Arrival in Burundi
Trip Start Sep 08, 2013
13Trip End Oct 04, 2013
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Where I stayed
We didn’t talk too long however because I was in sore need of sleep. I had only slept two hours, or so, on the flight to Paris. On the Nairobi flight I managed to sleep about four more, by fits and starts. I also watched some video lectures I had loaded on my iPad on the history of Asia Minor (what is today Turkey) – a fascinating area with many Biblical connections.
We arrived in Nairobi at 20:30 and had our first glimpse of the changes brought about by the fire of last month. The deflagration completely consumed the arrivals area and apparently more than that. Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) is shaped like a large letter C wrapped around a large circle in the middle, separated by access roads. The C contains departure areas: drop-off zones, check in counters, and emigration processing on the ground floor, and then gates and duty free areas on the second floor – accessed by an escalator. From the upper area of the C there are two covered ramps that lead down to the arrivals area where one first passes immigration then down a stairway to baggage claim and ground transportation. It was a very modern, efficient airport when it was built – a very long time ago. Now it is always very over-crowded, inefficient and frustrating, and in urgent need of updating. To add to all that, the circle in the center of the C has been completely gutted by fire.
All that to say: as we arrived we saw large tents on the tarmac around the arrivals area. This is where immigration and other official functions are now being handled. I was ushered into the transit zone where I was able to get my boarding pass and then begin the three and half–hour wait for my next flight. The departure area was overflowing with people, almost every seat was taken – everywhere. And the semi-circle of the C was broken, boarded and blocked about a third of the way around. The fire damage must have gone beyond just the arrivals area.
There was a snack bar open so I had dinner, a sandwich, and watched the people who are always interesting in Nairobi because it’s such a crossroads. There are Chinese funneling through Nairobi back home. Kenya Airways now has a daily non-stop flight to Guangzhou. There are many from the Arab world in all the variations of dress: women in burqas, chadors, veils or scarves. Muslim men, white, swarthy and black, were variously arrayed in robes, skullcaps and other headdresses, beards, beads, sandals, or full western dress. European and American tourists walked through in everything from high-street chic to pseudo-safari (I’ve been guilty of that – it’s really fun) to travel trendy, to trashy, to really, really trashy. There are priests and nuns and missionaries of various stripes going and coming. And one can usually identify the UN and other aid-worker types by a vaguely superior air, a brisk "I know where I’m going and you don’t" gate, and special documents sticking out of their pockets or stickers on their carry-ons. But since the business and first class lounges had burned, everyone had become hoi polloi. So the time actually passed pretty quickly watching this fascinating cross section of the modern human race.
Finally a little before midnight, I walked across the tarmac in the marvelous night air of the high Kenyan plain to a little Embraer jet, where once again, I had a free seat beside me. We pushed back at midnight for the 90 minutes flight to Kigali and a time zone change. Most passengers deplaned in Kigali only to be replaced by many, only a few of whom were going to Bujumbura. After a 45 minutes wait we took off again for the 30-minute hop to Bujumbura where we arrived at 1:30 local time, 2:30 Nairobi time. I filled out the paperwork and got my visa with no problem, then picked up my suitcase, which somewhat amazingly had made it through all the plane changes from Dallas. Mo´se was waiting for me, a brave fellow to come out at that hour, and drove me to the King’s Conference Center, a Christian-sponsored establishment which offers clean, air-conditioned rooms for $60 a night, quite a good deal.
I started the air conditioner and drank some bottled water to re-hydrate after the marathon air travel and fell easily to sleep right about 3:00 am.