Trip Start Mar 26, 2012
32Trip End Apr 29, 2012
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We made it to the airport by about 8:15 and the bureaucratic fun began. From the car, a porter carried my bags as far as the front door. We paused to purchase the required departure slip that costs a $50 departure tax. I would have to hand that in just before boarding the plane. An officer checked my itinerary, passport and visa. I was allowed to pass. At the door I said goodbye to Justin and Jacob, they could go no farther. Neither could the outdoor porter. Before I could say anything, an indoor porter quickly scooped up my suitcase and took it 10 feet to the first security check, where a uniformed officer went through my suitcase by hand. The porter then carried the suitcase to the check in line where he put it behind a stack of other suitcases and motioned he should be paid. I gave him 1000 Francs, a little over a dollar. "No it is more than that" he said. I replied that 1000 Francs was good. “No it's not good, you have to pay me at least double that” he said. I smiled and pointed 30 feet away and said “you only carried the suitcase from there, and I didn’t ask you to in the first place.” He responded “yes, but I have expenses.” I smiled and didn’t reach for any more money and he finally left.
After a wait of 10 minutes in the second line of the day (the first was at the door), during which I attempted to keep an eye on my suitcase which I was not allowed to bring with me, my passport, visa and itinerary were checked again by two more officers. Then I was motioned to another line where I could take my suitcase and check in with Kenya Airways. My Air France program card got me into a shorter line that the rest and after having my papers checked again, was able to check in an get a boarding pass. Then I moved to immigration. To get into the immigration zone, I first had to have my Yellow Fever vaccination card checked at a desk, then another official of one department or another checked my passport and visa for the 4th time. But the immigration zone wasn’t open yet. So those of us who had gotten that far had to stand and wait in the stifling heat for half an hour. We were all quite wet and mopping our brows by the time the immigration people decided to process us. Once again my passport and visa were checked. The officer who was holding my passport asked in French what my name was. He had it in front of him, so I’m not sure what that meant. But I responded in French.
“You are American and you speak French?” he asked.
“I get by.”
He made a typical African sound of surprise and disbelief, a sort of long high-pitched eeeee sound, finished by: “That is very rare.”
“I know many Americans who speak French.” He ignored that.
“Vous ętes brave” (literally “you are brave”, but in the sense of being a hard worker or conscientious).
He stamped my passport, and I moved on.
Just past the immigration desks, yet another agent in uniform asked to see my passport and visa stamp. When he was satisfied, I was allowed through a door to the security post where another office asked for my passport. I tried to put my carryon on the scanner belt, but an agent said, “It is broken, go over there” motioning to a team on the motionless rollers where bags would normally come out of the scanner. An agent asked me to open my computer bag and rifled through the contents by hand.
I was then finally allowed, clothes soaked through, to enter the un-air-conditioned departure lounge which dates from before Independence more than 50 years ago. I went to the men’s restroom which was out of sight far enough to be able to take a photo. It pretty much matches the rest of the airport.
I read until boarding time. Then, on the terrace of the airport, outside but under an overhang, Kenya Airways personnel went through our carryon bags once again. Busses arrived to take us to the plane, but we had to wait as a group until everyone had gone through the last security check. The plane was a stone’s throw away so we could have been seated comfortably in our seats by the time we were allowed to crush into the busses. When the busses were finally overfull, we drove 15 seconds to the plane where we uncrushed and lined up again to hand in our departure tax papers. Then finally we were allowed to walk up the steps to the plane, stow hand luggage and sink into our seats. By the time we took off, at around 11:00, it felt as if we’d already been through a long day.
The 3 ˝ hour flight to Nairobi went smoothly. With the time change, we arrived around 4:30. I had a transit visa stuck in my passport for $20 (they take up a whole page in a passport just to allow one to spend the night), and collected my suitcase.
I negotiated a taxi driver named Francis down 20% from his starting price and we started into Nairobi. It has rained recently, the ground was wet, and that is always welcome. There must have been a previous dry spell because there were Masai (or Massai) with their herds of cows in the grass strip between lanes of the divided highway into town. Traditionally Masai cows are their life, so they take very good care of them, living in large part from the blood, meat, and money they produce. The Masai traditionally believed God gave their tribe all the cattle in the world, so if any were found in the custody of other tribes they would have somehow been stolen. They used to have quite a reputation for “liberating” cattle and “bringing them home” but that has mostly disappeared in recent times.
Traffic into town was terrible as it often is. It took us over an hour to reach the hotel (a run that takes 20 minutes or so when there is no traffic). It was 6:00 pm by the time I arrived and checked in at the brand new Crowne Plaza which was running a special price deal that made it less expensive than my usual hotels. After a refreshing talk with Marjolaine at home over Skype, I had a tasty Indian dish for dinner, and will head to bed early tonight. I will have to be up at 4:30 tomorrow morning in order the head to the airport with Francis for my continuing flights.