Everything is surreal. I’m leaving for the African continent and I don’t really know it. Or maybe I’ve gotten used to the concept of jetsetting and it doesn’t phase me as it used to. In the car, en route to the airport, anxiety starts kicking in and I wonder what I’ve forgotten. I’m pleasantly surprised at the airport when Yuzuru and Chie meet me at the check-in counter, soon joined by Dong Heon and his friend. Thoughts running through my blur mind as I head off to London: I love my family and friends.
Over the Atlantic
I’m sitting next to a no-nonsense man who doesn’t care for talking. A pleasant elderly British lady is sitting in the next aisle sneaking vodka into her juice. In front of me are two Spaniards who almost didn’t get their seats after a stout man refused to get up. As far as the flight goes, Air Canada will never impress me.
8 or 9 hours later, I’m shoved into the hustle and bustle of Heathrow Airport, sentenced to 10 hours of imprisonment in a duty-free transit world. My first impression: this is truly international. Arabs, East/Southeast Asians, Africans, Europeans, Indians, South Americans, North Americans… everyone from all over the world compressed into this central hub in the city of London. I spend my impossible hours here browsing the shops, smelling the endless supplies of cologne and perfume, watching women get made up by the make-up artist that looks like Kelly Osborne, eavesdropping on random conversations (one Canadian man is on his way to Kampala, Uganda to visit his daughter, who’s currently teaching math and English; he speaks to a Somali woman on her way to Newark, USA), eating at TGIF, and sitting awkwardly on sleepless airport chairs.
Over Europe and the Middle East
Flying over Eastern Europe, I love seeing the clusters of light on the ground. There’s Bucharesti… On Emirates I’m taken advantage of by a woman; she steals my window seat, my blanket, my pillow, and my leg room. Emirates is impressive. The cabin crew speaks a total of 9 languages.
Now there’s desert below, miles and miles of sand. Again, surreal.
This city amazes me. It is not a complete mirage? The tallest, the biggest, the most expensive, the most luxurious… it’s all here in Dubai. An (oil-rich)-man-made paradise in the middle of the desert. When we land, however, there’s nothing but smog – or dust, I can’t tell. It’s hot, obviously. In the airport are amazing duty-free shops. I make an unnecessary stop at the Starbucks where, like most other places there, I’m served by a Filipino. My father would love this place if only for their assortment of fruits and nuts. It’s a shame I can’t explore the city.
Southbound Across Seas, Deserts, and National Parks
Sitting by an Indian woman, I eavesdrop again on the conversation between the Scottish-English Canadian man and the Sudanese woman re: politics and religion and whether Jesus is a prophet or really the Son of God. I see vast fields of green below me. I’m shocked by how many Chinese and Korean people are on the plane.
I have not slept for two days. My lips are parched, my eyes are red and burning, and body is literally shutting down. But I’m almost there.
I have changed the time on my watch for the last time (for now). Two days after leaving Canada, I’m at my first destination point. Nairobi airport is drastically different from that of Dubai. There are no fake palm trees inside the building for one, and it’s incredibly small. Ngeks and his brother and cousins meet me and drive home. The air is cool and refreshing. I meet the mother and other brother in what will be my home for almost three weeks. I have a real meal; pilau and fresh salad – the salad reminds me of Thailand; Sarah, you’d like it. The mother says a prayer and I’m reminded of my own mother.
I can’t help but compare the city to every other developing country that I’ve been to. The marketplaces, the vendors on the street, the burning charcoal and smell of burning plastic, the clothing and shoes for sale, the fresh fruit, and freestyle traffic, the minivan buses, the occasional tourist, the black shoes, the suits, the smells, the public toilets… it’s part of rural China, southeast Asia, Romania.
We walk pass the vendors on the street. At the supermarket I touch tropical fruits. It’s a cold night, around 15C, and I wish I had a warmer sweater. Nairobi is a cool city. Cool breeze. I need malaria pills.
I wake up this morning at 6 something to the sound of a Muslim man praying… through a loudspeaker. Then come the chickens and the sounds of morning markets. On the news, BBC reports a terrorist attempt at Heathrow. Thank God I missed it by a day.
And so it begins.