Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Airport Connects More than Flights - It Connects People

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is the largest airport in east and central Africa. However, it is quite frustrating to try to fly out of it. First, there are no comprehensive signs that tell you where you should go, so you find a line, wait in it, and then figure it out once you get to the front. Usually standing with the mass leads to the correct location. Secondly, the airport functions as if its staff is on strike. Despite having a line curving around the entire enclosed area, the departure customs only had one staff member granting departure from Kenya. Third, they change the gates after you’ve checked in quite frequently, and do not inform you that it has been changed. There is no announcement, you just figure it out once you get to the gate you thought you were supposed to be at and they tell you to go to a different gate. Then sometimes the workers are confused and send you back and forth between 2 gates.. .each insisting the other one is the correct gate. Fourth, they have several flights board from the same gate and scheduled to leave at roughly the same time. Obviously if everyone actually tried to board at the same time there would be chaos, so instead they just delay one of the flights. Fifth, the gate number has nothing to do with the plane you are boarding, so once you enter the gate, you walk outside and walk across the airport to your correct plane. Sixth, they put you on the airplane for 2 hours and don’t tell you when the aircraft will take off, merely that it is dangerous to fly the aircraft and so they have to wait to fix it. Quite the ordeal.

Thankfully, these frustrating problems also brought several pleasant events as well as solutions. I had a chance to try a chicken pie and a mint pineade juice, both of which were scrumptious. The chicken pie was like a chicken pot pie without a plate… crust all around the chicken/vegetable mixture. The mint pineade juice was what the counterguy recommended, and despite its grass green color, it was delicious! From the name I would assume it was pineapple juice, lemonade, and mint.

I met a lot of interesting people in the many lines I had to wait in, meeting some that were on my flight and thus finding entertainment for the hours I had to wait. I met a young Kenyan man that works in China and speaks Swahili, English, and Mandarin fluently. He sells Jacuzzis and other large objects, but does a lot of international business. Intriguing. He insisted that I call when I got to China so if there is a jacuzzi emergency, I have his business card. Then there was an older Kenyan woman that was extremely chatty and not content with how the airport was being run, but was quite a delight to talk to as she kept many of us entertained in the line… and an elderly Caucasian doctor, Chuck, who graduated from Harvard med and now works for PEPFAR, the Presidents Emergency Plan for Aids Relief. I explained that I was going to take a year off before medical school and was looking for a job where I could travel, help the developing world, and save up for medical school, and he gave me his business card, saying he might be able to find me such a position! How perfect!!!! I will definitely look into this option.

Overall the Kenyatta Airport experience was quite pleasant, and I have to fly through there to get to Tanzania, which Chuck is also doing, so I may see him again! Ooh, and I went to the supermarket yesterday and ran into a couple that had been on my flight. It’s a small country.

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