Saturday 4th February 2017
We are sitting on the tarmac at Abu Dhabi waiting to roll, listening to the guttural tones of Arabic interspersed with a posh English accent alternately run through the safety briefing. We have four hours and fifty minutes in a tiny A320 to look forward to. The jump from Sydney was completely uneventful, assisted significantly by getting eight hours sleep. I managed to get the movie ‘Girl on a Train’ watching (average) while eating dinner, and a repast of lamb biryani w
hich I didn’t really need given we had eaten at Sydney airport (Salmon pizza) before we flew out.
Abu Dhabi is a sprawling complex, far exceeding what I saw here only 12 years ago. In 2005 Etihad was only two years old and the plans for this airport grand, but not realised. There are a vast number of aircraft lined up on the tarmac and a lot of engineering still underway on taxiways and terminal buildings. But it’s still new and functional and refreshingly unlike the Emirates facilities which have a ‘look at me’ feel to them.
We get way at 0900 as planned and lift above a hazy dun desert sand, climbing and turning steeply as the pilot points us south into the heart of Africa.
Nairobi is further south than most imagine and we have longer in the air than the map in my mind ever suggests. Interestingly, at altitude everyone closes the blinds. The light out there is dazzling but it seems everyone prefers the dim light of this tube. Or is it a factor of the screens on the seats? No one wants the screens to be washed out so down come the blinds.
Our arrival in Nairobi was to cause a slight flutter. Distracted by discarded airframes including a pair of AN24s I missed the fact that were coming in very high. Just as I thought we should be pushing for the tarmac we power aloft at a rate that is impressive and quickly we are at 5000’ or more. It was a slightly bumpy ride in the first time around so we brace for another round of turbulence. It’s two much for the two kids on the other side of the isle and we listen to them make good use of the barf bags. The next approach was longer and flatter and slower than any of us silent passengers want, but it’s not long before we are being bused to immigration. Any year now they will have this terminal sorted out.
David from Elida Tours is waiting for us and we have something of a reunion before he retrieves his vehicle and transports us via Kibera to the SIM compound. We landed at 1pm and finally reach the compound at 1450. Somehow we hang in there until 1730 when we are taken by Martin for a coffee at the YaYa Centre, a spot I would prefer to avoid. I recall a security brief from 2013 which noted El Shabab had the centre on its target list, and those boys and girls have a good track record of hitting shopping centres in this country. We are alive, but asleep by 8pm, 0400 Sydney time.
Sunday 5th February 2017
Off to church at 1030 followed by lunch at the Hypermart, a place that is now quite familiar to me from multiple visits here. It’s a sorry shopping centre and there is nothing ‘hyper’ about anything that happens in this place, but it’s low key and the food court, out on a large open veranda, is diverse and cheap. Church was a single rather than double service. They amalgamated their usual two services to have one service followed by an AGM. That made for a lot of singing and celebrating and community but not too much else. But that was more than sufficient and we enjoyed plenty of harmonious song, including and especially the young kids in front of us who became absorbed with the music and gyrated themselves to bits.
Lunch proved a lovely bonus. We dined with Bev, the Director of SIM Kenya. She is Jamaican but studied and lived in England, just outside of London. She came out here to Kenya 17 years ago to spend a ‘short term’ period of service here and has been in Nairobi ever since. She strikes me as quite composed but has a real gleam in her eye when she talks about the reason for her being here. We finish the day early since we are still very much on Sydney time. Coming back to the apartment is a pleasure. It’s a modest place but scrubbed clean, and decorated by flowers which are refreshed each day given they struggle in the heat. Nice little touches that make the stay homey and pleasant. The kitchen comes with some basic commodities for breakfast. Downstairs is a large lounge cum dining area which I spread into with notes and books and laptop, while the bedrooms and bathrooms are upstairs. It has a well worn and well scrubbed look about it but its clean and tidy.
Monday 6th February 2017
Kavitha and Mal headed up to the office to get their audit underway. I started by walking up to David’s office to organise the car. He seems to be in straightened circumstances. The office has moved into more modest digs and he says Moses is on leave. But Moses’ desk is completely empty. The place has a disorganised look and a very listless feel. I wonder if Moses’ leave is permanent. It is certainly not the bustling place I found here in 2013.
The car is not ready but that is okay. I walk back to our guest house and get some work done before walking up to the shopping centre, pulling some funds and buying bread and other essentials. When I get back to the SIM compound David is waiting for me there with the car but he needs me to drop him back to his office. So I drive back across Ngong Road (it’s a construction site) and park. I didn’t have the cash he needs but says he is happy to see it tomorrow. I wondered at the little crowd that stood around the vehicle and chatted while we agreed all this – I got a sense I was getting the use of someone’s private vehicle. No paperwork to speak of. It added to the air of David’s business being in trouble.
That evening we dined with Cristal and her husband. A German coupe who have been out here a very long time. They have adopted children as well as having four of their own. Or was that three? She fed us a mighty meal complete with a mango smoothy which saw us move slowly out of their apartment and creep towards our own. We are very full. Another early night but the time zone difference is not helping. That night the first suspicions of a migraine crept into my head. Not the most pleasant.
Tuesday 7th February 2017
I walk back to the shopping centre and pull the cash I need for David’s car. 15,000 shillings which amounts to about $35 a day. He is sitting in a slightly more tidy office than the one I saw yesterday, with a cleaner sorting his floor with a mop. He lets slip he is only in the office to meet with me. He is grateful for the shillings. I ask him about the Hibiscus Guest House We stayed there just a little over two years ago when we came through on the Kilimanjaro trip. When we searched for it on Google Maps we saw that it was closed. David had some sort of interest in it. He tells me that when it first opened and for many years thereafter it enjoyed a better than 70% occupancy. But the travel warnings by the US and UK governments had seen that drop to less than 20% with the place being vacant for weeks at a time. In the end it clearly was not a sustainable proposition and it had to be closed. He is disappointed even as he recounts this and wonders aloud at the impact of these warnings, especially from the US government. It is no more or less dangerous than visiting anywhere in the world that is not a war zone and those warnings are hurting the major industry of Kenya, namely tourism. We muse on this for a short while before I leave him to it and spend the rest of the morning with my head buried in work. I walk up to the office at 1300 and have lunch with Kavitha and Mal. They have settled into their audit and seem happy with the progress.
Our evening repast is with Brianna and Hannah from the South Sudan team. It was an evening of stories and laughter which we thoroughly enjoyed. Even though they resident a short distance from the compound we were driven to and from, Bev being insistent that we not walk after dusk.