© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
 

Return to Africa

In 1989 I had the chance to return to East Africa. I was working in Malaysia and we had the opportunity to upgrade our return tickets to around the world tickets. One of my colleagues and I took advantage of the opportunity. With only two weeks we decided to stop to visit Kenya. I knew that I could not repeat the adventure of my first trip and that much would probably have changed, but I could not resist the opportunity to revisit an area that had had such a profound influence on me.

The Flight In

Times had changed. On my first trip we had been packed into a student charter, knees under our chins, and sitting on a massive injection of gamma globulin, on this trip I was in Business Class, with wide seats, more luggage and leg room than I needed, and my every whim being catered to by attentive cabin staff.

Abu Dhabi

The early hours of the morning saw us in a nearly deserted Abu Dhabi airport to change planes. We could see nothing in the darkness and a cloying smell of oil hung heavy in the air. Cavernous halls and corridors echoed and amplified the sound of our footsteps and voices, and the harsh, unnatural overhead lighting drained the colour from, and cast an unhealthy palor over, the few people we saw. I found myself speaking in hushed tones and walking carefully to minimize the noise of my intrusion. While modern,  clean, and efficient, the airport left me with few memories except its empty halls, stale pastry, bad coffee, and the smell of oil.

Abu Dhabi to Nairobi

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Nairobi offered only first or tourist class seating. We briefly debated upgrading our tickets, but decided against the exorbitant price. We would not regret the decision. We were booked on a special, low-fare, advanced booking flight, presumably for foreign workers returning home from the emirates. It was not a prestige flight but it was full. The plane was an old, Kenya Air, Boeing 727. We passed through the first class compartment. A piece of plywood lay across the armrests of the front two, portside seats, and various bags, sacks, and boxes were piled on and under the remaining six. We found our seats; Sheila (my travel companion) took the window; I took the aisle and was immediately dropped into a semi-reclining position. My seat-back refused to remain upright. As per regulations, the flight attendant insisted that the seat-backs and trays be in the upright position for take-off. The tray was no problem, since mine was missing, but I, and a number of other passengers, hugged our knees to keep our seat backs upright during taxi and take-off. Preparations for in-flight service began shortly after take-off. The attendants placed a paraffin stove on the plywood between two seats and heated water in a large aluminum kettle. I shuddered to think what would happen if we hit turbulence, but the water was heated, tea added, and plastic cups and biscuits distributed among the passengers. Tea was served from the kettle. Across the aisle and one row back sat a very large gentleman. Wearing a embroidered kufi (a small brimless cap), kanzu (a long flowing white cotton robe), and sandals, he sat in magnificent repose, overflowing his seat, snorting, clearing phlegm from his throat, and spitting on the floor. Grunting at the flight attendant, he waved his cup imperiously, demanding more tea. As she poured from  the large kettle, he swirled the tea in his cup, threw it on the floor, and held it out to be refilled. He carried his own snacks and by flight’s end, orange peels, date pits, and candy wrappers littered the floor around him. He so dominated the cabin that I remember little of the other passengers. Safety precautions were ostentatious but ineffective; maintenance was cavalier at best; and the plane was in worse condition that any I had ever flown.

Nairobi

We arrived in the morning. I was tired but anxious to see how Nairobi had changed in the seventeen years since my last visit. The old airport was gone, replaced by a modern, efficient airport that could have been anywhere. We took a taxi to the Ambassadeur Hotel in downtown Nairobi, and as we drove in air-conditioned comfort, I could not help but remember seventeen years earlier and a wild ride from the airport jammed into an overfull Peugeot station wagon. The Ambassadeur was the least expensive hotel listed with the agent who booked our flights from Kuala Lumpur. When we arrived, I recognized it from 1972. At the time it had represented unattainable luxury. I also recognized many of the streets and buildings around the hotel, they appeared little changed. High ceilings, marble floors, and dark, rich, wood furnishings trimmed with brass were showing the wear and tear of age, giving the hotel a sense of faded elegance. The theme, though more austere, carried into our high ceilinged but sparsely furnished, dark, and non-air conditioned rooms. From my window, I could see the Kenya National Archives and memories of passing them on our walk to the hotel from the bus depot came back to me along with memories of the first bus ride to our tent site at the City Park. We found an Indian restaurant just around the corner from the hotel and discussed our itinerary over a pleasant lunch. With only two weeks, local transport was infeasible. Our plan was to rent a car and camp in the game parks. I wanted to head south to Arusha and then west to visit Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and the great Serengeti, returning through Masai Mara to Nairobi. After lunch, we set off to find maps and guide books, and to scout car rental agencies. We had an early dinner and retired to recover from jet lag.

Best Laid Plans

The next day found us arranging our car rental. It was just at the end of the wet season and the roads could be difficult, so we decided to rent a four- wheel drive. The first surprise was that four-wheel drive vehicles were scarce and the best we could do was to rent one vehicle for two days, return it and pick up another for the remainder of the trip. The second was that relations between Kenya and Tanzania had deteriorated since my first trip, and we were not allowed to take a vehicle to Tanzania. So much for our plan. Since I had spoken glowingly of Lake Naivasha, we decided to head north, camp at the Marina Club, and visit the island before heading off to Masai Mara National Park.

Public Market

We still had the better part of the afternoon  explore to Nairobi on foot. Outside the public market was controlled chaos. Small trucks and wheeled carts delivered produce and trimmings from meat, fruits, and vegetables were piled at the exits, meat, chicken, and fish vendors huddled under plastic sheets and tarps or the tin roofs that encircled the building. We had to step carefully to avoid crowds of shoppers and the remains of animal and vegetable trimmings. The odours of well-hung raw meat, fish, overripe fruit, and spoiled vegetables enveloped us, but once inside, the market was tidy and well ordered. Neatly stacked displays of fruits and vegetables dominated the ground floor, while crafts and dry goods dominated the second floor gallery that ran the circumference of the building. Gone were the women dressed in brightly coloured kangas, replaced by modern western clothes and smocked vendors. As we wandered from stall to stall, Sheila picked up a small ceramic box, about the size of a small match box. It had a sliding lid with the raised head of a mongoose moulded as a handle to open the box. As she slid back the top to look inside, a ceramic cobra suddenly rose from the box and struck her on the thumb. The designer of the novelty would have been gratified by Sheila’s startled reaction. I still regret not having purchased that particular example because I have seen other examples, none of which have worked so well. Despite the familiarity of the streets and many of the buildings, this was not the Nairobi of 1972. It was more modern; it had lost much of its colonial character;  and perhaps more importantly, I was not travelling on a shoestring. Sleeping in a mid-range hotel and eating in restaurants instead of a tent certainly changed my perception of the city, but despite its more frenetic pace, western style stores and goods, and much more English on the street, parts of the old Nairobi survived near the bus station and rail terminal.
The city market had changed little in 17 years.
© David E. Moon, 2014  All rights reserved
 

Return to Africa

In 1989 I had the chance to return to East Africa. I was working in Malaysia and we had the opportunity to upgrade our return tickets to around the world tickets. One of my colleagues and I took advantage of the opportunity. With only two weeks we decided to stop to visit Kenya. I knew that I could not repeat the adventure of my first trip and that much would probably have changed, but I could not resist the opportunity to revisit an area that had had such a profound influence on me.

The Flight In

Times had changed. On my first trip we had been packed into a student charter, knees under our chins, and sitting on a massive injection of gamma globulin, on this trip I was in Business Class, with wide seats, more luggage and leg room than I needed, and my every whim being catered to by attentive cabin staff.

Abu Dhabi

The early hours of the morning saw us in a nearly deserted Abu Dhabi airport to change planes. We could see nothing in the darkness and a cloying smell of oil hung heavy in the air. Cavernous halls and corridors echoed and amplified the sound of our footsteps and voices, and the harsh, unnatural overhead lighting drained the colour from, and cast an unhealthy palor over, the few people we saw. I found myself speaking in hushed tones and walking carefully to minimize the noise of my intrusion. While modern,  clean, and efficient, the airport left me with few memories except its empty halls, stale pastry, bad coffee, and the smell of oil.

Abu Dhabi to Nairobi

The flight from Abu Dhabi to Nairobi offered only first or tourist class seating. We briefly debated upgrading our tickets, but decided against the exorbitant price. We would not regret the decision. We were booked on a special, low-fare, advanced booking flight, presumably for foreign workers returning home from the emirates. It was not a prestige flight but it was full. The plane was an old, Kenya Air, Boeing 727. We passed through the first class compartment. A piece of plywood lay across the armrests of the front two, portside seats, and various bags, sacks, and boxes were piled on and under the remaining six. We found our seats; Sheila (my travel companion) took the window; I took the aisle and was immediately dropped into a semi-reclining position. My seat-back refused to remain upright. As per regulations, the flight attendant insisted that the seat-backs and trays be in the upright position for take-off. The tray was no problem, since mine was missing, but I, and a number of other passengers, hugged our knees to keep our seat backs upright during taxi and take-off. Preparations for in-flight service began shortly after take-off. The attendants placed a paraffin stove on the plywood between two seats and heated water in a large aluminum kettle. I shuddered to think what would happen if we hit turbulence, but the water was heated, tea added, and plastic cups and biscuits distributed among the passengers. Tea was served from the kettle. Across the aisle and one row back sat a very large gentleman. Wearing a embroidered kufi (a small brimless cap), kanzu (a long flowing white cotton robe), and sandals, he sat in magnificent repose, overflowing his seat, snorting, clearing phlegm from his throat, and spitting on the floor. Grunting at the flight attendant, he waved his cup imperiously, demanding more tea. As she poured from  the large kettle, he swirled the tea in his cup, threw it on the floor, and held it out to be refilled. He carried his own snacks and by flight’s end, orange peels, date pits, and candy wrappers littered the floor around him. He so dominated the cabin that I remember little of the other passengers. Safety precautions were ostentatious but ineffective; maintenance was cavalier at best; and the plane was in worse condition that any I had ever flown.

Nairobi

We arrived in the morning. I was tired but anxious to see how Nairobi had changed in the seventeen years since my last visit. The old airport was gone, replaced by a modern, efficient airport that could have been anywhere. We took a taxi to the Ambassadeur Hotel in downtown Nairobi, and as we drove in air-conditioned comfort, I could not help but remember seventeen years earlier and a wild ride from the airport jammed into an overfull Peugeot station wagon. The Ambassadeur was the least expensive hotel listed with the agent who booked our flights from Kuala Lumpur. When we arrived, I recognized it from 1972. At the time it had represented unattainable luxury. I also recognized many of the streets and buildings around the hotel, they appeared little changed. High ceilings, marble floors, and dark, rich, wood furnishings trimmed with brass were showing the wear and tear of age, giving the hotel a sense of faded elegance. The theme, though more austere, carried into our high ceilinged but sparsely furnished, dark, and non-air conditioned rooms. From my window, I could see the Kenya National Archives and memories of passing them on our walk to the hotel from the bus depot came back to me along with memories of the first bus ride to our tent site at the City Park. We found an Indian restaurant just around the corner from the hotel and discussed our itinerary over a pleasant lunch. With only two weeks, local transport was infeasible. Our plan was to rent a car and camp in the game parks. I wanted to head south to Arusha and then west to visit Ngorongoro Crater, Olduvai Gorge, and the great Serengeti, returning through Masai Mara to Nairobi. After lunch, we set off to find maps and guide books, and to scout car rental agencies. We had an early dinner and retired to recover from jet lag.

Best Laid Plans

The next day found us arranging our car rental. It was just at the end of the wet season and the roads could be difficult, so we decided to rent a four-wheel drive. The first surprise was that four-wheel drive vehicles were scarce and the best we could do was to rent one vehicle for two days, return it and pick up another for the remainder of the trip. The second was that relations between Kenya and Tanzania had deteriorated since my first trip, and we were not allowed to take a vehicle to Tanzania. So much for our plan. Since I had spoken glowingly of Lake Naivasha, we decided to head north, camp at the Marina Club, and visit the island before heading off to Masai Mara National Park.

Public Market

We still had the better part of the afternoon  explore to Nairobi on foot. Outside the public market was controlled chaos. Small trucks and wheeled carts delivered produce and trimmings from meat, fruits, and vegetables were piled at the exits, meat, chicken, and fish vendors huddled under plastic sheets and tarps or the tin roofs that encircled the building. We had to step carefully to avoid crowds of shoppers and the remains of animal and vegetable trimmings. The odours of well-hung raw meat, fish, overripe fruit, and spoiled vegetables enveloped us, but once inside, the market was tidy and well ordered. Neatly stacked displays of fruits and vegetables dominated the ground floor, while crafts and dry goods dominated the second floor gallery that ran the circumference of the building. Gone were the women dressed in brightly coloured kangas, replaced by modern western clothes and smocked vendors. As we wandered from stall to stall, Sheila picked up a small ceramic box, about the size of a small match box. It had a sliding lid with the raised head of a mongoose moulded as a handle to open the box. As she slid back the top to look inside, a ceramic cobra suddenly rose from the box and struck her on the thumb. The designer of the novelty would have been gratified by Sheila’s startled reaction. I still regret not having purchased that particular example because I have seen other examples, none of which have worked so well. Despite the familiarity of the streets and many of the buildings, this was not the Nairobi of 1972. It was more modern; it had lost much of its colonial character;  and perhaps more importantly, I was not travelling on a shoestring. Sleeping in a mid-range hotel and eating in restaurants instead of a tent certainly changed my perception of the city, but despite its more frenetic pace, western style stores and goods, and much more English on the street, parts of the old Nairobi survived near the bus station and rail terminal.
Streets around the hotel were little changed The city market had changed little in 17 years.