|Yesterday I talked about the|
"faulty" name tag I was given.
Here's the evidence.
Friday, February 26.2016
I miss the A/C at the Hilton. I’m sitting up on my bed. It’s 73° inside, the fan’s blowing right at me, but the mosquito net is deflecting most of the comfort, and I’m having difficulty falling asleep after waking up at 3am. Karibu Kenya.
The 6 hours of sleep that I got last night didn’t seem to help me today, but I’m getting way ahead of myself. I have to get back to Wednesday night.
The booth occupants (including John and I) started to close up shop at 6pm, exactly when dinner was supposed to start, but we’re in Kenya, so there’s no way we’re on time. We saw one of the summit coordinators who somewhat expectedly informed us that dinner would be at 7:30. The Hilton is in the perfect spot for this event because we’re leaving the city when everyone is arriving and visa-versa at night. We drive by what appears to be a 3 lane 4 mile parking lot before things start to open up a bit. Although we’d make it back to the hotel in 15 minutes, it would be hours before we’d return. That being said, we decided to stay.
We made our way over to a pool bar just outside one of the many restaurants here at the Safari Park Hotel. They boast that they are the largest conference center in Kenya, and unlike the diners that boast “the world’s best coffee,” I believe they’re right. It’s an expansive piece of real estate. There are several very large conference room separated by pools, bars, restaurants and small sitting areas. I’ve just noticed that the full name of the site is “Safari Park Hotel & Casino.” God only knows wear they’re hiding the Casino because we haven’t come across it. The walkways are all made up of flagstone and the gaps are filled with cement. They meander through the property as if the person that laid them out was blind… and drunk… with one leg shorter than the other. John obviously has a better sense of direction, so although we usually walked side-by-side, I was always slightly behind his shoulder so that I could sense where he was turning and wouldn’t look lost. He hasn’t caught on yet, but he’s more-than-likely just being nice. Although, when we saw each other at breakfast today, his first question was, “How’s the business?” He’s gonna ride that wave as long as he can. Okay, I’ve really digressed so let me get back on track. Where was I? Oh yeah, 1 ½ hours from the “Gala Dinner.”
We found a small table with an umbrella and sat talking about the event thus far. John had a Tusker while I just sat and perspired. We’re dressed in suits, and the Kenyan sun was not forgiving despite the shade provided by the umbrella. We talked about best moments, worst moments, and things that were surprising. It was a good exchange that bore some fruit on the following day, but I’ll get to that in a moment. At about 7pm, Leandra (the woman seated next to John at lunch today) came out and said, “The last speaker just finished,” with a heavy sigh and an eye roll. They were supposed to be done at 6. John asked a few questions, but she soon continued on and disappeared behind the trees lining the walkways. I’m sure that she wasn’t really surprised at the delay, because she works in Tanzania, and the lack of punctuality is not relegated to this country.
7:30 finally arrived so we made our way over to the outdoor pavilion where dinner was being served. On Tuesday night, before we decided to go to Trattoria, we were planning on going to a popular local restaurant appropriately called Carnivore. The best way to describe this place would be a Kenyan version of Brazilian barbecue. In addition to the regular steak, pork, chicken and lamb, guests were “treated” to crocodile, wildebeest and other animals roaming Masai Mara (although they certainly didn’t come from there). I don’t remember what caused us to go to Trattoria instead, but we were glad we did. When we went to look for a table we walked passed an enormous circular barbecue. Upon seeing it, John immediately turned to me saying, “I want one.” It was a circle made of brick laid out about 3 feet high with a circumference of about 8 feet. It had to be at least 9 feet high. There was a concentric circle inside was bout 3’ feet wide and flames danced below skewers that were perched like spokes on a wheel… and there were a lot of spokes. Picture a bicycle wheel lying on the floor, then stack another 20 on top of it. I’m not sure what Carnivore’s barbecue looked like, but the end result was the same. Interestingly enough, it was difficult to tell what exactly was on each of the skewers even thought they were clearly grouped together by type. We would soon find out.
We were seated with a young couple from Nairobi. Eric was a pharmaceutical rep and his companion barely said a word. She did, however, smile a lot. Much like the barbecue, John was on fire! His quick whit and calm demeanor had them laughing all night. John sat to my right. To my left was a supply & logistics specialist from South Africa. His accent was thick, but I was pleased that he spoke at a volume I could hear. Most Kenyans are very soft spoken and I’m often forced to be a “close talker” so that I can hear them. It’s very difficult because I don’t like standing too close to people because of my size. Most of the time I try to inconspicuously turn my ear toward them and lean in. Maybe I’m just going deaf. On top of the place matts in front of us sat a a piece of rosewood that was about ¾” thick. It was probably 18” wide and 10” deep with a bit of a dip inside those dimensions, somewhat like a rectangular serving tray. While a troupe of close to 20 Kenyans performed on the stage behind me (traditional dancers, and acrobatics) the wait staff came by and placed a searing iron plate the molded indent in the rosewood. Showtime! They came from behind the barbecue like ants at a picnic, starting in a single file line then separating, turning towards tables. There’s hands were filled with 3’ skewers of all the typical stuff you’d see in the states. Then came camel. I leaned over to John and said, “Camel? I wonder if it’s dry?” In my head I was hearing Karen say, “I see what you did there?” He laughed, and it was. Mixed with the old standards was crocodile, which I apparently missed, and sausages. Andrea will be happy to hear that I didn’t go back for more, despite them returning several times to ensure we were full. Although I don’t remember his name, the South African and I talked about beer the entire time. The numbers attending the summit were not as large as they anticipated, so there were only 4 of us a table for 8. I was drinking a White Cap, and he ordered a Tusker. I’m going to assume that Tusker is owned by SAB/Miller (the SAB stands for “South African Brewing”), and he was making a pitch for the “hometown” brew. The globalization of the brewing industry did away with that notion to the extent that even though beers are brewed locally, the owners are actually from somewhere else. With few exceptions, only the craft industry can claim “locally owned, locally brewed.” I won’t bore you with those stories.
I can’t remember (don’t forget, I’m typing Wednesday’s story on Friday) if they served desert or we just left before it arrived, but either way, we were excited to think that we’d be getting back to the hotel before 10 and getting a half-decent night’s sleep. We accomplished both. After 6 hours of much needed sleep, we started again. I managed to pack my bags before turning in – we were checking out the next morning and brining our bags to the Safari Park Hotel until our next departure in the afternoon.
Thursday, February 25.2016
I made it to breakfast at 7:20, and John came down shortly thereafter. I am now realizing how I took the A/C for granted. We said goodbye to the Nairobi Hilton and headed out. I checked the weather before leaving and informed John that it was 10° warmer in Kisumu, which elicited his telltale short burst of laughter. As we drove we talked about the scheduling for the day and what he wanted/needed to accomplish. We got our bags out and I waited outside with them while John entered to check on the booth. “Sahm wahn eez kahming to peek them now,” was what the security guard said. 20 minutes later, they did. Karibu Kenya. We arrived at 8:30 so we still had time to attend the opening event. We took the bags to the reception area that was pretty impressive. I did think to take a picture this time! We left the bags with a bellman and headed to the 9am opening which started promptly at 9:40. The speaker was the Principal Secretary from the Ministry of Health. John wanted to sit close, so we were in the second row. I was glad, because this guy talked fast! I was trying to imagine if John could decipher what he was saying. It would be like reading a book that had no spaces between the words. He said he did ok and liked everything that he had to say. Kenya is an emerging market in the world of pharmaceuticals, and as a Quality Control Specialist, he’s hoping to be proactive and get in early rather than waiting and having to play defense after the FDA or WHO enters a facility and suspends production for violations. It was a larger crowd this time, but I still don’t think it exceeded 200. After his speech, we returned to the booth to see what we could accomplish. When I say “we” I mean “John.”
I don’t believe today was as productive as yesterday. One of the things we talked about on the way over was having some kind of novelty to sometimes spark a conversation. John had brought several bags of Jolly Ranchers to hand out to the children at the schools we were visiting, but after assessing the inventory of “sweets” for the kids, we decided to put out he Jolly Ranchers for the attendees. They were a hit and we went through all of them. It was probably wise NOT to use the DUM DUMs. John had a couple of contacts that were eager to talk to him and sought him out. We were hoping to have lunch with one of them, but he was busy and they agreed to communicate after the summit was over. Instead we sat with a threesome from different places. The men seemed to know each other despite varied employment. One was from a University in Zimbabwe and one was from the World Health Organization. I’m not sure about the third because I couldn’t see his nametag. The guy from WHO didn’t say more than 3 words the entire time. John was engaging and the men laughed and commented about the quality issues that he is so passionate about. “Have you ever been to Africa before? They asked. This was an increasingly common question for him. He said, “Well, I’ve been to Marocco.” They smiled and one man said, “That’s not Africa.” Another added, “That’s the other Africa.” John said, “Maybe I should start saying ‘I’ve been to Moraco, but I’ve never been to Africa.’” That made them all laugh, and they said that was a good strategy. We finished our lunch and returned to the booth.
Eric, who we joined for dinner with the night before, stopped by to say hello. He greeted John in English and me in Kiswahili, laughing each time with a broad smile. Exhibitors were breaking down their booths and packing things up. Eric asked when we were flying out to Kisumu, and when we said 5pm, he got a very nervous look. “You should leave now.” That even made me nervous. We should only be 15 minutes from the airport, so I was thinking we’d leave by 3 and have plenty of time. Regardless, John and I started packing things up. It was okay because there wasn’t much activity compared to the day before… and we were down to our last 3 Jolly Ranchers.
Eric helped us to the reception area and then helped get us a car to drive to the airport. He offered to join us, but we said we’d be ok, said our goodbyes and were on our way.
We took back roads to get to the airport, traveling through towns within Nairobi. Some sections looked a bit seedier than others and at one point, the driver reached down to close my window. It was close to 80° with no A/C. You would have thought I’d have taken off my suit coat, but I wasn’t that smart. We arrived in plenty of time. The security continues to be tightened at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. When we arrived on the grounds, we pulled up to what looked like customs on the Canadian border. He then informed us that we needed to get out and walk through a building on the right. He would meet us on the other side. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. This guy wants us to get out of the car, leave our bags, walk through a building on the right, where NO people were entering, and meet him on the other side. “Is this guy nuts?” I thought – I may have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night studying. I scanned the other cars waiting to pass through, but they were all just drivers – no passengers. It was only a few seconds before I saw two busses pull up. Sure enough, everyone disembarked and walked through the building so we exited the car and mixed in with them.
Inside the building was the first in a series of metal detector and x-ray machines for our bags. It was an uninterrupted process and as promised, he met us on the other side. He dropped right in front of the domestic terminal and left. Wow was it hot! Terminal 1-D is incredibly small. Just inside the doors is another metal detector and x-ray machine. 5 paces beyond that is the computerized ticket kiosk that was added 2 years ago. Another 5 paces and you’re a the ticket counter. We had extra bags so I had to go back outside to pay the additional bag fee, then return to the ticket counter with a paid receipt. There really isn’t any air conditioning but it is slightly cooler inside versus out. I returned pretty quickly and John and I went through the third and final security check before finding a seat by the gate… another 10 paces away. We called our wives to give them a status update and waited to board. The air was heavy and seemed to stick to you despite feeble attempts to fan yourself. It was like waving your hand under water. We weren’t there long before exiting the gate and walking toward the plane. It was a short flight similar to a trip to NYC from Rochester, or Philadelphia, or Boston. By the time we reached peak altitude, we started our descent. I was thankful to have the cool air from the overhead vents blowing on us the entire time. 45 minutes after takeoff, we were back in it.
When they opened the plane door, you could almost hear the sucking sound as the cool air left only to be replaced with hot, wet air. We walked down the stairs and into the terminal. John grabbed our bags while I was in the restroom. We were 15 minutes early, so we grabbed a seat outside for a few minutes while we waited for Job. “Hey!” John said, causing me to look up (I was trying to change the sim card in my phone). There was Job, smiling ear to ear. We greeted each other and he immediately extended his hand to John. Once the new sim card was in, John and Job talked while I called Andrea. Despite being on the other side of the globe, Andrea joined in on the conversation with some requests for Job. “Look at John. Now look at Adam. They are not to leave your sight,” she said. “Yes, mum,” he replied with a grin. Andrea was diplomatically making a statement regarding some “poor decisions” Job made during one of my previous trips. We sat their for a bit waiting for another car to arrive – the one Job came in had a flat tire. Karibu Kenya.
One soon showed up, and I was pleased to see Eli (pronounced eh-lee) emerge from behind the steering wheel. He’s provided transportation for me before. He’s a young man who speaks with his expressions. I think he only has one – joy. True-to-form, my comments and questions were met with smiles and laughter and one word answers.
Despite our previous plan, we decided to head into Kisumu to check for a multi-user modem so John could use his computer and communicate with his family. Unlike the Hilton, the Peacock does not have wifi. They didn’t have the one I wanted at Nakumat, but they’re sending for it and Eli will bring it with him when he comes to pick us up tomorrow morning.
We then headed over to Java for dinner. Java is a nice restaurant that Eli introduced me to last year. The food is good, but more importantly, they have milkshakes! It’s a real novelty for Eli. He turned toward me and said, “I had the brown one last time,” looking for some assurance from me. “Yes, chocolate.” A smile came across his face as he nodded to the waitress. Two strawberry, one vanilla, and one chocolate shake later, we were well into stories about the last three days. He two of them laughed out loud as John and I recounted our exploits. As expected, John really likes Job. He was as animated as ever. We finished our meals and headed for Maseno. I don’t think we were out of the parking lot before I fell asleep, and I didn’t wake up until we stopped the car at to the Peacock. “We ah hee-ya,” Eli said trying to end my slumber. I felt drunk as I emerged from the car and it took me a couple seconds to get my bearings. I felt like I just stepped off a boat onto dry land after a day at sea. That was a pretty deep sleep – neither the potholes nor the speed bumps woke me up. That’s actually a little terrifying.
We made our way into the hotel passing some gentlemen conversing outside. “Karibu Kenya,” they said as we passed by. I thanked them in Kiswahil and continued on… momentum was in my favor and I would have fallen over if I stopped. Despite the short distance to the rooms, we turned several time before getting to the back of the hotel. Job led the way and turned around disgusted. The rooms weren’t ready. He was waving his arms as he talked to the staff of 1. They quickly finished up with them and we entered. Karen was right, I should have removed John’s toilet seat at the Hilton. Neither of us had one. We put our bags in our respective rooms and I started to unpack while John called Margaret. When he finished I went to his room to give him some pointers on everything from using the shower to mosquito net placement. I prepared/warned him about the chickens in the morning and the guards walking around outside his window. His short bursts of laughter with each statement was making me laugh along. The Hilton is FAR behind us now.
After agreeing to the schedule that starts with breakfast at 8, I said, “Goodnight,” and returned to my room. I sat down on the bed to call Andrea, but there was no signal. I don’t know what it is about this place, but the signal is incredibly spotty and that makes for some difficult conversations. The signal drops repeatedly, sometimes even if you’re outside. I don’t know what was in the clay bricks when they were building this place, but it’s not compatible with a cell signal. I moved the phone around the room as if it were a Geiger counter and I was looking for radiation. I finally got a couple bars and wrote out a quick message to send to Andrea. Two seconds later, I lost the signal. I left it on the bed staring at the signal strength with my finger hovering over the “send” button. 15 minutes later, I touched the screen. The signal went dead again, and soon after, so did I. Karibu Kenya.
That pretty much brings us up to date. I woke up at 3am and have been typing and uploading photos ever since. The writing was only interrupted by a mosquito that mistakenly snuck inside my net. It took awhile, but he won’t be bothering anyone ever again. I was joking with John about how loud a single mosquito can be when you’re trying to sleep here. The sound of the fan helps, but it’s still seems like they’re flying with speakers – I think I likened it to the helicopter seen in Apocalypse Now where they’re playing Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries. Okay, maybe that was a bit dramatic, but you get the point. It’s Friday at 6:30am now. I’ve done all I can do until the morning when I will venture outside to find a signal and post all of this.
Sorry for this one being so long, but I had to make hay while the sun shined. Yes, I realize the sun is not shining, but I think this mattress is filled with hay so it all balances out. Come to think of it, the pillow might be filled with it, too.
I CANNOT WAIT TO HEAR WHAT JOHN HAS TO SAY TOMORROW MORNING!
It’s not easy to make this kind of trip. It just isn’t. You can provide as much information as possible and it still does not prepare you for the reality of it, and by then, it’s too late… you’re in it. I commend him for the interest to take this leap, for that is truly what it is. I’m honored that he (and his family) trusts me enough to tag along. They take a similar leap… and theirs is similar. It’s difficult to leave our loved ones behind, but I think it’s even harder for them to watch us go. It’s been five days, and every time things become calm, my thoughts go back to Andrea, Katie, Kevin and Karen and how much I miss them. I’m sure that John is feeling the same thing.
I know he will enjoy his time here despite the brevity of the visit. I can hear the sounds of the birds outside my window, which means John can hear them, too. It also means that the sun’s coming up. He’s next door probably staring at the ceiling through his mosquito net. Who knows, maybe he is still sleeping. Unlike me, he told me was wide awake for the ride from the restaurant to the hotel. Some host I turned out to be… “Welcome to Kisumu. Look out the window while I sleep.”
We’re headed to Agulu Primary, then Kakamega to check in on the pad project and tour a school in need of our help. Provided we have time we’ll head to the Masai Market, then hopefully chick in with John Aguso and Dan Otieno. It’s going to be a busy day. See you soon.
Oh, I decided to do a “compare and contrast” section showing the differences between the Nairobi Hilton and the Peacock Resort. See if you can guess which is which.