Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Back in Nairobi...

This year we took a slightly different approach to our flights to Kenya this year, first driving to Los Angeles and then flying direct to Heathrow rather than stopping domestically in a US hub like Dallas or Chicago.

The problem with this is that it meant two long overnight flights. 10 hours to London and 9 to Nairobi. Virgin Atlantic and their “you might get a seat” booking policy made the flights a little more chaotic than necessary, and the crowds and construction at Heathrow are always an adventure to navigate, but we arrived at Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi ahead of schedule at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

I got zero sleep on the flights. Hayden did a little better. That girl can sleep anywhere, anytime, for any reason. It’s an enviable skill. From LA to London there was a twenty-something British kid in the seat behind us trying to impress the 20-something year old American girl. He tried for 10 straight hours. She was apparently impressed, since they were making out by the end of the flight. We were not impressed. The kid never stopped talking about himself, and it turns out he's not all that interesting.

From London to Nairobi it was a comedic trickle of missing passengers, lost seat assignments, crying babies, and confused first-time air travelers. 

I still like the idea of two flights rather than three, but we’ll see how this plays out in terms of adjusting to the time change.

Our driver, Gilbert met us at the airport and hustled us across town to the New York Times office in Gigiri, our home base for this trip. We stayed here three years ago thanks to the generosity of Jeffrey Gettleman, our friend and – coincidentally – the East Africa Bureau chief for the times. Jeffrey is a little busy these days trying to keep a handle on the issues in Sudan as they anticipate the pending separation of the south and the north into two nations in early July. If you haven’t read about the conflicts in the border region of Sudan, here is your urging to do so.

Traffic in Nairobi.
The midday traffic from the airport to Gigiri wasn’t bad, and the construction projects they were starting last year when we were here seem to be moving along. They are building a series of “fly-overs” (picture elevated freeway onramps) to bypass the gridlock inducing roundabouts of downtown Nairobi. So far only one of these projects has collapsed, and they seem to be moving along. Of interest is that the projects are funded by Kenyan taxes but being constructed by Chinese companies with a mix of Chinese, Kenyan, and immigrant African labor.

It is easy to see the chaos that is coming to Nairobi. There is almost zero long range planning for transit or transportation, and the burgeoning middle class is nabbing up cars as fast as they can buy them. Already it can take hours just to get across town, and it isn’t going to get any better. I could go on a rant about profit motive, private enterprise, and the path the US is on with the whole “let corporations decide what is best for the nation” plan we seem to be following, but I’ll save that for another time when I have a few more minutes.
Right now it is 7:00 a.m. on our first full day in country. The guards outside the office have switched shifts, it’s raining  out (of course…we brought it with us), the Nescafe is hot, and we are getting set to head out to Cura for the morning to meet with Moses and a few others and plan the rest of our visit.
More to come…

1 comment:

  1. My shared friend, Chris G, recommended your blog. I should be heading to Nairobi in less than a month (July 19/20 arrival) and will be there for about 8 full days, with 5 of those completely mine to do with what I please. I am thrilled to be reading your blog as I think it could help immensely with calming my nerves and a bit of familiarity with the unfamiliar. I'd gladly accept any recommendations. =) Enjoy your trip and I look forward to reading about it.