Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Journey

Things are slow going here on my end. Endless streams of information and meeting scores of new people have meant early bedtimes for me. Here is the beginning of my postings, it ends with me arriving and Kenya, but not yet Mombasa, more to come, of course.

After months of eager anticipation with a health mix of excitement and worry, I set off for Mombasa. I was accompanied down to Boston by my mother, father, grandmother and reluctant brother (he had just driven up from Gettysburg PA the day before, so understandable reluctance) and it was a nice two hours in the car as a last goodbye before my journey. In my rush to make my flight I completely forgot the bag of delicious homemade chocolate chip cookies that my mom had made for m journey. I have a feeling that will be my biggest regret in the coming months.
The flight to Amsterdam was very uneventful; I had a hard time sleeping so I watched the movie the Journey 2, staring “The Rock,” without any sound. Even so, I could tell it was an atrocious movie and it left me wondering what it was about Journey 1 that made them think it was a good idea to crank out another one to be force-fed to unsuspecting airplane audiences. But I digress.
I arrived in Amsterdam and was faced with a thirteen-hour layover in Schipol International Airport. Yikes, what is one supposed to do with that much time?! Fortunately, I had stopped by Bowdoin before I headed out to Kenya and conferred with Professor Perkinson and Professor Fletcher about what Art Historical hotspots I should check out with so much time on my hands. They both strongly encouraged I spend my time at the Van Gogh museum so I took their advice and ran with it. Despite the highly complicated Dutch signage and with the help of a few less than enthusiastic Dutch train employees, I was able to find my way to the museum. Observation about the city of Amsterdam from my brief tram ride through it: Much less outright debauchery and open enjoyment of illicit substances. Contrary to what popular culture had led me to believe, the city was rather cozy and charming and relaxed.
The line for the museum was daunting but the exhibit was well worth the wait. The collection was truly magnificent and offered an incredible look into the life and work of Van Gogh. I never spent much time studying this era of art history, but this museum really made me regret that oversight on my part. It was fascinating to see how his style changed not only as he grew as an artist and gained experience, but also how his declining mental state changed the tone and style of his painting into the styles of his I found the most interesting and beautiful. Long story short, if you have an extended layover in Amsterdam, check this place out.
I was quickly hit by an intense wave of exhaustion and scurried back to the airport, I had seen signage for a hotel in the airport and was hoping to catch a few hours of sleep before my flight. I followed the signage and discovered this place and it was AMAZING. It was called Yotel (check out the website) and they basically sold “cabins” for a few hours at a time. I rented one for 6 hours. The cabins were about 5 feet deep and 12 feet wide. In this space, they had fit a shower, a toilet, a desk, and a double bed so I was able to catch 5 hours of well needed sleep, shower up and change clothes. Absolutely perfect.
Then finally the time had come to fly to Nairobi. In the waiting area I met an incredibly friendly man named Shem Koech. Shem works as a nurse in the D.C. area in the US but was headed back to Kenya to see his ailing grandmother. He struck up conversation with me and we talked for at least half and hour about America, Kenya and our jobs. We had basically done a big swap: he had left Kenya to work in the states while I had departed the states to work in Kenya. Our conversation was lively and we exchanged email addresses at the end. His kindness and enthusiasm in welcoming me on my way to Kenya was foreshadowing for the reception I would receive in Mombasa.
The flight down to Nairobi was also uneventful. I sat next to an Irish missionary who was on the longest flight of her life, 8 ½ hours. Hazel, as she was called, handled it very well and slept most of the way, something I wish I had been able to do. Upon arrival I had to purchase my Kenyan Visa, a rather easy experience and within 2 minutes I was officially in the country!
            The bag retrieval took about an hour and a half; a painfully long wait that seems was a good indicator of how fast things move around here. Patience will certainly be a virtue in the coming months.
            After obtaining my elusive bags, I had to find my way to the domestic terminal. I snagged a luggage cart for my two 50 lb. bags and off I went. Much to my chagrin, I realized the terminal was a good half mile away and the noble person who had designed the airport had left an unfortunate lack of ramps. Every parking lot and road crossing I made required a sharp drop from the curb to get down to the concrete and a complete unloading of my bags on the way up as the curbs were four inches tall and I was unable to life the whole cart fully loaded. Needless to say, I was sweating buckets in the Nairobi early morning sun and getting my fair share of concerned and confused looks as to what the hell I was doing.
            Once to the terminal, check in was painless and I was ready to board my flight, but one more delay remained. Right before we boarded, a large motorcade crossed the tarmac and a number of armed Kenyan soldiers posted up on the runway. Folks hopped out of the jeeps that looked surprisingly like Secret Service officers and then I looked up and saw a rather large jet with the words “United States of America” on it. As you may have guessed, I quickly realized I was within 300 yards of the Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, in the midst of her travels around Africa. Interesting that I had to travel 6,000 miles and across two continents to see the queen of US Foreign Policy, but our paths aligned for a brief moment in at the Jomo Kenyatta international airport. I’ll take it.

More to come soon! Tales of Mombasa await! 

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