"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.
Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead

Building Futures, Inc.

Building Futures, Inc.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Friday-Saturday, February 15-16, 2019

I’m sitting on a plane en route to Nairobi.  Andrea’s to my right, and Karen’s asleep in a single seat across the aisle.  While Andrea only got a couple hours in, Karen continues to be out cold.  We’re approaching the 3-½ hour mark.  Good for her. I was falling asleep in my seat while waiting for the flight attendants to bring lunch.  Andrea woke up as I finished, and now I’m wide-awake.  We don’t land for another 4 hours, so Karen might be up all night… nah… she enjoys sleeping too much.  
We’ve hit a couple patches of turbulence that caused some glasses to spill, but they were both brief. Sue and her son Ryan have joined us on this trip, and they’re several rows behind us.  Like Karen, Ryan’s a teacher, although his specialty is art while Karen’s is 3rdGrade.  They travelled with us 7 years ago and took this opportunity to return. We’ve already had some laughs at both Rochester and Schiphol airports, so we sure to be laughing every day. Ryan’s a hoot-and-a-half.  No great stories so far, other than the “signature drink” on Delta is much better than it’s counterpart on KLM.  I like me some gin, and although that was the primary ingredient in both, Delta won that jump ball easily.  Bombay Sapphire, apple-cranberry juice and a splash of ginger ale versus something called “The Flying Dutchman” – Damrak gin, Bols blackberry liqueur, fresh lemon and sugar syrup.  It tasted like they may have run it through the Flying Dutchman before they served it to me.   Good news… you can get it mailed to you premixed.  Hooray.  The meals on both flights were really good.  I ordered food for the ladies so they could get it when they were ready. Karen’s still not ready.
My left leg is starting to cramp up a bit, so I’m going to walk around a little bit.  I’ll try to add some more when we get to Karen (the town, not the daughter).  The three of us are traveling with a total of 9 bags and although I have an email from Isaac that contains a letter from Chief Kasoy stating that 6 of those bags are humanitarian donations, I wasn’t able to print it out between flights. Hopefully they’ll take an iPhone image, hopefully I’ll be on top of my game, and hopefully the customs agent will be a Luo.  Not too many white guys speak luo, so that usually falls in my favor.  Either way, I sense another jump ball coming up. You’ll find out if I got jumped high enough ex post facto.  I’ll try not to leave my feet too soon.
We got off the plane and waited for Sue and Ryan to join us.  I grabbed the first airport agent I saw to inquire about Ryan’s visa. Although he applied online weeks ago, his approval never came through.  We got lucky. This guy was the same one running the office he pointed us towards.  10 minutes later, Ryan emerged with his visa.  Beautiful. I started walking with everyone behind me, and got into a line that most foreign passport holders don’t enter. It’s a somewhat unspoken rule about the COMESA line, and let’s leave it that way.  Everyone else form the plane had already gotten into line, so it was VERY long.  We ducked into the COMESA line.  I was the fourth person in line.  If this is any indication, it’s going to be a great trip.  Now, onto baggage claim.
I think they Sue’s suitcase was literally the last bag off the plane.  I was hoping that we’d get the bags on carts and toward customs before the majority of people.  There was only one person checking “incoming goods” so it’s always nice to get there just ahead of the mad rush.  IF it’s one thing these feux police hate its attention.  When we come through with bags, it causes a log jam which results in heavy sighs, and clucks from everyone behind us as they collect into the wider end of the funnel we’re causing.  In the past, that’s worked great; they would rather wave us through that put up with the consternation of 300 people behind us.  This time, however, we when we got to customs, there was no line, and nobody behind us.  
Sidebar.  Something I have noticed when talking with old friends is that most of my experiences are related to music.  That was poorly phrased; let me try that again.  My memory seems to be more vivid when recalling events where music was present.  That’s better.  My friend Jim, on the other hand, associates much better with sports.  He can tell you everything; what the weather was like, whom he was with, what happened at the game, most of the plays… and even what he was wearing.  I work backwards.  If I’m asked about something, I immediately thing about the music in the background and build the picture from there.  My musical tastes are quite broad, and I’ll blame that on my older brother.  We have three sisters between us, and he exposed me to music that was popular well before I was born, and those artists are some of my favorite.  Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, The Band… the list goes on and on.  Although he also played a lot of jazz, some of his favorites never took root.  I will never understand Miles Davis.  That’s not good or bad, It’s just the way it is. So be it.  My brother would reciprocate by drawing a line in the sand over 80’s music.  Sorry, I love it and I’m not afraid to say it.  Okay, this was the back-story for the next part of the blog.  I remember listening to the album Shakedown Street by the Grateful Dead over and over again.  I would later learn that their music spanned generations, but when I was a kid, I was captivated with that album.  Sorry, I’m starting to digress again.  Shakedown Street.  That’s where I found myself last night.
We entered customs and the agents watched wide-eyed as we approached.  3 white people with 9 bags- close to 700lbs of items.  I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.  The agent came over, but I was prepared for her.  At this point, if agreeable, you can begin to dicker with them.  You have to size them up quickly.  Do they smile?  Do they maintain eye contact?  Does their tone vary as they speak?  Are they at all interested in what you have to say?  This time, I checked the “No” box on each.  Not good.  If I had an exemption letter form the Kenyan Treasurer it would be smooth sailing. That was another, “No.”  What I did have, though, was itemized sheets showing exactly what I was bringing.  I broke them down onto two sheets of paper.  One was “gifts” (that one always puts dollar sings in their eyes), and one was “Donations.”  Chief Kasura from Masai Mara had “stamped” the donations list – most of the items were being given to people in his jurisdiction.  The “stamp” is simple, but speaks volumes when in country.  It makes the document and it’s contents official and approved.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for this particular woman.  It was the equivalent of someone expecting to see Fleetwood Mac, but finding out it’s a cover band… made up of teenagers from next door. Ouch.
She sent me to her supervisor where I repeated my “soft shoe” routine.  She, too, was unimpressed.  I was heading for a 48% tax on all of it.  Again, Ouch.  She then sent me to the woman who collects the tax.  This would be may last chance.  Smile, YES.  Eye contact, YES.  Tonal changes, YES.  Interested, very YES!  I was at the tail end of a bad cop, bad cop, bad cop, good cop routine.   She was particularly interested in the pad project… until… “The internet seems to be down.”  Welcome to Shakedown Street… this time, though, there was plenty “shakin’ on Shakedown Street.”  “I won’t be able to give you a receipt.”  Bingo. I can work with this.  I got her laughing as I literally tightened my belt in front of her and starting complaining about my aching back.  A not so subtle hint to “no money for food or lodging.”  Again, smiles and laughter.  I’ll cut to the chase.  It started out as a 50,000ksh tax and I got it reduced to 10,000.  That’s $100USD.  I wasn’t thrilled with it, but it was better than what I was expecting, and it could have gotten worse.  Now it’s hakuna matata.
I left my passport with the first agent with enabled everyone else to leave with the bags and say hi to Isaac.  By the time I left, I thought everything would be loaded into the vehicles waiting outside.  I was wrong. Karen and Andrea came back to show me where the cars were, and when I passed through the sea of taxi drivers jockeying for position, I saw 1 car and a lot of bags on the asphalt.  The second car did finally show up, but an irate policeman was right behind him.  The next 40 minutes were bursts of short exchanges; none of which calmed the officer down.  The guy driving the car came in the wrong way, and the officer seized the opportunity. Shakedown Street.
This one was much less costly.  He actually got into the car with the driver and drove around the airport.  By the time they got back, the money had already exchanged hands.  Another 1,000ksh.  Ten bucks. Just get us to the hotel.
Everything was loaded and we laughed and reminisced with Isaac and our new friend Richard (driving). We made it to our rooms, but still wouldn’t fall asleep before 2am.  We woke up at 4.  I actually think Karen woke us up at 4.  That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.  Okay, backstory time.  Karen plays these weird ambient sounds to help her sleep.  She told us that it was a “fan sound,” but if it was it was from a 1950’s Humphrey Bogart movie.  Karen got a lot of sleep on the last leg, so when she woke up at 4, she was giddy.  We made the mistake of asking her what dying animal sound she was playing.  We then got a montage of the options at her disposal.  Desk fan, ceiling fan, affirmation (which sounded like Alexa telling you how great you are), water running, waterfalls, rapids, and it culminated with whale song.  She giggled after each one.  Finally, we said, “Play whatever you like, just turn the volume down.”  Humphrey Bogart returned, only softer.  
The only other issue was the light in the hallway.  I think we were the only ones in the building – Sue and Ryan were across the hall. There was only one other room on this floor and I was confident that it was unoccupied.  After our shenanigans (between arrival and the whale song) any occupant would have been happy to relocate.  The top half of the door was etched glass, and a transom above the door was glass, too.  Tis meant that the light from the hallway POURED into the room.  It was like daylight, too.  The majority of light bulbs in this country seem to be almost yellow and bathe everything they hit in this molasses hue.  We could have slept much easier with the molasses, but this was like taking a nap at noon under a bright sun.  I finally got up, went outside and shut it off.  There was another light outside our window that provided just enough light to allow me to return to bed without banging into walls. Once the sun goes down, you can’t see your hand in front of your face.  I tend to walk into walls in the daylight, so it can get rather tricky at night.
The next thing I know, Andrea was getting up to work out.  6am.  Yeah, that’s what I said.  I fell back to sleep until 7am when she returned.  Karen showered last night, so she got to stay in bed a bit longer. Andrea hopped in the shower, and chose to take a cold one.  Karen got shocked a few times and Andrea wanted no part of that.  She tried, but after one zap, the heater got turned off.
I, being a cagey veteran, turned it on.  Truth be told, I’ve taken enough cold showers in this country, that if I have an opportunity to use hot, I will.  I didn’t get shocked until I tried to turn the temperature down a bit.  They’re shocks came when they held the handle.  Either way, we were wearing sandals to ground us. Yes, it wasn’t much of a ground because we were standing in water, on tile.  As I type this, it clearly wasn’t one of my finer moments, but to be honest, the water was hot so I’m fine with it.
Breakfast consisted of hardboiled eggs, pan-fried chicken gizzards, sliced watermelon and tea.  The gizzards were awesome!  They remind me of my mother’s cooking.  I always remember her them in soup or cooked just like these were.  I was very excited to see them, and the flavor did not disappoint.  More memories washed over me.  I guess we can add “food” to my “memory reinforcer” repertoire. 
We divided the bags into two groups and sent all the donations/gifts to Narok while we took our luggage/backpacks with us to Nakuru.  We hopped in the vehicle with Richard still behind the wheel.  I’m typing as we drive, so I think I’ll stop now so I can take in the scenery.  It’s a route I’ve never taken and it’s an impressive view of the other side of the Rift Valley.  You’ll hear about it tomorrow. Peace out.

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