09 April 2009

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

is the feeling that I have had since we arrived in Kisumu yesterday afternoon.  Living in Malava has altered the way I have come to see things and I was not even aware of it until yesterday.  Kisumu is the closest city to us (2.5 hrs away) and is where Michael and I were going to catch our plane.  Any time that I needed something specific, I have gone to Kakamega to go shopping.  It is bigger that Malava and has many things that we cannot get.  I just assumed Kisumu to be the same.

The difference did not strike me until we went to Tuskys, which is a large store much like Target.  Upon entering, I was knocked off balance by the size and cleanliness of the store.  Aisles were clean and wide, I did not have to squeeze past a person to find whatever good I may have been looking for.  There were offerings that I had forgotten existed.  Rows of pasta in different shapes, sizes, quality and brand.  The rice?  An entire asile of every brand available in the country. 

Then it was time for lunch, where we sat at an actual restaurant.  Not a building that has tables and is poorly lit with familiar towns people and people working every day.  As far as I would have been concerned before my arrival here, the place was average.  It was a Kenyan attempt at a TGI Friday’s type eating place.  Yesterday, I was shocked at the atmosphere, tables, chairs, menus with leather and multiple pages.  The prices were steep (300-500KSH = $4-$8) for meals.  I knew that I could not be too cheap, at least in the way I had been for the past three months, while traveling amongst Kenya’s three largest cities.  However, I was bothered.

All of this kicked my dormant mind into full motion.  Things I have seen before were presenting themselves in entirely new ways.  It was literally as if I was seeing all of this for the first time.  A day later and I am having trouble attempting to explain all that went on yesterday.  This was all before we even boarded onto a plane.

The airport itself was what I had imagined an airport in Kenya to be.  The ‘terminal’ is a single building where you enter by going through security.  Then you go to the desk for the airlines you will be traveling on.  You show your reservation and then are given a handwritten boarding pass.  The person points to a piece of paper and asks what seat you want.  You pick the seat, it is checked off with a pen and written onto your boarding pass.  Then it is off to the waiting room, indoors or out, to wait for the plane as it lands.  The plane lands, people get off down a set of stairs and walk to the side to wait for luggage.  At the gate a person checks your ticket, you walk out onto the tarmac and up onto the plane.  Bags are removed and new ones are added.  The doors are then closed and the plane moves to take off.  There are no great waits. 

Our plane was running late and was to arrive at 7pm.  With a flight out of Nairobi an hour later, I was a bit worried.  Fortunately, the people from JetLink were kind enough to move us to another airlines to ensure that we get out early enough to make the second leg.  As it turns out that flight was running late and did not land at the airport until just before 7pm.  We boarded quickly and at 7:10 we took off from Kisumu.  In-flight service began once the plan was flat.  By the time everyone had something to drink, the pilot announced it was time to prepare for landing and we began our decent.  at 7:40 we landed in Nairobi.  The absurdity of this was not lost on Michael and I who were spread out in the emergency exit rows.  When we took the bus from Nairobi to Malava it took almost nine hours in total.  We covered that space in 30 minutes.  In the end, it took longer for us to take a matatu from Malava to Kisumu than to fly from Kisumu to Mombasa with a stop in Nairobi. 

We pulled into what I can only call an airplane parking lot.  Planes are lined up in a staggered manner with stairs leading into each.  We got off our plane and before making into the airport, were stopped and given our boarding passes for the next flight.  We turned around and boarded one of the planes parked near the one we just got off.  The girl assured us that she would check our bags and we got on.  The stewardess welcomed us and said we can sit anywhere.  Take off at 8:15, landing at 9.  At the airport in Mombasa we collected our bags and walked out to find a man holding a sign saying, “Tom Murphy.”  We got in his taxi and arrived at the hotel.  Check in, bags to the room and then a dinner at a Malaysian restaurant behind the hotel.

Then it was time to sit in the lobby with a Tusker and watch Chelsea beat up on Torres and Gerrard (3-1 with goals from Drogba and Ivanovic (2)).  Back in our air-conditioned room, we watched some strange movie and then went to sleep.  Yesterday I lived like an MP and felt out of place the entire time.  I already miss Malava and look forward to going back.  Vacation will be fun, but I miss the small things from there.