Happy New Year! If you’re doing a double take, checking your calendar, and then sympathetically sighing, thinking to yourself, ‘it happens to the best of us. It has finally happened to her. This daughter of Alego has lost her marbles. But who can blame her? We are not judgmental people. We have even been called good people by people who are not our mothers, so that means we are good people. After surviving 2020, let her marbles roll where they will’, donge?
Well, you will be happy to know that all my marbles are very much intact, and that I am well aware that we are approaching the final lap of February. I am writing my first piece this year simply because, to paraphrase the late great Chinua Achebe, until this moment, I had not found the mouth with which to narrate what happened to us.
It is said that when the universe first speaks to us, it is in a gentle whisper, so only we can hear. You see, the universe does what it can to save us from what my Nigerian brethren call embarrazzment. And the universe, knowing we were about to embark on our trip to Kenya, started whispering in my ear. Perhaps the first sign that this was to be no ordinary trip should have been the torrential rain right as we arrived at the airport. The universe, sending an early warning to us, whispered that our seven suitcases were overweight. But did we blink? No. Every summer bunny knows that overweight suitcases stuffed full of gifts are a direct reflection of the fullness of one’s heart, and are in fact, a sign that one cares deeply. To show up at home empty handed after being gone for so long is Just. Not. done. Periodt.
Whisper ignored, the universe decided to be less subtle. She poked the skies, which, starved for attention and eager to please, opened up to unleash sheets of rain upon us. But we are not made of salt oooo so come rain or shine, we were going to Kenya, boatload of suitcases in tow.
By this time, the universe was looking at us like, really? Really. I try so hard, I try but they don’t listen. So she decided to turn up the volume. You see, in the years since we have been to Kenya, the Kenyan government had discontinued issuing visas upon arrival, and instead requires that visas be obtained through their ecitizen portal. Now, you might be wondering, how did an obsessive planner like me miss this glaring detail? Well, you would be correct in asking that question. And I would be correct in wiping the egg off my face. But even the best of us can get distracted when laser focused on packing and repacking suitcases so they are just at 50 pounds, knowing full well that the airport scale will add a pound or five to the weight.
And so, when the gate agent asked us to show our evisas, I casually said, “oh that’s fine, Kenya issues visas upon arrival.” The man, Massimo (not his real name), said, with a very patient smile, “no, they require that you apply online before boarding.”
I should mention that this was 2 hours to boarding time. I felt my palms sweat, even though it was quite chilly. That overused phrase from my primary school days, “I felt a cold shiver run through my body”, suddenly made sense. But we had no time to sweat, or shiver. And so between my husband and I we managed to register and log into ecitizen, and as luck would have it, the portal was down. The universe raised an ‘I told you so’ eyebrow, but wisely did not rub it in.
Time to boarding: 1 hour 45 minutes
We tried again, and as we were engaged in a bare-knuckle brawl with the portal, Massimo, who I firmly believe is an angel, started weighing our luggage, and wouldn’t you know it, it came in as overweight. That’s right. All seven suitcases were overweight. You can count on three things in life. Death, taxes and airport scales adding pounds to your luggage. But Massimo decided that we had weightier problems at the moment, and decided against bringing up the little matter of the extra pounds. Such a gentleman.
The next hour and a half flew by in a blur of ecitizen portal hangups, attempts to log in again, a frantic search for a place to print the e-visa confirmation, a maddening wait as another customer at the printing place talked the attendant’s ear off, and finally, FINALLY getting the printed paperwork and then channeling our inner Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce all the way to the gate.
Time to boarding: 1 minute.
Of course, in all the excitement, we were almost the last to board, and as luck would have it, the attendant informed us that the overhead bin was full, and I would have to check in my carry-on suitcase. The universe looked on and sighed to the other galaxies, “I tried to warn them, I did, but did they listen? No.” And so I handed in my suitcase, which, I should mention, had my only change of clothing. Imagine my shock when I got on the plane and found empty spaces in the overhead bin. At that moment, I was peeved but not worried since we were connecting at Frankfurt, reputed to be a highly efficient airport because, Germans.
To make a long story short, the flight had it all, starting with a delayed departure because, and I kid you not, they had to fuel the plane. Now I am no engineer, but even I know a plane needs fuel to fly. So how was it that they only realized they needed fuel once we were fully boarded? So we sat on the tarmac while they fueled the plane and one hour later, we finally took off. If you’ve never flown out of San Francisco, please add it to your bucket list. The view of the ocean, the red Golden Gate Bridge, the white Bay Bridge, the boats sailing in the deep blue water, and the white surf really are a sight to behold.
Hours later as we flew over frosty Canada, we hit serious turbulence, significant enough to relieve our child of his lunch. Please keep in mind that my change of clothing was somewhere in the belly of the plane. The universe did me a solid, and spared me from getting my clothes soiled in the eruption. After everything was cleaned up and some fidgety sleep, we landed in Frankfurt, with barely any time to board our connecting flight to Nairobi.
Time to Nairobi flight departure: 30 minutes.
Now, one would think, we departed late, we arrived late, they must be expecting us, right? Wrong. We sat in the plane for another 15 minutes while the airport located the door engineer. You read that right. In Frankfurt, a specially trained engineer opens the plane door. I wonder if that is always the case in other countries, or if the Germans simply decided to make it A Big Deal. Some passengers loudly complained, even offering to open the door themselves, but were told, in a very stern German accent, to Warten! because, you guessed it, they are not door opening specialists. The taciturn specialist finally arrived and amid searing glares, set us free. Out on the tarmac, we were greeted by a wintry December morning, a harbinger of the rest of our short time in Frankfurt; and began the ordeal of navigating Frankfurt Airport, which I hope to never visit again. Up until that moment, Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport was my least favorite. But now? It’s hard to choose between CDG and Frankfurt. It like choosing between a root canal or a boil on your bottom.
Two shuttles, a boarding pass scan and 30 minutes of waiting later, we were back right next to the plane we had landed in. I mean, they could just have had someone scan our boarding passes as we disembarked from plane 1, but where would the fun have been then? They did not even ask to see any evisa documentation ahead of our Nairobi flight. The inefficiency of the whole process firmly convinced me that the makers of the German cars that are so well renowned must not come from Frankfurt.
I should mention that, from start to finish, our flight was about 20 hours, so it would come as no surprise to learn that we were beyond exhausted when we landed in Nairobi, and as we dragged ourselves through immigration, we encountered a new obstacle. Apparently around the time the Kenyan government moved to ecitizen, they also updated their passports to a light blue East African version. How did I know this? Well, I was one of only two Kenyans carrying a dark blue passport. Also, one row over, the other holder of a dark blue passport was having his head chewed out over the fact that he was “years and years late to updating his passport”. This turn of events did not bode well for me, and I approached the immigration desk with trepidation. Imagine the irony of being denied entry into the country of my birth. I suddenly had some empathy for Miguna Miguna. But, the immigration gods were smiling down on me. The immigration officer firmly explained that he was granting me entry at his discretion, and I needed to apply for the new passport, and since I was entering the country with my legacy passport, I would have to go to Nyayo house to get my foreign passport endorsed to indicate that I am indeed a Kenyan citizen, otherwise, I would have difficulty exiting the country. My shoulders sagged with relief.
But the universe said, “NyarAlego, don’t relax yet, there’s more.”. When we went to collect our luggage, we found out that the Damen und Herren of Frankfurt airport had not loaded it, which is to say, we had no luggage. And that included my checked carry-on bag. That’s right, my only change of clothing was freezing somewhere in Frankfurt. We headed to the lost luggage counter where the sole attendant, upon seeing the number of claimants and mentally calculating the amount of paperwork involved, sauntered off without a word. Fifteen minutes later, his replacement nonchalantly sat down, and proceeded to request information from each passenger at a pace that would put a sloth to shame. While waiting our turn, a man in a long brown kanzu and matching skullcap decided that his time was more important than ours and cut the line, heading straight to the counter. Having stood there for close to an hour at that point, we were having none of it and told him to wait his turn. So he did what any self respecting jerk would do, and said, “ok, so I will just stand next to the line.” When he got to the counter and presented his information, the slothly (yes I made that word up) attendant pointed to another line, this one long and weaving, and told him his flight’s missing luggage report desk would be over there. The schadenfreude I felt in that moment was overflowing. And so he swept away in his kanzu, karma leading the way.
Three hours later, our turn came, we filed a report, and were finally free to head out of the airport, which was lightning fast because, you guessed it, we had no luggage!
The next week went by in a blur of borrowed clothes, several visits to Nyayo house to get my foreign passport endorsed, a visit to NairobiNationalPark, which is right next to the Capital City, sheldrickwildlifetrust (cute baby elephants), giraffecentre (where there is a warning to watch out for a head-butting girraffe) and finally a visit to frankincensespa which was AMAZING and the hot stone massage undid all the tension and drama we had endured so far. I went with my niece and my sister from another mister and we had a lot of catching up to do but we might not be allowed back due to the amount of talking and giggling that went on during our spa session. Our luggage was finally delivered 5 days after we arrived. In those five days, I felt like I was in a long-distance relationship with the airline based on how long and often we spoke at all hours, seeing as they were in new York and I was in Nairobi. They promised us a refund that is yet to appear in our bank account.
If you’ve never flown to Kisumu at dusk, please add that to your bucket list. The orange glow of the sunset, the view of the hills as you approach Nam Lolwe, whose waters shimmer like millions of diamonds bathed in the orange glow as the sun finally sinks into the horizon is breathtaking.
Once we were in our dala all the cousins formed a troupe and ran up and down the house, venturing outside to chase the chickens, turkey and guinea fowl, bathtime and bedtimes be damned. Gallons of ice cream and soda were scarfed down, because apparently at Dani’s, anything goes. Vegetables? What vegetables? That’s grown up food.
I applied for my new light blue passport in Kisumu, a seamless process. I am happy to report that Kenyan Government services have come a very long way, and that I am now in fact a huge fan of ecitizen and whatever other “e’s” the Government of Kenya decides to throw our way.
While one of my brothers, my husband and I were enjoying delicious kuon gi rech at Da Vundubar in Kisumu, back home, another one of my brothers decided that it was time to show the kids how the goat lands on our plate, so he gathered all the cousins and gave them a front row seat to, to quote my child, a “goat being sacrificed”. To this day, months later, he will not eat goat meat, because “I keep remembering that goat that was murdered in Kenya.”
On our final evening in Kenya, we drove past NairobiNationalPark en route to the airport where once again we saw giraffes, antelope and zebras roaming free, a fitting goodbye.