Tuesday, October 24, 2006

expats in the face of danger

(october 21, 2006)

i arrived in jomo kenyatta international airport rather exhausted from having been sat between a rather large irish catholic missionary and permanent resident of kenya and the daughter of a dutch diplomat returning home to dar es salaam (i learned this from being nosy as she filled out her visa application form), which did not allow for much meaningful sleep. normally, i pride myself on my ability to sleep in confined areas and to be sleeping before a plan takes off, but not this time. with a stroke of luck, i began getting sleepy about ¾ of the way through the da vinci code so i turned it off and tried not to touch the man who was by this point spilling over into my seat space as i closed my eyes and tried to prevent my head from falling every time i approached sleep sitting upright.

and this was after a small delay at heathrow where they were not sure that i was going to get a seat as they had oversold the flight and were trying to squeeze 11 people in while reassuring us left-overs that on average 20% of people do not show up for flights. now who can afford to be paying this kind of money for intercontinental flights and then not show up? i believe it was this little kink that was responsible for my trying seating arrangement. but more than the uncomfort of having someone in my space while i am trying to sleep (or watch the da vinci code – and by the way, what is with me sitting next to a catholic priest on a flight where i chose to bring the book to read and then this time next to a catholic missionary where i decide to watch that movie?), was the inconvenience and lack of duty free shopping time that this hiccup caused me. i had a serious shopping list to tackle whilst at heathrow that included a travel hair dryer with a uk plug and Birkenstocks for only £25. i am still without either. damned british airways.

a friendly driver from the organisation i am working with was there to greet me with my name (albeit missing a few Rs) on his sign negating my fears as i was terrified i would have to navigate the mean streets of africa’s most dangerous city alone at 7:30am on a national holiday. i must admit that it was quite nice being picked up rather officially in a range rover with the organisation’s logo on the side. before we headed into the city, i noticed that the areas surrounding nairobi look exactly like photos, flat with hills in the distance, everything a dry-looking yellow with baobob trees dotting the horizon. pretty amazing.

i came to the apartment of a co-worker’s flat (whom i have never met and who is away on vacation for the long weekend) and promptly slept for 7 hours. i woke up, and as it was getting dark, was terrified. of what, i don’t know, but enough people warned me about going outside after dark that i figured i was in just as much danger being inside. besides what sounded like a monsoon rain (although i suppose nairobi is much too high for the monsoons to reach us), a few fireworks nearby, and the guard dogs in the apartment complex periodically barking like mad, i survived my first night.

today, a rather nice belgian fellow from the office called me and asked if i wanted to come out with him to do some shopping, which i of course said yes to, because there is no possible way that any excuse to stay inside for fear of all that awaited outside the front door would fly as there was no way i could possibly have had any other plans. and, well, i did want to leave the house and was happy to have some company in doing so.

i learned today that the expat lifestyle is a good one. we had lunch at an american-run restaurant that served fantastic coffee and delicious guacamole, bought some cheap groceries and seasonal fruit that would make anyone’s mouth water at home, and returned to my new friend’s house, which is really more like a mansion. well, not quite, but it is located on a compound full of southern californian-like houses, jacaranda and bougainvillea trees, a swimming pool, a playground, a gym, and is chockablock full of diplomatic license plates on vehicles.

it was obvious after one day out and about in my neighbourhood that there are many different nationalities living and working together. i was even invited to a party in the complex by a neighbour who was trying to sell the idea on there being some italians and some americans in attendance, an invitation i politely declined as i need to read about what the hell my job is all about tonight and tomorrow before i start on monday. i did see the office today and i didn’t realise that it is actually a refugee processing site as well as the regional office. my office looks very workable and i have a lunch date for monday, which will hopefully take away all the awkwardness of having to find a place to sit amongst people who know one another. i have always hated lunch hours at new jobs.

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