The first hint at what sort of airport you are going to find comes as the undercarriage touches the tarmac and the nose wheel anticipates doing something similar in a few seconds time. We rush past a couple of dumped Soviet cargo aircraft (An-24s, or were they 26s? I blinked.), a Lockheed L110 and three Boeing 737-100s. The last time I saw a 737-100 was one I flew in from Hyderabad to Calcutta much to my dismay. It was a chicken and goat flight if you get my drift – all sorts of hand luggage.
Two things disconcerted me about it – the 100s had long been banished from Western airspace thanks to their decrepitude. And more disconcerting still there was no internal cladding in the plane. All the plumbing and wiring was open for us all to see. And interfere with. Anyway, these old aircraft were useful hints for me and they proved faithful cues. Nairobi is planning a new terminal but in the meantime it puts up with something that we have lost back home – an airport with character. A shambles, but with lots of character. Late 60s or early 70s with a security paucity that would make the TSA palpitate. There is a preponderance of timber and tiles and interesting paint schemes and carpet.
The forms handed out in the aircraft were a different shade to the ones wanted by the visa lady. But that was quickly sorted and after retrieving my pack from the baggage area, I wandered into the arrival verandah (“hall” would be giving it far too much credit) into a collection of the usual signs but not one for me. After walking up and down the line twice, double checking the taxi driver’s placards I was asked a few times by those watching if I would like a cab ride. Given that someone was supposed to meet me I thought that imprudent. He may still be on the way. Or asleep in the car park. One of them introduced himself as Peter (pee-TAR) and offered me his phone, much to my surprise. So I called my contact here who was a bit perplexed about the disconnection. “Leave it with me, I will call back” he said. (All this exacerbated by a global roaming service which was supposed to be activated a week ago – it was turned on for Dubai but not in the country I need it most. Can I say bad things about Vodafone? You betcyha). After a twenty minute wait Peter reappeared with another guy called Steve who handed me his phone. I had no idea who Steve was, or who the chap on the other end was either. I found out about Steve but as to the chap on the phone, I have no idea. Still don’t. He simply told me Steve was to be trusted, he knew the address I was to be taken to and that I was not to pay him, it was all sorted. So I did and I didn’t and it all was. I landed at the Exeter Apartments, was greeted by another cheery fellow called Getachew (Geh tah chew) who showed me to my room – via two steel doors with heavy locks. It was not unlike prison – and yes, I do know what that sounds and feels like.
We left Peter behind with numerous hearty handshakes. What a nice welcome to the country. Peter was a cab driver himself and could have insisted that he would only help if I was going to give him a fare. But no. He helped regardless of what was in it for him and someone else took the fare. That was Steve. His story is next.
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