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The East African : July 21st 2014
The EastAfrican MAGAZINE JULY 19-25,2014 sho≥t sto≥y IX Fighting flight anxiety By SILAS ONDICHO She was breastfeeding them. The man, an Asian sat there lost in his own world. It was hot, and the air-conditioning was T faulty. Beads of sweat were evident on foreheads and noses of individuals gathered in the waiting room of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. The minutes seemed to be dragging. I would look at my watch, stare at the wall clock and confirm with my mobile phone clock and they all seemed to conspire to move at the slowest pace possible. I looked again, it was 2.39 pm. An hour later, it was 3.03 pm. I decided to wander through the airport. First stop, at a curio shop. A curio would cost an arm and a leg. Why is it they say that airports are duty free? As an afterthought, I opted for a Maasai shuka as a gift for my host in America, though the price tag was staggering. A Maasai belt that goes for a song in the flea market was scandalously priced. I walked on. The shopkeepers never even bothered with me, even as they swanned around an old white man. I walked on. Beautiful women going on about their businesses. I checked into the washroom. It stank urine and I realised later that there was no water to flush. I walked out, even as the cleaner looked at me expectantly. he old man appeared lost and tired. Nothing seemed to make sense to him. The woman with two toddlers, possibly twins, seemed overwhelmed. Onward I marched. I was killing time lit- erally. There were all manner of billboards and screens, mostly advertising electronic brands and tourist destinations in Kenya. And a mobile phone service provider was overwhelmingly conspicuous. The airport was moderately busy. Air- planes landed. Others took off. I got to the end of the terminal and went back to my waiting room. There were more people in the waiting room. Individuals from all races. People from all walks of life. Persons from all parts of the world. Human beings of all ages. There was this young lady with huge braids, dark in complexion, dressed in a white sleeveless top and denim jeans. In her late 20s. Where was she going? The flight we were waiting was to make a stopover in Dubai, then Amsterdam before people connected to their various destinations in Europe or the United States. Was she being trafficked? Was she being married by a white man from Europe or America? Was she a student going back to eyes pointed to a man after greener pastures after toiling in his mother country.” ‘‘ her college in Europe or America? I could not tell. She seemed confident and familiar with the airport. Certainly not a first-time flier. The man seated to her right looked like a first time flier. He had this expectant look. Like his life was about to change, for the better. He was in 30s and going by the way he was dressed, he seemed like a man who has struggled in life. Where was he going? Could it be the Middle East, which has become a “newfoundland” for menial jobs. Or was he on a Green Card lottery pro- gramme out to enjoy the American dream. The eagerness in his eyes pointed to a man after greener pastures. There were a couple of EasternAsian folks. One had that evil look on him. Was I creating my own mental images out of the boredom? His eyes were steely, like they were telling you, do-not-cross-me. He had this self-assured look cheeks puffed, small eyes that looked directly into your eyes. Who was he? A poacher? Pardon my being judgmental. I like judging people by their looks. I just cannot help it. There was a red-faced man. He had an amiable and approachable face. The kind who mostly knows your country so well, he will make you feel ashamed at your ignorance. He could have been a tourist. Or a “voluntourist.” Or a missionary. Who knows? Or a spy. I looked at the TV screens, high on The eagerness in his the wall. One was tuned to a local TV channel. It had a Nigerian movie on. It was barely audible. Another screen was airing Al jazeera and some missile had struck the Gaza strip for the umpteen with time, and for the moment I tried to figure out whether has there ever been a time that part of the world was completely at peace? Yet, here we were at the airport. Every race was here. Including the maligned Arabs and a Somali. Still there was another long hour of wait- ing. A young American citizen (his T-shirt had an American flag on the chest) seated on my right was reading In the Footsteps of Mr Kurtz by Michella Wrong. He kept frowning from time to time. “Interesting book?” I said hoping to start a conversation. “Suuure, Mabutu, was quite an eeeevil person, oh God, incredible story here,” he said, dragging out his words his voice. He was rugged. So the book was about Mobutu Sesseko. “First time in Kenya?” I asked. “Yes, I have been volunteering with a non-profit organisation at Karogosho slums here in Nairobi,” he said. That would be Korogocho. He seemed more interested in the book than my attempts to start a conversation with him. “You are from?” “Aaah, New Orleans, the United States.” I like how Americans say ‘The United States.” The entitlement! “I’m going to America as well. New Jersey.” The only thing I knew about New Or- leans was the hurricane that struck there several years ago, exposing American’s soft underbelly and the George Bush administration’s ineptitude to the world. I left him alone. It was 30 minutes to the flight. The loud speakers announced the arrival of our flight and told us that it was boarding time. The tired, old man seemed relieved. The woman with two kids started dressing them, in preparation for boarding. I selfishly hoped that I was not going to share the seat with the woman with toddlers.
July 14th 2014
July 28th 2014