I Will Give You the Treasures of Darkness (Tanzania Part VI)

Posted on January 4, 2012

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Exhausted Traveler Arrives in Nairobi

Exhausted Traveler Arrives in Nairobi

When we are confronted with new experiences and situations which we lack prior familiarity with, our survival instinct seems to kick in and we find ourselves suddenly awake (I mean really awake) as if our life up until that point was really just some rambling extended dream. There is a sense of urgency, even potential danger, but you’re groggy and your mind, still waking from its long slumber, races to try to make sense of the new world to which you have just been thrown into. It can feel a bit like a movie which you entered in the middle of and you don’t yet understand the plot, the characters and what exactly is going on. You smile, fake it and hold on tightly until you can figure out what is really going on. Your prior understanding of reality is suspended and you find yourself back to learning as you go.

That basically describes my experience in Africa, from the moment our plane touched down in Nairobi, Kenya until returning to the United States. Everything around me took on a surprising clarity and sharpness to it and I felt more fully alive than I have in a long time. In Africa, even the most basic tasks, which we not only take for granted in the States, but which we execute upon with little to no conscious thought at all; suddenly became adventures in themselves and required thought, energy and planning to accomplish.

A short list of such menial tasks would be: securing your bags at the airport baggage claim, checking email, getting a drink of water, looking something up on the internet, making reservations, going to the store, preparing food, eating out, making a phone call, traveling anywhere, recharging your Zune mp3 player, as well as a host of other personal hygiene tasks such as taking a shower, using the bathroom, running water, brushing one’s teeth, washing one’s hands with hot water, washing clothes, brushing your hair in front of a mirror, etc., the list could go on and on.

I imagine to a certain degree that this must be how very young children feel, when the world was still novel to them and common tasks were new mysteries for them to explore, experiment upon and try to make sense of. That was certainly an apropos description of me in Africa, as every experience I encountered seemed to require me to re-learn (a common theme for me on this journey) common tasks which I previously had just taken for granted.

I made it through the Visa process upon landing in Kenya with no problems, basically because of my secret weapon and a little bit of planning. At the advice of my more seasoned travel companion, I had secured several of the required crisp $50 and $100 bills minted in or later than 2009. These were so effective, that I would highly recommend to anyone traveling outside of the United States, especially to Africa, that they convert any US currency that they are planning on bringing with them, into crisp fifty and one hundred-dollar bills. Many places will not even accept any other forms of US currency. Banks will even give you a higher exchange rate for crisp 50’s and 100’s minted in 2009 or later, than they will for other bills.

After that, the African experience became more and more real to me. Like Dorothy, I was continually reminded, that I was no longer in Kansas and that the things that may have been true in Kansas were not necessarily true in Africa. One look at the baggage claim area was enough to convince me of that. As I slowly descended the escalator in Nairobi, I was greeted by what can only be described as unadulterated chaos. I was witnessing living proof that the law of entropy was true as its effects were in full display; proving that all systems vitiate into decay and disorder without massive amounts of energy funneled into that system from outside to help establish order.

Entropy appeared to be ruling unchallenged in the dominion established anywhere within forty feet of the baggage claim carousels. Within the boundaries of its tyrannical regime, the floors were littered with all manner of unclaimed bags, boxes and assorted items of luggage. Even the sacred area inside of the conveyor belt, was plagued with forgotten luggage. As if the discard bags were cemented to the floor or viewed as sacred totems, obelisks of old or diminutive versions of 2001’s a Space Odyssey monoliths, waves of people flooded over, around and alongside of them filling every space not already occupied by a bag or a box, but the luggage icons remained unmoved or touched.

New Bags, fresh converts to Entropy’s reign, were continuing to pour into the area from two different conveyor belts, adding to the confusion as people were unsure which conveyor belt to stake out for their baggage. My travel companion took the one closer to the base of the escalator while I headed over to the one further away. With my heavy backpack over my right shoulder and my laptop bag, filled with books and a several sets of emergency clean clothes in case my checked in bag became misplaced, draped over my left shoulder, I entered into the swarming mass of humanity.

I had been warned about situations like this, throngs of crowds were the perfect opportunity for opportunistic thieves to make off with the contents of your pockets, or any personal bags which you might absent-mindedly set on the floor. Any such attempts to lighten the contents of my pockets would have been met with disappointment as they were already empty, except for some gum wrappers, which they were welcome to. My passport and some currency were in my passport holder, which was hung around my neck, but under my shirt.

So while I made my way closer to the conveyor belt, I was aware that the awkward angles of both my bags on opposite shoulders, continued to make contact with those around me, until I found a small haven of space within the storm of people. There I was forced due to the heat and humidity to place my bags on the floor between my feet, while I continued to hold one hand on their shoulder straps, while I scanned the chaos for any sign of my bag. I looked over in the mass of people crowding the other carousel for any signs of my travel companion. I caught a glimpse of him, between the undulating crowds, from time to time. Still no sign of his bags yet.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a white flutter of motion pass close by me. I looked down and saw the largest moth I had ever seen. It was sitting serenely, even in the midst of the entire ruckus, on one of the discarded bags. There it remained unmoved, as if some manner of living brooch or scarab, until I at long last found my one checked in bag. Everything appeared to be intact and I made my way to one of the tables, where I assumed that I would need to show my baggage claim ticket before they would let me leave the area. I hauled my large bag onto the table. The man behind the table, asked me what was in the bag. I told him clothes, some books and a football (American soccer ball). He nodded and told me to keep moving and never asked to see my claim ticket.

After leaving the baggage claim area, we emerged into the general area of the airport where a throng of drivers, taxi cab drivers stood patiently behind a roped off area. Arrangements had been made with a local hotel over a month ago, for them to send a driver to pick us up. Our plane had landed about two hours ago, so neither of us was sure whether or not our driver would be there.

I was flooded with relief a few minutes later, when I spotted a gentleman holding a sign with the name of the hotel “Khweza Bed and Breakfast” and the name of my travel companion. I did not yet know this young man who was meeting us, but when you are in a foreign land, it’s strangely comforting to find someone waiting for you, who at least knew you by name.

Muhammad greeted us warmly, seeming as relieved as we were to find him. He helped us with our bags and guided us passed the other drivers and out into the streets of Nairobi. It was evening and the stars were already out. Apparently there was some construction underway, so we bypassed the sidewalks and headed out into the busy streets. I took my queues from Muhammad and followed closely behind him. Cars were all around us, but he got us safely to a sidewalk and into a parking lot, where he loaded our bags into his vehicle.

He engaged us in polite conversation, as he started his car and we entered the busy evening streets of Nairobi.

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