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First Day in Africa:

(Friday 12/10/99)

So this was my first full day in Africa. I guess you sort of have to imagine me telling you the story. If I’ve ever told you a story before, and I’m sure for most of you reading I probably have, then you should know by now that they do tend to drag on a bit, and not much happens in them. Most of you are informed consumers, so, until I start getting complaints and until I get sick of writing them, you will continue to get sagas when you come to this site…(also, all of the links, are not necessarily active yet, especially the pictures)

I have just had a very Toto moment. I have actually now felt the rains down in Africa. It is almost seven in the evening here. The sun has just set over Lake Victoria and it just started raining a few moments ago. It is nice and cool and slightly breezy. I am sitting in someone’s office here at the guest house looking out over the balcony at the lake a short mostly tree obscured distance away. What a confusing place this is. I suppose at first anywhere significantly different from home can be confusing. and this certainly is different. At first impression this is a very beautiful and sad place.

I arrived yesterday morning in Nairobi after a long crowded flight from London. (for stories from London see London Day On and London Days Two and Three) As we turned to make our final approach for landing, I foolishly looked for wild game cavorting in the fields. There were several very large grayish rocks that I convinced myself were elephants, but eventually decided that their complete lack of movement combined with a lack of heads, trunks, ears or tails indicated that they were not proper elephants. As we flew in I was surprised mostly at how green everything was. Surrounding the airport are large open fields with stands of trees with delicately curved trunks and long horizontal branches that look a little like layers of thins green clouds on a stick. I suppose what they most look like are thirty foot tall Japanese Bonsai trees. There are mountains in several directions, one of which, I think is Mt. Kenya. The city of Nairobi (also called Nai-robbery as it is particularly dangerous) itself is some eleven miles away.

As soon as I was off the plane I was struck by two things. One, it was hot, probably in the nineties (I haven’t yet adjusted to the Celsius/ Fahrenheit degree changes yet so I didn’t catch the actual temperature when they announced it on the plane) After being in the wind and rain of London, which is mild itself compared to wind and snow of Michigan, it was still somewhat of an expected sensory surprise. I mean, even if you know, intellectually, that it’s going to be hotter than the place you just were, your body can’t help but say, "Hey! What the hell’s this!" The second thing I noticed was something I thought would continue to be true, but, as I know now, isn’t actually, and that was that people were smoking inside the terminal. I think that when you are travelling somewhere new, especially somewhere you are planning on staying at for awhile, you become hyper-alert to things and you try to create a system to make sense of everything. Every piece of information that you receive you examine, see how it fits into the picture of things that you have already accumulated, and either add it the system or change the system in some way to accommodate it. For me it sort of made sense that in other parts of the world, especially ones not as draconian as the US on this issue, that you would still be able to smoke in public, and this would be more prevalent. It turns out that smoking doesn’t seem to be especially common, although it is clearly done here, and of all the public buildings we were in today, no one was smoking in any of them, although one place provided for it. I feel like I have spent more time talking about this then is warranted by the subject itself, but I want to point it out as the first thing I was wrong about as I am sure that there will be countless others.

My plane arrived in Nairobi at about nine in the morning on Friday. My plane left Nairobi for Kisumu at five in the evening. Seven hours is a long time to wait in the Nairobi airport, let me tell you! I went through customs and was only able to get a three month visa to Kenya, so I may be seeing y’all much sooner than you think! (I’m sure we’ll work something out) As I walked out of the international terminal with my huge duffel bag and my day pack, I was assaulted by swarm of taxi cab drivers, who asked, "taxi? Taxi?" I’d say no thanks and they’d respond, "Maybe next time?" as if the next time I was in Nairobi I’d be able to look them up specifically if I needed a lift somewhere. One driver started talking to me in very good English after I turned him down for a ride and he asked me if I wanted to have a couple of beers with him. When I politely declined, he told me about an American that he’s had four beers with earlier in the day. The American said that when you die and are on your way to heaven everyone has to stop at New York City on the way. He asked me if it was true and wished I had said that I wasn’t sure as I hadn’t died yet. We talked about where I was going and what I was doing in Kenya. He was very excited about my being an American, he could tell that I was one by my smile, he said. He told me that Americans and Australians were the most respected people in Kenya. I asked about the British and he laughed and said, "F*** the British!" We laughed and he tried to get me to sign up for a safari for the next time I was in town, which I declined also. Again, not a particularly interesting story, but, as it was my first "African" conversation I feel compelled to include it.

I tried to check in for my flight and was told to come back a couple of hours before it left. I went up to a nice little restaurant recommended by a friend of Kim’s called Simba. They had a little lounge with a coffee table, a couch and some chairs. That damn "Mambo No. 5" song was on the radio as I settled in and read for a while. That was about ten, I woke up at about two, wondering whether or not they minded that I had just slept for four hours in their lobby. As nothing happened to me, I guess it was alright. At three I went down to the Kenyan Air counter and tried to check in. At this point I was introduced to what I think Kim has referred to as "African Time." As in many other, non-Germanic/non-Protestant countries, time is non-Euclidian in Africa. There doesn’t seem to be much of a rush until the last minute to do things here. In this way, and in a couple of others I’ve discovered, it seems as if I may be personally predisposed to life in Africa.

I had been told when I first arrived that I could check in at three, but when I got there at three I was told that I had to wait for the next shift which would come in fifteen minutes. When they came thirty minutes later I tried to check in, but at that time they were only selling tickets. It was at least four before I was able to check in. When I got to the head of the queue (as a former colony, Kenya is chock full of Briticisms) I was told that they didn’t have a booking for me and that the plane was nearly full. He told me to wait to the side and he would call me to the front when everyone else had checked in. I rushed to the other terminal where the moneychangers were and changed some pounds to shillings. (Actually, I tried the ATM first and it didn’t work. I was just excited that they had one) I only had one coin, ten shillings, to call Kim and warn her that I might not arrive. Fortunately I reached her and had just enough time to tell her the situation before the phone died.

I rushed back to the counter to find a sea of humanity crowding in front. I waited in line again for some time, watching the clock get closer and closer to five. The line crawled and people were pushing their way forward as not miss their flights. Finally, they just seemed to give up on their computer system and started filling forms out by hand and giving them out. He called my name at 4:59 and I had to holler to get someone to take and tag my bag. I raced out of the main terminal and ran O.J. Simpson style to get to the gate. I went through the main door and through the metal detector and expected to have to run all the way down a long terminal to the last gate as is seemingly always the case in these situations. Instead I went through the first door past security and directly on to the tarmac and directly in to a tiny twenty seat propeller plane. Fifteen minutes later we took off. Seeing as they closed the door not a minute behind me, and as the cargo doors were closed and I didn’t hear them open and the fact that the people at the counter didn’t seem particularly interested in it, I was positive that I was going to show up in Kisumu without my big bag. I spent the entire fifty minute flight thinking about how I was going to end up searching Nairobi Kenyatta airport for it two or three days later.

To make a longer than necessary story short, I arrived in Kisumu where both my bag and Kim were there to greet me. (here’s a link to an exciting action shot of me arriving at the airport: Pix 1)

Kisumu is located on a medium sized narrow bay of Lake Victoria. Here’s a link to a map site if you’d like to see where it is: () Kim and a driver from the CDC picked me up and drove us to the CDC guest house. The airport is on the opposite side of town from the house, so we drove right through town to get there. Things were both better and worse than I thought that they would be. The roads are better then I thought they would be, but by my American road standards, even Michigan road standards, they are abysmal. Huge gaping potholes dot the dirt and paved roads. The most notable thing about the roads is the number of people that are walking alongside them. The dirt shoulders and the first couple feet of road are continuously full of people. People carrying boxes, bags, people walking back or to work, and people just sitting around. There are no sidewalks on most of the roads outside of town, although there are some in the city itself.

Every country you go to people say that the driving is crazy. It doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you are going people always insist that the drivers that populate their roads are the worst in the world. Some have more of a case than others. I think that I have been to about eight or nine countries and maybe fifty or sixty cities in all parts of the world and I think that thus far Kenyan drivers are the most absolutely certifiably insane by a long stretch. They drive, as the British, on the left side of the road. It would be more accurate to say that they generally drive on that side. It is more of a guideline than a hard fast rule. The driver from the airport to the house used the flattest part of the road, whichever side of the road that that might be. He swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid bumps, he drove off of the road to miss potholes and passed opposing traffic on the right (imagine driving in the states and passing a car going in your direction as well as an oncoming car by passing in the shoulder of the oncoming lane) (that’s not very clear is it? sorry…) Anyway, they’re insane. They really aren’t helped by the condition of the roads or the lack of sidewalks, so I should give them a little bit of a break…Hopefully you can picture Kim and I stuffed into the front seat of a jeep. The thing you should have no problem imagining is me trying to play it cool, like I’ve been in a Kenyan Mad Max Deathrace before, while secretly, just out of Kim’s sight, my hands are gripped white-knuckled on the window frame. I’m sure they didn’t notice.

We pulled up to the guest house (pictured here and here) Although I had remembered Kim saying something about it, I was still surprised to see a guard at the gate in a little blue uniform. I am so glad he’s unarmed. That would be a little too much. At this point I’d best talk about this so no one particularly immediate family, worries too much. As I may of said in previous conversation (most likely a conversation trying to rationalize not working for awhile), the cost of living here is very low, that is it is low compared to the cost of living in say…oh I don’t know….Ann Arbor! But this is just in comparison to Ann Arbor. It’s an economy of scale thing, if you are only making $3000 a year as an average Kenyan is, then $400 a month is well beyond your reach. I’m not sure how much the place we’re staying in is, but it’s really nice, by any standard. It has three large bedrooms, one really large bedroom, three and a half bathrooms, a large living/dining room and a large kitchen, as well as a little yard. This is a pretty nice place in general and a near mansion in comparison to the kinds of places that poor native Kenyans live. It is in a row of similar gated, guarded houses called, I believe, maisonettes, from the French: "little house". In my short exposure to the immediate area, I think that this is the rich part of town. However, I think it is on a road leading in to town so people of different socio-economic classes live and walk by us all the time. At the very least I am sure they would know where this part of town is. I think that any time you have the perceived haves (especially foreign haves) living in close proximity to the have-nots then you shouldn’t be overly surprised at some theft. That, I think, is mostly what is being protected here, property. The fact that it is a government rented house means that there is twice the reason to have it guarded. Kim and I were talking today about what we were going to do about this issue once we were renting our own house and she said that if we decided not to get a guard from one of the local security companies it is not at all inconceivable that one of the companies wouldn’t hire someone to break in-in order to encourage us to use security services. Sounds like a Mafia insurance scam to me…

We stayed in all night at the house. There is a caretaker here most of the time and he made a really really good chicken and rice dish, which was particularly good as I had not eaten since early that morning on the flight in. Kim and I ate and caught up while the caretaker, Julius, watched the Swahili news on television. After dinner and a shower after Julius left Kim and I sat down to see what was on television. It turns out there is only one channel that comes in. We watched the news in English at eight, the highlight being the weather from around the world. They play a song from Monty Python and the Flying Circus movie "The Life of Brian." It’s called "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life." I am cracking up right now writing about it. You will never guess what was on after the English news at eight. Please, take the time to actually guess…

I’ll wait a second….

Because I don’t think anyone actually is going to guess I’m going to put it on a different page, and while that page is loading, I’m banking that you think about just a little bit


As both of us are fighting jet lag, we went to bed and woke up several times during the course of the evening. I was awake for dawn although I couldn’t quite see it through the trees.

All in all not a very eventful day, except, that during the course of the day I moved to Africa, a fact that I try to stay cool about, but inwardly, every once in awhile, and certainly this day, I say,