(the misadventures of an expatriate corporate dropout)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

into africa.

I arose at 3:30 a.m. thanks to an early wake-up call from my travelling companion ... I drove to pick him up and we departed for Paris. It was difficult to stay awake the 1st couple of hours ... he is a morning person, I am not ... so it worked out well. I drove for about one hour of the 5 hour drive. as we neared Paris, he resumed driving as we were now in 'his city' ... ha.

we headed to his mother's house where we were leaving the car and getting a ride to the airport. it was cool to finally meet the mother I had heard so many loving comments about ... and his beautiful daughter. maman was sweet and kind and petite and cluck! clucking! around her obviously favored son. she puttered, gathering food and drinks and little touches as she gazed at him like a parched man in the desert, drinking him up as only mothers do their sons. Icing on the cake was the chance to meet three sisters, each unique.

one was so kind and welcoming, with three bises and patience galore with my bad French. one was ill and not much conversation ensued. the last arrived late, shook my hand (!) and nearly immediately launched into a heated political argument with my monsieur. at first I thought ... well, this is how italian families interact, with much passion and drama. but as the argument ensued, I realized she was just going on and on for who knew whose sake. It was tiresome and I soon developed a bit of a pain in the stomach.

luckily, just about that time ... the beautiful daughter arose and offered me juice and petit mots and eyerolls at the auntie's antics. she dressed and got us on the road.

we arrived at the airport with our neatly packed backpacks (yes my dears, I had ONE backpack for the 3 weeks, incroyable, non?!) we checked in and looked for a spot for a drink.

we went to Paul where we enjoyed 5 euro waters and clucked over the ridiculousness of the prices. our giggling commenced and continued throughout our journey.

let me pause here and tell you that 3 days prior to our departure date we received a call that our flight from Kenya to Madagascar had been cancelled and the next available flight was 4 nights later. Could we stay in Kenya? well, many phone calls later we just decided to roll the dice and go for it.

so we boarded our flight ... which first took us to London. We had agreed I would be responsible for all of the English speaking ports and monsieur would take on the French ones. Made sense. So there we were at London Heathrow (my first time) and let me tell you, I would have fared better in a french airport. there were these purple connection signs that literally wound us a kilometer throught the airport. when we finally arrived at what we thought was our gate, we were told we were not connecting with Air France but with Kenya Airways. Which meant we had to retrace our steps and recommence our trip. I was viewed dubiously by my partner, as someone who obviously couldn't even manage english very well. I recovered a bit when I accosted a security person and convinced him to allow us to re-enter without another security clearance. We finally found Kenya Airways (they didn't have a permanent location) and trust me it was a bit worrisome as the flight boarded just ten minutes after we arrived.

The point is, we DID make it and we even had 2 seats on the side vs. stuck in the middle. so we could goof off unimpeded! yay for us as we are nothing if not 2 big goof-offs. the best part of this leg of the journey is the media centre offered Chris Rock's performance, "Kill the Messenger", which is actually a compilation of 3 shows, the same material ... filmed in Johannesberg, Harlem and London. Fabulous I tell you. But very difficult to translate to a Frenchman. and unfortunately there was not a french version on the plane. I would have LOVED to watch that one together. but anyway.

we landed in Kenya (photo of us disembarking the plane) ... interesting that these HUGE planes are unloaded on the tarmac ... cool actually. Now, again it was my turn to take on the English speaking Kenyan airline agents and see if we could get things straightened out...or improved somewhat.

I carefully explained our situation ... one weird thing was I even had some trouble at first explaining in English. Apparently I am so in the habit of thinking things out in English, then coming up with a passable French translation in my head, and then bravely attempting an understandable set of French phrases to my audience. So it didn't seem normal to just speak straight off in English.

But ... I was successful. First the fellow took all of our paperwork (itineraries, passports, etc.) and pointed us to a waiting room ...telling me he would search for a solution. Monsieur JY was dubious and nervous about his missing passport. But he trusted in me and I trusted in the agent and lo and behold! he returned with 2 tickets leaving in one day vs. four, on Madagascar Airlines AND vouchers for a hotel room, all of our meals, and transport from and back to the airport. All paid for by Kenya Airways. with a smile! My companion was suitably impressed. Our hotel was modern ... all marble and retro cool furnishings and basically nary a traveller to be seen save the handful of customers whose flights had somehow been diverted by Kenya Airways.

We had breakfasts and lunch and dinner all on Kenya Airways. Unfortunately there was not time for a foray into Nairobi. The only glimpse I had was to and from the airport. Where we saw dozens and dozens and dozens of men alongside the road, either waiting for work or trying to sell some small something. We also saw many men doing work manually that in the states or elsewhere would be done by machine ... and probably require one person instead of three. there was a road beautification project underway with young men planting trees and moving stones.

the weather is so hot that work proceeds slowly, as does the pace with everything else. we waited 45 minutes past the arrival time for our airport transport.

but we arrived on time ... because everyone is on African time, no deadlines apply.


Randal Graves said...

There is no way in hell an American airline would ever help you out like that without a large fee or three.

How hot was it? 80°? 100°?

JChevais said...


I promise you that one day, you'll stop translating in your head before speaking. It'll happen and then five minutes later, you'll be all: WTF? Yay me!

M said...

Oh, can't wait for the next instalment!

haha, the word verification says 'unworthe'-maybe I should put in a tad more effort.

La Framéricaine said...

Very exciting stuff! Congratulations on your triumphs over every challenge!