How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 1

Crossing the Kenyan-Uganda Border, September 2007

The situation

Eldoret is about an inch in from the Uganda border

I was in the Rift Valley, western border of Kenya

I was in Nairobi and trying to reach Tororo, a small town on the Kenya – Uganda border, so I could do some volunteer work with the nonprofit organization Mifumi


The stupidity

I made at least 3 really bad decisions that day. Note: Solo traveling in the developing world and being cheap is NOT a good combination and oftentimes leads to my life-harrowing adventures. It’s not even that I don’t have the money, it’s just that I don’t want to spend the money. Really, it’s mind-boggling.


The story

Stay with me here. It’s part of a 3-part series.


Nairobi, Kenya:

My one-day odyssey began early that September morning when I got dropped off at the Nairobi airport at 4:00 am. The airport wasn’t open yet and it was pitch dark outside. I was being frugal (read: “cheap”) and didn’t want to pay for a cab ride back to the hotel to wait for daylight, and then back to the airport again.

Nairobi is largest city in East Africa with 3 million people

Nairobi is largest city in East Africa with 3 million people

So I decided to stay put and wait at the airport: just me, the machine-gun toting guards and a gaggle of women in burqas. I perch on my backpack under the one light — a small blub lighting an ATM machine — and wait for Kenyan Airways to open for the 6:00 am flight to Eldoret. I figure the guys with the machine guns would protect me if anything happened, although they were really there to guard the airport gate. And the gate needed protection. The group of women was crowding the gate with their carts of vegetables (I think they were veggies, but I’m not entirely sure since it was still dark after all.) As the sun rose, men emerged from the café across the parking lot, faced Mecca and prayed, some with rugs they had brought with them, some simply kneeling on the ground.

For a few minutes, the women stopped screaming (it was very loud that morning), but they started up again after morning Muslim prayers. Then the men also began crowding the gate and yelling. At one point, one of the vegetable carts overturned and I’m fairly certain I saw one of the men hit a woman. It was getting fairly chaotic, with the guards starting to yell too…although I never quite figured out why everyone was so angry. It seemed like a lot of commotion over some vegetables.

Thankfully, about 5:30 am the Kenyan Airways office opened. I was already having a fairly intense day and I knew I was in store for a whammy (being that I already made my first bad decision before the sun rose).

The Pride of Africa? (maybe not)

The Pride of Africa? (maybe not)

Apparently the airline had significantly overbooked the flight and needed to bring in a smaller airplane to accommodate all the remaining passengers. Me and about 15 others waited on the tarmac to board this second flight which, unfortunately, was delayed for several hours because the Kenyan Vice President and his entourage was also scheduled to depart that morning. This might explain why there were so may machine-gun carrying guards.

Where was the Keny Airport Authority when you needed 'em?!

Where was the Kenya Airport Authority when you needed ‘em?!”

We finally board a plane that’s small enough for us to see the pilot and his young woman co-pilot sitting in the cockpit. We rev down the run way and attempt to take off. That’s the operative word of course: “attempt.” We can’t seem to get airborne, so we taxi back down the tarmac. That’s when the pilot and co-pilot looked at each other and start to laugh (which was unnerving to say the least). The pilot then turns around to tell us, his bewildered passengers, that the airplane’s left engine is broken and we’ll need to find yet another plane to take us to our destination. Excuse me, but shouldn’t we have known that the engine wasn’t working before we tried to take off? Really! It was going to be a humdinger of a day and I hadn’t even made it out of Nairobi yet.


Continue, Read Parts 2 & 3:
  • How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 2
  • How I Met my African Mama, the Smuggler: 3

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 4th, 2009 and is filed under Africa.

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