. After rearranging my clothing, and looking suspiciously at a battery recharger, he said I could go, but not before patting me down, a little more intimately that would be the norm in the West.
We advanced to the Kenya Airways line, which was just opening, half an hour after they’d told me to be there. First my itinerary and passport were checked again, and my suitcase was opened and examined by a Kenya Airways employee wearing white gloves. I was patted down again,
Next step: a government officer dawdled over checking my visa. He dawdled no-doubt hoping I would slip him something to expedite his service, but I used my best bored, unimpressed expression while looking in every direction but his, and finally the passport came back. Then I could actually check in with Kenya Airways. I got a claim check for my suitcase and boarding passed both for the Nairobi flight and for tomorrow’s onward flight to Bujumbura.
There were no departure cards available to fill out, so I headed for the emigration desks. I was stopped at the door by the agent. “You must wait, we are not ready yet” she told me, looking over her shoulder through the door. There was nothing to do but wait. It was about 8:30 now, but we were already starting to perspire, the temperature was obviously rising. I waited about half an hour and finally was allowed though the door to the emigration area. The officer asked in French for my departure card, so I told him there were none outside. He didn’t seem surprised, and just carried on with the formalities, but slowly. He asked me a few question including my profession. When I answered that I was a pastor, he smiled at me and said “I’m hoping for a material blessing today, do you think that will happen to me?” Another fishing expedition…. I said “I hope so” and smiled blandly as if I didn’t get his drift. He let me go. The next metal detector wasn’t working, so the search of my carry on bags was done by hand. And I got my third pat down.
Finally I was in the departure lounge for the two-hour wait until boarding. I’m in the middle of my third book for this trip, a fascinating supply-side economics model called The Way the World Works by Jude Wanniski. It had a great influence of Jack Kemp and President Ronald Reagan and probably had more than a little to do with the affluence of the 80s and 90s. It’s a little slow starting out I felt, but the more I’ve gotten into it, the more enthralling I find it. The time passed quickly. The boarding process was nearly the same as last time. When the time comes the doors are unlocked to a shaded terrace hemmed in by plastic chain. Kenya Airways employees went through our carry one bags by hand and patted us down once again. Then we waited to be allowed to board the bus.
This is new and a growing waste of time and money in African Airports. The airports are usually so small that a passenger doesn’t have to walk more than a minute or two to the plane. But now they must all have buses, which run their motors for half an hour while waiting to embark passengers, who finally pack in like sardines over the course of 10 minutes. The bus then drives a loop that takes 60 seconds, to the plane, about 200 meters away, and lets everyone out again. It would be so much quicker to walk.
The flight is very full. I’m in the middle of three seats in an emergency exit row. Kenya Airways often gives the exit row seats to westerners I’ve noticed, I believe for two reasons: first we appreciate the extra foot room, and second, they feel there’s a better chance the exit would be operated properly in the event of an emergency. The fellow sitting by the window next to me didn’t understand English and didn’t get any of the flight attendant’s instructions on how to open the door if necessary. She told me she was counting on me to do it. The fellow by the window also either hadn’t had the chance to bathe or to change his clothes recently. It was quite noticeable. It was going to be a long flight.
To be fair, he might not have thought I had a very agreeable odor either. Africans sometimes say that we westerners remind them of funerals. To some of them we smell like corpses. We often smell like soap, deodorant, toothpaste and other chemicals, and the only time many Africans smell like that is at their own funeral after they been washed and embalmed. It’s all a question of what one is used to….
We took off almost on time and the flight across Africa went without a problem. We arrived in Nairobi on time. I got my transit visa fairly quickly. The price has gone down to $10 now from $20, that’s certainly welcome. Picking up my suitcase I headed out and bargained for a taxi to the Fairview Hotel where I would spend the night. The asking price is always 1500 Shillings, about $22. One can always get it for KSh 1000, a third less, if one is willing to haggle and be persistent. My driver’s name was Sebastian. I arrived at the Fairview where I have been staying since 1998 or 1999. It is still good value for the money, especially if one asks for an economy room. Breakfast is included and there is free wi-fi too.
I’ll make it an early night tonight since I have to leave tomorrow morning about 6:00 am to head to the airport, on my way to Bujumbura.