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Monday, February 6, 2012

getting here

January 7th was the last time the weather was nice, the last time the sun kissed my skin, the last time I could wear sandals outside. It was also a time of great expectation, I was leaving kenya, leaving Africa for Europe that night. I had my visa or visum as they write it in Norge. My e-ticket was printed, my clothes packed, my goodbyes said and being said. No January blues for me was the only January news.

My family gathered to give me a send-off as they wouldn’t see me till at least July, the other reason they gathered was that it was January, the thing about my family is that they love parties. December had ripe pickings for them. Every weekend something to do, food, people, alcohol, love in abundance. Then January rolls around with its nothing. Its blue, broke nothing. Then out of nowhere something to celebrate, a reason to gather. So they came.

The flight was at 11 pm. They ask you to check in 3 hours before the plane is to take off.  This is for security checks and such. First time travellers usually do just this, when I went to Egypt I did. I was there even earlier, I was also drunk out of my mind, a source of constant amusement to the airport attendants and(now that time has blunted the folly of that day) to my family too. I promised myself I wouldn’t get on a plane that drunk again, it’s too scary and not fair to everyone who is invested in your life and your travel.

At 9 we were at the airport, I met my two future housemates there(the program, a Norwegian peace corps in conjunction with aiesec project) was flying the three of us over there to experience Norwegian culture and work ethic, sending 3 Norwegians to Kenya as an exchange. The lines were long and drawn out. I said my goodbyes and got on the line then I saw my other housemates dilly dallying and I immediately dillied too. This may have been the first mistake because those airport lines fill up pretty fast and soon we were at the back.

Past the security check we eventually went. Take off your bags and put them on the conveyor, let them be x-rayed,  pick them up at the other end, hear people screaming your name, why? You forgot your passport bag on the belt. Wow. Stupid. No more such mistakes.

There’s a weight limit of 46 kg divided in two bags of 23 kg each. I hadn’t really paid attention to this for two reasons, I had only one bag, the better prepared of my housemates was going to hook me up one and I couldn’t see me carrying all that weight. When I got the other bag I put everything that could fit in there before we had to go to weight check. We went and wonder of wonders one of the bags was overweight by about 8 kg.  Had to transfer things into this duffel bag that i now had. The heavy things, books, shoes, and flour. By the time I was done we were rushed to the check in counter since time was bad.

The girl housemate was there already and she had some news for us. The flight was overbooked. No seats for us. After that visa debacle I could just see this happening. Kenya airways seems to have a lot of this kind of thing. As we stood there a man was complaining because his family was going to be split up into different planes a result of overbooking I guessed. He looked like the Greek from season 2 of the wire and you could see his agitation printed on his face, he was angry, he was pissed and nothing was being done right for him. The attendant kept apologising with this smile printed on her face like one of the comedian's badges.

 She told him to file a complaint with the airline.
A complaint wasn’t going to help him, he had children with him, his wife and some other relations and they had presumably known they would be going together. After a while he told her

“I know you’re just saying the things they taught you to say, and I know it’s not your fault this is happening but it’s still wrong that the airline condones this kind of practice.” I found that amazingly poignant.

Then it was our turn. We were referred to this guy, then that and back again. The whole time they would speak to each other in Swahili and this was ok because we understood but I felt for anyone else who had a problem and couldn’t converse in this language. No direct information was given us, only what you could glean from the scraps of overheard conversation. There was a chance we weren’t leaving that night, after all the delays of the week I couldn’t imagine this happening. But it worked out somehow and they put us on the same flight they said had been overbooked. The baggage handlers who had checked my bags had not put the sticker saying that the weight was ok and so this guy had to check it again.as he did it he had the gall to hurry me up with threats of being left as if his airline hadn’t been the cause of all the delay.

After check-in there’s a place in the airport that takes your photo for storage purposes, whenever you go to JKIA after that they put in your passport details and this photo comes up on screen. Mine came up, I looked dreary, my eyes were bloodshot, I was using my palm to support my head in the classic posture of a man who has some misery. Of course memories of this picture were only on the computer and not my brain so I was shocked to see it, how the hell did you get it I wanted to ask. Then I remembered that I wouldn’t remember my first foray into the airport.

Up escalators we went to another check in. by now it was really dark, it felt really hurried and I was all over the place, putting bags down and out, taking my laptop away, removing my passport and handing it for another check. There’s a no man’s land between two metal detectors at the airport, a space for you to get organised before you go to the next and in this no man’s land I realised I couldn’t find my passport. I had put my bags on the conveyor belt and they had gone over to the other side so I thought maybe it too had gone with them. I was in frenzy now, I wanted to cross over and look for it but I had to keep taking off my clothes. I would rush to the other side, the metal detector would beep, take off your shoes, I would rush it would beep, take off your belt, I would rush it would beep… at this point I didn’t even care about putting my shoes back on all  i wanted was my passport. So barefoot, sweaty and in a panic I rushed again and found it not to be there.


Then a lady behind me handed it to me, I had dropped it somewhere along the line, she smiled understandingly  saying she had gone through this kind of thing too. By a strange coincidence she was part of the entourage of the Norwegian health minister in Kenya for a conference of some kind, she had also being part of the Peace Corps in her youth.

On the plane I saw the Greek seated near us and  hoped his issues had been solved, then I put him out of my mind until just now. The thing about planes is I need an aisle seat, I pee a lot, maybe too much and I can’t keep asking people to move. This plane was huge, three rows of seats the ones on the windows two seaters and the one in the middle a four seater. There was an upstairs, it sat 500+ people, I was in awe. The other reason I will insist on an aisle seat when I travel is the service. Plane flights are usually crap. You take off you stay in the air, you land. The major advantage they hold over buses is the free alcohol. And this was one I intended to make good use of.

“A bottle of red wine with dinner please,” being kind and polite, smiling as you make a request goes a long way. Another thing that goes a long way is remembering their names and faces then spreading the requests out over all the air hostesses, you should also find out where the kitchen is so you can walk back there every once in a while and ask for a drink directly. This is how to get drunk on a plane. Red wine, red wine, red wine. Then I began to drink brandy. Neat. I hadn’t yet watched a movie because the apparatus wastech mo loyo gi, at least at the beginning. When I did figure it out I found I could watch an episode of mad men. So, more brandy. Neat.

that's what to drink too

The flight passed into oblivion and the plane passed into Amsterdam. This airport is a small city with more signs and maps than Nairobi. It also has one of my favourite new inventions, a horizontal escalator. It doesn’t go up or down, just straight and when you walk down it you feel like you are flying, you go faster and faster till you come to the end and you have to jump off with a running start to maintain momentum.
At 15 minutes to boarding time our girl housemate decided she wanted to change so that she wouldn’t feel so cold when we got to Oslo. We sat and waited, boarding was called and no sign of her. We waited some more. Then they called our names, mine and the boy housemate and asked us to board or our luggage would be thrown off. We jumped into activity hoping she had somehow boarded, unable to call her since our phone wouldn’t work without simcards.

It was 5 degrees in Amsterdam and the walk was the coldest I had had till then. The wind whipped my face and chilled me. Perhaps more chilling was the fact that I knew we had left her behind. I kept telling myself there was nothing I could have done, maybe there wasn’t maybe there was. On the plane we looked around and reported the mishap to the steward serving, he told us not to worry. Apparently missing your plane  and getting lost in Amsterdam is to be expected, well…

“A bottle of red wine please.”

why most people get left behind in Amsterdam(citation needed)