Monday, August 20, 2007

Kenya and Uganda (Part One)

I'm home. As promised, a trip report.

Day One

Arriving in Nairobi, I was immediately struck by how green everything is. In contrast to the desert hellhole to which I'd been posted for eight months, Nairobi is heaven. Of course, 'This is Africa' (and all that), so it's not like Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has gates or anything. No, instead we deplaned to the tarmac from which we passengers walked over to the terminal to process through customs and such.

Bliss. The air was so clean, so pure and crisp and cool! (Those who have traveled to Nairobi may be struck by the irony in that statement, given -- as I later learned -- to be in Nairobi is to, essentially, fellate a diesel tailpipe.)

In short order, I was given a visa and welcomed to the Real East Africa. After collecting my luggage, I exited the airport and stood outside among the milling throngs of people coming and going all hither and thither and just smiled. I was free. Furthermore, I was finally in a place that spoke one of my learned foreign languages. I was going to get immersion practice, and I was thrilled.

Rather than hire a taxi to my hotel, I asked a red-coated customer service agent (in Swahili!) what bus would take me there. He told me where to stand and told me to take the next one that arrived. So I did.

It is called the "City Hoppa." It was packed with a teeming mass of commuters. Suspiciously, the goat was absent. But I was ecstatic. I boarded, asked if it was going to my hotel, and was told that the bus would stop "near there." Hoo-ray.

My baggage occupied two seats, and I another. This is important because I'd later learn that the fare is by seat. Much later, though. Much, much later.

It turns out that the "City Hoppa" is an mzungu*-free form of transportation. All the other passengers were, shall we say, a little amused by my presence. The unbelievably circuitous route the bus took gave me opportunity to witness a fair portion of eastern Nairobi; I arrived an hour after departing the airport, despite the perhaps entertaining fact that Kenyatta airport lies but 40 kilometers from my hotel. There are a lot of bus stops in Nairobi.

Once I'd arrived at "near the Hilton," I was aided off the bus by a matronly mama mkubwa**. She was so entertained by my presence, she insisted on carrying the heaviest of my bags the three or so blocks from "near the Hilton" to the Hilton. She rocked!

After checking into my room -- oh, sweet Jesus, a real bed -- I flung the wide windows open and basked in the business of the street below. A million people were hurrying from one place to another, unaffected by the late hour or choking smog or insanely piloted cars or frenetic matatus***. I smiled, again, and took pictures.

I took a shower. By myself. I crapped. By myself. I kicked off my shoes (not boots, mind you) and landed with a muffled thud on my bed in which I'd eventually sleep. By myself.

Brilliant. My spirits could not have been higher... I thought. The next day, they would be.

* Mzungu (Wazungu): (n.) Whitey; Cracker; Culturally-unaware, probably British tourist.
** Mama Mkubwa (Mama Wakubwa): (n.) Big momma; Old mother; Grandmother.
*** Matatu (Matatu): (n.) Nothing I could write would do justice. Instead, read this.

Days Two through Five in short order. They get increasingly interesting, I promise.


Mood Indigo said...

Oh my gosh - you took a matatu? I'm adventurous but when I was there in May a driver and fair collecter were beheaded - that was enought to keep me away!

gn said...

Ah, crapping by oneself. It's the little things we spoiled Americans take for granted.

Glad you made it safely!

somebody else's hero said...

Oooooh, I wanna go next time! I'll save some money.