Nairobi: First Impressions – Part 1

I’m flying from Qatar to Nairobi. It’s the day after Trump has won the White House, and I think it’s safe to say I’m in shock. And I’m not alone. Passengers at Qatar airport had a zombie-like gait.

The plane isn’t full, and I have a row to myself. The other passengers are mostly Kenyan citizens returning home, and loud. The party intensifies as the flight proceeds. They are always out of their seats, hanging around the back of the plane, trying to chat up the pretty hostesses, taking selfies with them and rubbing their shoulders.

They’re young fellows, close cropped hair, tight, fashionable clothes, and smiles gleaming like the sun. They’re excited to be returning home. They mean no harm.

However, at some point the focus shifts, and they start taking whisky shots, one after the other, egging each other on. It’s like musical chairs – a few of them are always up, and when they resume their seats, up bounces another.

The hostesses try to discourage the behaviour, saying that the seatbelt sign is on, and eventually cut them off, but the volume increases. They yell at each other across the aisle, laughing uproariously, arguing in Swahili. It sounds good natured, except sometimes it doesn’t. I hear the word “Trump”. It’s not the first argument he’s started and it won’t be the last.

I’m relieved when the plane touches down. It’s a completely different vibe to Qatar. Loitering by the side of the tarmac are huge, long legged birds, something between a vulture and an ibis, I guess. They have nasty, hard looking beaks, and a reluctant to move, even for an Airbus. They eventually slouch out of the way like an angry teen.

The plane taxis to the terminal. There are old planes parked in the middle of the airport, dirty and rusting, as if the last pilot out gets the leftover plane, like a high-school football match selection. I’m grateful when the plane bumps to a halt. We disembark onto the tarmac, where a bus will take us the last few hundred metres. As I exit, I look at the row where the young fellows were sitting: it’s like they’ve upended a squatter’s house.

The terminal isn’t much more than a large tin shed. We’re directed to complete an arrival form, then funnelled into the immigration Visa line. It’s a tricky business, it seems. The paperwork is challenging, and no-one gets through unscathed. In my case, I don’t have the visa fee of $50 USD. The fellow wants to keep my passport while I find some cash, and this makes me feel deeply uncomfortable, but what choice do I have?

He tells me to go through and use the ATM (which I can’t find – but there is a money changer) and get 6000 Kenyan Shillings. When I get back and hand over the money, he delivers my passport back to me, but cares not a whit for the paperwork I slaved over.

No mind, I collect my luggage and zip through customs.

I’ve been warned about scams and thieves, and its recommended that a taxi be engaged inside the terminal, rather than negotiated on the street. No problem, a business-like and impatient lady takes my order and looks up the price for my hotel on a printed sheet, which she shows me for authenticity’s sake. 2400 KS, whatever, let’s get out of here. About $35. I’ve seen these sheets before, all over the world. I’m convinced that there are alternative versions, kept in different pockets to be produced as the situation demands. That’s a tale for another day.

She muscles me out of the way and pushes my trolley into the sunshine. It’s 22 degrees, and on the street young dancing girls performing a traditional dance. She rushes me to the taxi rank, slips a young fellow a few notes, and loads me into a cab.

(Part 2 Next Week – Eric The Driver – Tropical Heat, No Air-Con and the Windows Up – Hornbills and Traffic – Warm Beer and the UN)

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