The whole journey over — from the shuttle to Newark airport, to the plane to London, to the long layover in London Heathrow, to even approaching the airport in Nairobi — I was in a state of dazed detachment. I rationally knew that I was on my way back to Africa, but the fact hadn’t emotionally registered. Despite the excruciatingly long trip, it still felt like I was just hopping on the plane to Mexico City or maybe Atlanta. But once I set foot in the Nairobi airport, that weirdly charming relic from the 1970s with its orange-and-brown color scheme, linoleum floors and scooped plastic chairs, the rules started coming back to me.
Rules like: Have dollars ready for the visa fee, and dollars printed after 2004 at that, if you want to get through Immigration in a timely manner. Rules like: Don’t try to skip the Customs inspection man (even though it’s easy to, he’s kind of hidden amid all the baggage inspectors) on the way to the Arrivals lobby if you don’t want to get scolded and/or all your luggage searched. Rules like: Always be genuinely polite and don’t forget to greet people, including strangers. This isn’t New York. Rules like: Make friends with your taxi driver. You’ll use him a lot since he’s probably the only one who knows how to get to your house on a random corner on a random street in a random leafy neighborhood. Rules like: Settle in for the ride. Nairobi traffic is hell. Rules like: Men in suits ride their bikes effortlessly here. Rules like: This is East Africa. Take a deep breath and relax.
Photo via MicroCapital Society