Wednesday, June 11, 2014

I Always End Up In Tears in the Nairobi Airport


Karibu means “Welcome,” though the Nairobi airport is anything but.

Last time it was post-24 straight hours of travel by myself, wrangling two large suitcases (one full of medical supplies), and a tense customs exchange when I walked into the large receiving hall ready to see my husband, a tall American face in a sea of shorter African ones. I looked and I looked, but he wasn’t there. I had no phone with which to call or text, and while I rightly assumed that the driver and he were stuck in traffic, I was all alone in a very foreign country with two big bags fending off people offering me a taxi. Joe showed up probably fifteen painfully slow minutes later, and all was well.

Monday and Tuesday’s travels were obnoxiously difficult. Weather delays led to us hanging out in the Nashville airport for nearly three hours, though fortunately we were able to change our flight to London and still make our connection to Nairobi. We had limited time in London, made worse by people unfamiliar with security screening procedures. Luckily, our flight to Nairobi was not full, so we were able to stretch out. Flying British Airways is fun because your tea comes with milk in a stick!


Our flight to Nairobi was slightly delayed due to security measures which prohibit the plane from flying with baggage belonging to people who don’t make the flight. When we arrived in Kenya after a “short” (according to our pilot) flying time of around eight hours, the deboarding process seemed unusually slow. A fire last year required that we exit onto the tarmac and take a shuttlebus to the baggage claim. Since we were at the back of the plane, everyone had arrived before us to fill out their various forms that all ask the same information and stand in line for visas. After switching lines several times to insure we were in the right line, made it to the front, nearly an hour after our plane had landed.

The upside was that the crowd at baggage claim had thinned out, and we easily spotted three of our four bags. My personal bag was the one missing. Six weeks ago, on our way back from France, my bag decided to stay in France rather than come home with us, though since we were going home, it wasn’t as stressful. When the baggage handlers started pulling the remaining bags off of the carousel, I knew I was in trouble. The line at baggage services assured me that I wasn’t the only one with this issue, but the single agent was overwhelmed with the number of people needing assistance. I was exhausted and hungry, and my body hurt in that way only squeezing into an airplane for hours on end can cause.

Joe decided to attempt to go through customs by himself to meet Phillip, our driver, while I stood in line to file my claim. While I stood in line, he was arguing with the customs agents over the taxation of medical donations (apparently a new policy). He paid up rather than risk them confiscating the equipment, and I learned my bag was still in London just after midnight Nairobi-time, over two hours after our plane landed. I was promised that it would be on today’s flight and then be driven to Kijabe tomorrow (Thursday). Once we got that sorted out, we ran through customs to see Phillip, our driver, still waiting patiently for us. We were all thrilled with the reunion and tried to relay to Phillip the circumstances that delayed us for so long.


He hurried us to the Amani Gardens Guest House where we were shown to our room, took a much-needed shower, and went to bed. After my experience coming home from France, I took care to pack a change of clothes, pajamas, basic toiletries, and all of my chargers in the carry-on. This morning, we awoke to a cool, gray mist over the gardens, had our breakfast in the dining area, and prepared to travel the rest of the way to Kijabe. I spent a few moments in the prayer labyrinth, a path of eye-level bushes leading to a bench in the center for meditation.


Phillip took us to the market on the way to purchase SIM cards and a 3G dongle modem as well as some groceries. Our house in Kijabe is much more spacious than our last apartment but not quite as nice. We’re waiting on maintenance to fix the water heater/showerhead-thing and bring us a water filter. For now, I’ve boiled some water to keep in the fridge for drinking and brushing teeth. The weather is much chillier than in January, hovering around 55-70 degrees. It feels good coming from 90 degree weather, but some of the Kijabe hospital staff were wearing scarves!

We both start work at the hospital tomorrow, three days after initially departing Nashville. Between the travel, time zone change, getting settled in and set up, and everything just moving much slower in a developing country, it’s been a long few days and a rough adjustment period. Hopefully my bag will arrive in Kijabe tomorrow, and we’ll get started at work.

Karibu Kenya!