well be back

the woman in front of me with a rolling suitcase was having a hard time with the stairs.
either she wasn’t expecting to disembark the airplane down at least a full flight of stairs, or she was hoping that this one time it would be different. well, it wasn’t, and she was dragging her little black suitcase loudly and not terribly gracefully down the stairs.

the woman behind me, grumbling about the situation in kiswahili, was following so closely behind me that my balance was threatened a few times. what personal space?

trying to help the woman in front of me, i reached down to grab the bottom of her bag to help carry it–she turned to see what was going on, looked terrified, and pulled the handle so quickly she nearly lost her balance. the bag catapulted forward, launching three steps ahead of her. fearful that she may lose her precious cargo, she never let go–and somehow managed to not tumble the rest of the way down the steps.

behind me, still so close this was practically in my ear, as if a personal message: *tongue cluck* “pole, pole. pole…” i couldn’t help but laugh a little.

while waiting for the second bus (the first one filled quickly) to take we travelers to the terminal for immigration and customs it struck me how many people had smart phones–because they were all taking photos of the airplane from the tarmac. a lot changes in a few short years!

the delight of the cool evening air, the suitcase and crowding situation, and pondering of the role of the smart phone in travel distracted me from realizing that i really should have used the lavatory before the plane landed. this realization struck me with urgency while the bus was loading. urgency.

fingers crossed as we pulled up for immigration and unashamed to move at a western-fast-pace into the building i dodged around fellow travelers and prayed for a washroom. victory! coffee of the netherlands and complimentary KLM heineken, meet water of kenya. the great mystery of international travel…

feeling so much better about life i wasn’t even sad to be at the end of the line for visas–whats the rush?

this realization “whats the rush?” was tested mere moments later–upon entering the country via the international airport each person’s temperature is checked. single file you step forward into a big yellow box and see yourself projected on a television screen mounted from the ceiling in front of you. only its a heat-reading camera or program-i wondered why my body looked remarkably orange and was enlightened when the woman monitoring my line wrote my temperature down on a form and instructed me to get out of the queue, fill the form, and hand it back to her.

i promised, on the form and in voice, that i hadn’t been traveling in any country with a recent ebola crisis, was given instructions in case i do develop symptoms, and ushered to the diplomat and airline crew line for visa purchasing and entrance. not a bad pitstop for front of the line visa buying!

visa in hand, customs cleared (“i have nothing to declare” but in my mind i always, always, always say, in my most affected southern drawl, “well, I Declare!”) sim card purchased and airtime topped up i found myself on my way to a private taxi.

i should have known something was up when we didn’t leave through the main exit of the airport. celestine led me to where some vehicles were parked and said that the driver would come to us. “okay.” she tried to force me to speak swahili–i have very little–and laughed at me when i asked for hot water or cold beer. priorities.

the driver sped up and she started rushing me, “okay, now hurry hurry! this is illegal parking.”
she literally threw my pack into the back seat and me into the front seat and waved us off.

this timid driver, who had trouble picking my accent, didn’t know the place in westlands where i was headed. so, like any idiot, i just kept repeating it. rolling my eyes at myself but not knowing what else to do in the moment. i did try different inflections–teacher tone, over pronouncing, repeating three times, just to name a few.

he drove kind of slow, and with no headlights on until we reached rhapta road and i said “can you be putting on the lights, i cannot read the signs.” “OH!” and on they snapped.

rookie mistake: not settling on a price before getting into the cab. it seems i have been away!
after reaching my friend’s home i spent the next 5ish minutes negotiating the price from the equivalent of $30 to about half that. (said friends jumped in and made it plain that the asking prices was way too much. community, y’all.)

the expected unexpected–the best welcome back to east africa i could have ever hoped for.


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