THE FIRST 24

I have made it! Countless hours in the air, a dozen or so countries passed and three continents later, I have made it to Nairobi. It is about 9:30 at night, only a half hour off of the scheduled arrival. Not bad. Just outside of our arrival gate is a currency exchange booth, dispelling my worries of accessing money that night. Magically, my two hundred dollars Canadian is turned into fifteen thousand Kenyan shillings. Got to love exchange rates that make you feel as though you have more than you do.
My next step is to physically get into the country, which means getting through customs, also known as ‘bureaucratic nightmare’. Not only are there only three immigration personnel serving at least three plane’s worth of people, but it would seem that there is no need to rush things. Welcome to the glorious Kenyan pace towards life (I don’t mean that as a negative. I really do like it, though maybe not right at that second). Approximately an hour later my line progresses the 10 feet forward and I make it to the immigration officer. He asks me what I’m doing here. How long will I be here? Ok go right ahead. I estimate it took about 15 seconds total. Apparently I’m the only one that they have no concerns about.
It is at this point that I am starting to dread the chaos that I am expecting at the baggage claim, where slow speed and crowded rooms are typically the norm. Much to my surprise, not only is there at best a light crowd around the baggage conveyer belt, I can see my bag already rotating around the circuit. I throw my 15kg bag on my back and take a breath. I have been imagining this moment for many weeks now, that being my emergence out of the airport, marking the beginning of this whole endeavor. That, and I really hope that my ride is out there. It dawns on me that not only do I have no telephone number to reach this driver, but I have absolutely no information on the house I am supposed to be staying that night. It would seem that there is nothing I can do about that now.
Sure enough, there is my name in big, bold, handwritten letters outside of the terminal, held by a young man named Issac. Issac could not have been much bigger than I was, but his smile was huge and he greeted me fondly. My first friend, rather acquaintance, in Kenya. I really hope he gets me to the house.
Here I am, not more than 2 hours in the country, and I get to witness my first experience with the corrupt Kenyan police in person. It happens as we try to leave the parking lot. There are long lines of cars all pushing forward, jockeying for a position, and we realize that we are not in the correct line, but rather need to move into the one on the right so that we can pay our toll. As we cut across the marked divide, almost out of no where a policeman appears, placing one hand on the hood of our car and keeping the other one clutching his slightly used looking AK-47. I cannot tell exactly what was said between the officer and Issac as it was all spoken in Swahili, but I could hear Issac repeating ‘pole’, meaning sorry, again and again, and the officer saying ‘its my own discretion’. Issac would later explain to me that this officer was not even supposed to be there, as there was a separate unit that was supposed to police the parking lot. However, an opportunity to pocket 200 shillings ( approx. $2.50CAD) from motorists for insignificant traffic violations is just too much for some police officers. After this game goes on for some time, with Issac refusing to pay anything, I notice Issac shifting his gaze forward and backwards rapidly as he begins to move forward. “Were getting out of here, and im not paying for anything” is all he said as he guns it through the closing toll barrier, escaping from both the officer and the toll booth attendant. We both drive off down the highway cheering like a couple of young boys.
IT is an hour’s ride to my accommodations for that night, giving Issac just enough time to inform me on all that I need to know about living in Kenya, the do’s and the don’ts. DON’T leave a drink unattended at a bar at any point, as it is not uncommon for people to try and roofie unsuspecting victims. DO contact the local police station if you desire a private escort, as for the right price you can purchase private security from these public servants (keep in mind that they receive their regular salary on top of the security fees). DON’T ask for directions from anyone except for security guards or taxi drivers. You never know who it is your might be advertising your innocents to. DO go to Nairobi if you want a prostitute, as they are apparently not hard to find and whose services are apparently reasonably priced, according to Issac (NOTE: I don’t condone this at all, but I didn’t want to get into it with Issac). DON’T go near either the Somalia or the Sudanese border. Apparently there have been come abductions and murders involving both Kenyan nationals and foreign workers, so its best to stay clear. I make sure to keep note of all of this, as you never know when any of this might be useful (except for the prostitute advice, which I am quite positive will never be relevant). I won’t even mention the number of times that we happened to get lost on the way to my house, forcing us to head down some exceptionally dark roads to ask for directions. Fun fact: They don’t call this the dark continent because of the color of the people’s skin, but rather because of how pitch dark it tends to be.
It is now 11:30 at night and we finally arrived at my accommodations for the night. By any standard this house would be considered pretty damn comfortable, and by Kenyan standards I’m apparently staying in quite a posh setup. I walk into a humble abode consisting of nice floors, decent entertainment system, plush couches, three bedrooms, one bathroom, one kitchen and a sizable living room. To me, this is heaven. We are both greeted fondly by the wife of my connection and his daughter. They are most wonderful to this weary traveler. They have a plate of freshly cooked food waiting for me, consisting of mashed potatoes, roasted chicken, spinach and more. They stay up for another hour with me keeping me company, humoring all of my noobie-ish questions, before none of us can keep hour eyes open.
I am woken up the next morning by Mrs. Ikua to say goodbye, as she must head off be to at church for 6:45, ironically what I would consider an ungodly hour. I have a breakfast of fresh fruit with Ikua’s daughter, Angela, and we talk about development work and her schooling for some time. Before I know it, and feeling as though I had only just woken up, Issac is knocking on the front door and it is time to leave. I say my goodbyes to Angela and find myself in the front seat of Issac’s car once again. We are both fairly talkative, despite both of us being half asleep, until at one point Issac goes quiet and starts pulling to the side of the road. Before I really have a chance to as any questions, he is saying “my mistake, my mistake, so sorry, so sorry” and explains how his car is totally out of gas. He explains he will be right back as he is leaving the car with an extra jerry can in hand and begins walking down the highway. While there was definitely some amusement to be had from this situation, I can tell you that being along in a car on the side of the highway with people walking past, staring at you, is not how I typically like to start my day. I don’t know what it is I thought might happen, perhaps just expecting the unexpected, but I tell you that time slowed right down to a crawl. Sure enough, only 15 minutes later there is Issac, with a can full of gas, asking me why I look so worried.
As we pull into the airport it would seem that there is enough time for one more lesson in police corruption. As we pull up to a police check, Issac is asked to exit the vehicle and to open the trunk. Words are exchanged, the officers look satisfied and Issac hops back into the car and we are back on our way. He explains that this was just the same situation as the night before, except that this time is was much more discreet. In this case, you can’t exchange the money out in the open, but rather much place it in the trunk as the officer goes to ‘inspect’ it. I tell you, the life of a taxi driver is not an easy one.
Soon enough I am aboard my flight to Kisumu, where I get to have a fascinating conversation with a CDC worker from Atlanta Georgia for the entire 40 minute duration of the flight. Walking out of the Kisumu airport I can see one man with a huge smile on his face looking right at me. I then meet CES Kenya patron, ex diplomat and my new mentor, Mr. Malik Khaemba. We hop into his truck and begin our journey into the next 6 months of my life.

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