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Flying Kenya Zambia

The Pleasures of Airline Travel

I have a love/hate relationship with air travel. Despite being a seasoned traveller, I still feel uneasy and anxious. Despite using a checklist, I wonder what essential item I have failed to pack. I try to give myself enough time to get to the airport, but there’s always the possibility of a crash on the motorway or the vehicle breaking down. Then there’s the wait at check-in. Does my luggage weigh less than the permitted maximum? What heavy items can I take out at the last minute to stuff into my pockets (this makes going through security even more tiresome)?

I managed to leave my home in a reasonable state, refrigerator emptied, central heating set to deal with a cold spell, bed linen washed and dried, personal video recorder primed to record Les Mis for when I get home, all electrical appliances unplugged. The bus was on time, but most seats were occupied. We arrived at Heathrow on time and I breezed through check in. Security checked my hand baggage as I had left my Kindle in the rucksack, but the officers smiled benignly and waved me through. I had a sample of whisky in the duty free – White Walker (Johnnie, of course) – to reward myself, before going to the gate. Why does everyone rise up and queue as soon as the stewardess announces that boarding will start with passengers needing assistance or travelling with children?

The flight was full and there were no aisle or window seats available. A Kenyan lady was sitting in my place, oblivious to her allocated seat. She moved to another seat, and had to move again. I sent my final SMS messages and shut down my cell phone. Why do the touch panels on the back-of-the-seat entertainment system always fail to respond to your first deliberate touch? I selected a film which I hadn’t seen and must have nodded off for a few minutes because I cannot remember anything about it.

I don’t mind airline food. It is not cordon bleu but it fills the gap and gives you something to do (eat) during the flight. We touched down at Nairobi a few minutes early and I settled down in the transit lounge waiting for my connection to Lusaka while the sun rose. I took advantage of the free internet to send more messages before we were called.

On board, I couldn’t resist a secret smile when two traditionally-built African ladies tried to squash past each other in the aisle. Even they found it funny. En route, I could see the summit of Kilimanjaro poking above the clouds. We landed in Lusaka and I took my time as I had seven hours to kill before my flight to Mfuwe. I was last in the queue for immigration and noticed that the officer had a problem with his arm. I remarked on this and we had a mini-consultation while he wrote out the receipt for my 30 day business visa. My luggage was ready for me and I breezed through customs.

There is a new Chinese-built airport a few hundred metres away from Kenneth Kaunda International Airport, ready to open in late 2019. The old airport is rather cramped with few places to sit and wait. I managed to offload my bags at the Proflight office (the boss had pity on me). I wandered around, chatted with some South African businessmen, sympathised with an elderly lady whose visitor did not turn up, watched some planes taking off and landing, had some lunch, read some material I had downloaded onto my phone and sat staring into space, nodding off with fatigue.

Finally, our flight was called and I was relieved to find that my luggage weighed almost exactly 30kg, meaning I didn’t have to pay excess baggage. I accepted the offer of a window seat and someone impatiently pushed in front of me. After I went through security to the gate, I thought it was strange that I wasn’t given a boarding card. I went back to check in and the receptionist told me that she had given my boarding pass to another passenger, but it would be ok as she would fix it for me. And I believed her.

Meanwhile, there was a minor incident at security when a man tried to take a cow shin bone onto the plane in his hand luggage. The lady checking the x-rays of the luggage must have been rather shocked to see it on the screen. The bone was huge, plastic-wrapped and had a prominent label from a pet shop. He had brought it in his hold luggage from Namibia, but had transferred it to his carry-on luggage to avoid excess baggage charges on the local flight. Bad choice.

“What is this? Is it from a wild animal?” she asked.

“No, it’s just a bone for the dog, a gift for him as we have left him at home for two weeks while we were on holiday,” he replied.

This raised several cultural issues for the security officer. “You bought a gift for your dog?” she asked. “What will the dog do with this gift?”

“He’ll probably chew it for a few hours then bury it in the garden,” he said.

Her eyebrows arched even higher in disbelief. “It is not permitted to bring animal parts onto a flight,” she said. The passenger objected to the bone being confiscated and appealed to me to provide a rational explanation.

“It is securely wrapped and unlikely to be a health hazard,” I ventured.

“I will check precisely the wording of the law,” said the security officer. “This might involve a prison sentence.”

Immediately, the man apologised and abandoned the bone. “It only cost 70 rand, I don’t want to go to a cell for that!”

Meanwhile, the manager of a safari lodge managed to bring a box of machine tools on board, saying that there were no sharp bits inside. This made me wonder if the official might have thought the cow bone could have been used as an offensive weapon by a terrorist. But it wasn’t exactly the jaw bone of an ass.

New Chinese-built Lusaka Airport

The flight for Mfuwe was called and I approached the receptionist who had given my boarding pass to an African man. She saw my face and it dawned on her that he had already passed through. She called him back and switched the passes. He clearly hadn’t read the pass, and neither had she.

Luangwa River
Meandering course, very full
The escarpment. This is the southern end of the Rift Valley
Touchdown at Mfuwe International Airport

We touched down in Mfuwe an hour later. The warm, fetid air oozed onto the plane. The sun was setting behind the clouds and it looked like it might rain again soon. The grass beside the runway was dazzling, emerald green. I felt the joy of arriving at a place I loved. This was the pleasure of travel – arriving safely.

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Kenya

Road trip

“What goodies shall I bring to the project?” I asked Dr E. She said, “The staff like sweets.” I thought that this was not such good advice because my new mission deals with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and hypertension. Sugar is the enemy! But I found I was wrong when I had my briefing in the office.

“What we want is Quality Street! Not Celebrations. As children we found out where my father hid the Quality Street and we ate them,” she said.

“Even the green ones?” I asked.

“No, they were our least favourite. We liked the red and yellow ones.”

“What about the purple ones with the soft toffee and the brazil nut?”

“We liked them too. When he discovered what we had done and he asked us if he was the father of thieves!”

My departure to the field was delayed by an enormous traffic jam caused by a lorry and trailer jack-knifing on the Mombasa Road. It had been loaded with cement, which was tipped over two carriageways of the highway. It had been raining since midnight, so the cement must have been setting. In my mind’s eye, I could envision workers chipping away at the hardening cement of the road surface, trying to clear the way.

We set off and joined the traffic jam. Some roads were raging torrents of orange water. Our twin cab Toyota Pickup truck ploughed through the flood, creating a bow wave. A truck passed us on the inside lane and drenched my side of the vehicle with a tsunami of muddy water. Unfortunately, I had left a crack of window open to prevent the glass from steaming up with condensation…

As we left the city en route to Embu, the rain stopped and we were able to make good progress. I sat back in the passenger seat and drank in the atmosphere. I made some notes:

Most locals use minibuses called matatus. Some matatus were named after Manchester United. Another was called, “Addicted to Jesus”. The message on a truck’s mudflap was “Almighty Leader”.

The side of a bus was painted with the Nike swoosh and the slogan, “Jesus did it.”

Motorbike taxi riders wore yellow tabards, advertising their sponsors. Some bore the name of the President. To shield passengers from the rain, a few motorbikes sported elongated umbrellas which must have limited their speed. But not as much as one man with a two-seater sofa balanced across the pillion seat.

About halfway to Embu, there is a village which is famous for its catfish. I spotted saloon cars with fish hanging from their wing mirrors, presumably to keep cool.

The countryside was verdant and sparkling after the rain. Villagers were slashing the vegetation at the side of the road, to keep the verges clear. Some workers had tucked their trousers into their long socks, which gave them a “plus four” appearance. The privet hedging around some of the petrol stations’ forecourts had been clipped in a more careful manner, with topiary which would not be out of place in the Home Counties.

Some of the roadside hotels had great names. “Beach Hotel” and “Red Soil Hotel” were two that stayed in my memory. We arrived in Embu just before lunch. Across the road from the office is the “Kryptonite Hotel”. The sign above the entrance glows green. It’s fortunate that I am not “Superdoc”.

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