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My Africa Diaries: The Journey Out

It’s my first full day in Nairobi today, which means that I’m just 12 hours off of my longest travel stretch ever. The journey to Nairobi required a 10-hour flight to Amsterdam, a 3+ hour layover, a 1-hour flight delay on the plane, and another 8-hour flight from AMS to NBO.

This was my first time flying on an Airbus 330 since my recent experience flying and landing one in the full-on simulator back in February. It was strangely comforting thinking that – god forbid something happened to the plane – I was not entirely unprepared to help. Strange life skill.

I had told my husband that I really wanted silent seatmates, but in the end I got two friendly and moderately chatty gentlemen that helped pass the time. On the AMS leg, it was a businessman who works on airplane interiors (“the user experience of the plane”, he phrased it after I explained my job to him.) It was that kind of plane conversation where you go a bit deeper than you’d expect with a relative stranger; stories about our spouses and formative family moments. Luckily we didn’t chat the whole time and both managed to grab a bit of sleep.

On the NBO leg, my seat partner was a gentleman from Nairobi. We were both dead to the world for the first hour or two during the onboard delay, he cocooning under a blanket he brought, and I in the ridiculous frequent traveler combo of inflatable neck pillow and eye mask. We had dinner and I passed out again for 4 hours. Once we got second dinner (?) we discussed our respective industries while filling out immigration paperwork. He apparently just came back from 2 weeks in the US meeting with groups for at-risk youth to inform his own work, which is awesome. The plane we were on was the most massive plane I’ve ever taken. 747-400 or something – 400+ passengers and the elusive second floor for first class. The jetway was ridiculously elaborate.

The airport was not what I expected, not that expectations are worth a dime when you’re travelling. Our giant plane, like almost all planes there, parked on the tarmac and we disembarked old school style down a staircase. A bus took us to the terminal, and the requisite customs/baggage claim. I knew my driver would have a sign for me, but peeking out there were about 100 signs so I called just to be safe. Imagine a little bubble above my head with $3 disappearing for 30 seconds of international phonecall, accompanied by a “cha ching” sound.

The driver was very friendly, enthusiastically giving me an impromptu Swahili lesson and pointing out the national reserve next to the airport. “In the daytime, you’ll see zebras there!” I wonder how the zebras feel about the airplanes? The Swahili lesson made me happy because I already knew it — thanks to my extensive time spent at the Animal Kingdom Lodge. Who says you don’t learn life skills at theme parks? I don’t! Jambo!

The hotel (Which I will not mention by name while I’m still here) was very nice, the staff open and friendly – except of course for the armed guard with an automatic weapon. That’s apparently pretty standard here. (And frankly, I’ve even seen that in France at CDG, it’s not unique to this city.) Bags searched and body wanded before being allowed in, which I appreciate.

After checking in and getting settled, I met my colleague at the bar – though we both work for Microsoft and will be going on safari together, we’d never met in person until last night at the bar in Nairobi. Luckily we’ll be fast friends – it’s always good to meet new friends who are travel-compatible with you. 🙂 We toasted with our Tusker beers to our new adventure.

Today, we sit awaiting our first meeting with our contacts at the iHub. At the moment, we’re just working on our devices, watching the community trickle in and begin their work. Folks programming with headphones, talking on the outdoor terrace, and enjoying espressos from the espresso bar. In the stairway, there’s a full Mario Brothers retro mural. Even halfway across the world, you can find cultural kinship in the little things. Technology is an amazing unifying force.

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