On the cab ride back to the airport, I paid closer attention to the scenery than I had when I arrived. Friday afternoons are busy in Nairobi, and the streets were crowded with both cars and people. We passed a long stretch where flowers and young trees, like at a nursery, were arranged row after row along side the road; I wasn’t sure whether they were selling them or planting them. We passed through Nairobi’s downtown which consists of a handful of relatively tall buildings, ranging from maybe 30 to 50 stories. Among the mostly foreign billboards, I was surprised to see a familiar Johnny Walker ad, advising me to “Keep Walking.”
People cross the road without regard to the number of lanes or intended speed of the drivers on it. Motorcycles frequently darted between cars, skipping ahead of the traffic. Riding on one motorcycle off on to the side of the road I saw a family: father driving, mother sitting behind, and toddler child up front in father’s lap. Vendors idled in between lanes in the more congested stretches selling bunches of bananas.
We were lucky to find that our flight out of Nairobi to Kisumu was delayed by a mere 15 minutes. Evidently, it’s not uncommon for domestic flights to be delayed by many hours (not all that different from the U.S. actually).
Flying from Nairobi to Kisumu
Kisumu is located on the eastern edge of Lake Victoria, one of the largest lakes in the world, and a beautiful sight as we landed with the sun setting over the water. Immediately on exiting the plane, the atmosphere felt entirely different. The airport hardly has any buildings to speak of. Clouds passed overhead, and the air was thick with a sweet smell of rain and dirt. The smell reminded me of wooded lakes I’ve visited in Maine.
It was the end of the work day as we drove from the rural airport into the center of town. We drove along side the lake front and passed a Golf Club. The cinderblock wall around its perimeter was painted yellow, and warned against putting up any unauthorized posters. The buildings in town were well occupied, with car dealerships, furniture stores, and other assorted lakefront-related businesses and warehouses. The industrial milieu reminded me of the parts of Brooklyn like Gowanus and East Bushwick that are still clinging to some character in spite of oncoming gentrification.
For dinner we drove about 1/2 hour out of the downtown to a friendly restaurant located right on Lake Victoria. It was too dark by the time we got there to really appreciate the view. (Being only a few miles south of the Equator, daylight hours run like clockwork here: 6am to 6pm.)
When we sat down I was briefly terrified to see that our table was covered in what looked to me like mosquitos. The last time I had applied bug repellent was early in the morning, and usually mosquitos treat me like a sweet and delicious blood buffet. I wasn’t looking forward to the bites and the added risk of Malaria I was about to face; to my relief, we were informed by one of the locals with us that these were actually a familial cousin of the mosquito who did not bite.
Dinner was a tastey buffet of curries, meat, and chicken, with rice and a flat bread somewhere in between a tortilla and Indian-style naan. I spoke with leaders from the local Millennium Villages team. Our host is the Director of the entire Sauri Millennium Village Project. Another team member was responsible for developing new businesses for the fledgling economy; one oversaw the elementary schools.
By the time we returned to the hotel, everyone was exhausted and eager to sleep. In my room, the staff had kindly set up the bed net for me, to prevent any real mosquitos from getting at me while I slept. These are the same simple bed nets that have more than cut Malaria infection by more than half in the areas where they’ve been distributed. I crawled under the net. The room was pitch black. I fell asleep.
(Read Day 3: Kisumu and Sauri)