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Nairobi, Kenya: First Impressions

September 29, 2018 Karianne 1 min read 1 Comment

The scene in the picture above greeted me as I finally stepped off the plane. After 36 hours of traveling (32 of them in the air) my kidneys were bursting since I’m terrified to use the bathroom on an airplane.  But I still whipped out my phone and snapped that photo of our airplane and the gorgeous Kenyan sunrise.

The flight to India was 18 hours, so I should be used to traveling long distances by now. But our flight ended up being 11 hours longer than planned because, as one of the trainers at the conference kindly put it, “every flight in America was delayed for no apparent reason.”

And she was right. Our flight from Denver—Chicago was delayed. Then Chicago—Frankfurt was delayed for so long that we actually missed our connecting flight from Frankfurt to Nairobi. United Airlines gave us two options:

1.) Wait 24 hours for the next Frankfurt—Nairobi flight.

2.) Fly to Heathrow, London to catch the next closest flight to Nairobi. 

We chose London.


Once there, we had to connect with Kenya Airlines and grab whatever seats were available. Naturally we ended up in the last row, right in front of “the john.” But even after we boarded the plane our bad luck continued: THAT flight got delayed.

“The generator is not holding power. We are working to fix this issue. Thank you for your patience,” the captain announced. Shortly after, a middle aged guy with speckled grey hair popped from his seat and started to pry his carry-on out of the overhead bin. “I’m getting off this plane,” he said. “I’m an electrician. This plane clearly has an electrical fault. But it’s your lives, not mine…”Everyone else stayed seated. 

An hour later, we were still sitting on the tarmac. It felt like we were frogs being boiled alive. Since the generator was out, the fans didn’t work. It was sweltering hot yet everyone left seemed to have an upbeat attitude. Only a few women took out the laminated safety sheet used it as a fan. The rest seemed to accept the heat and boar it with great patience. A lady two seats over doesn’t take her eyes off her game of candy crush.

Along with my new appreciation for the patience of other cultures, something else sprouted in the air. With over 100 bodies in a confined space I learned deodorant drops as stress levels rise. Finally the captain announced, “We’re ready to go. We have to retrieve 1 bag for 1 passenger and then we can go.” The entire cabin sighed. Some asked why someone got off the plane, and the story telephoned up the aisle. Thankfully, a man seated near us was also an electrician. He explained that the generator is only needed to start the engines and run the electricity on the inside while on the ground. “In the air the engines take over,” hopefully.

I thought the man who got off the plane was brave. But I stayed in my seat and prayed he was wrong.

Up and down the cabin I watched as English bridged the language barrier between neighbors. Across the aisle from me I met a lovely woman from Croatia and a friendly Arabic couple. At least I think they were Arabic. She spent most of the flight under a gold-fringed, mauve niqab (similar to a burqa but the eyes are not covered), and her hands were inked with intricate henna markings. With passion in her eyes, she explained how she created the dipped fingers and winding flowers that stretched up her wrist. She told us she was a henna artist and liked to create designs for her family and friends when they visit.

After “sleeping,” passing customs, claiming our bags, and filing lost bag reports, we met up with the driver from the hotel and climbed into a van that had the steering wheel on what I know as the passenger side. I was finally headed to a temporary home!

Long before this trip I heard that across Africa, people are not rushed and move “pole pole” or at a slower pace. My boss likes to tell us about her missionary friend who, after spending two weeks in Africa, threw away his watch. So far, I’ve found 1 wall clock on the entire hotel grounds. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence?

For a long time I believed that expression was exaggerated. Everyone runs late sometimes. But my first experience with the “hakuna matata” (no worries) made me admit there’s a little truth behind that story. Up to that point in the trip, everything seemed to be on schedule…the revised schedule, that is. After all, the driver was already there waiting for us, and we reached the hotel in less than 20 minutes. Side note: driving in Kenya is similar to India: lanes are guidelines and blinkers are warnings.

We arrived during complimentary breakfast. Exhausted from travleing, we were brokenhearted to learn that our rooms weren’t ready yet. “They’ll be ready sometime after breakfast. About an hour.” I now understand that sometime after breakfast can mean any time later that day.

I moved into my room around 5pm.

The similarities between my room here and the room I had in India are striking. The walls are a simple pastel yellow, with dusty white trim. A large mosquito canopy hangs over the bed, a bed which takes up most of the space. It’s a decent room, and I’m excited to be here.

This morning I also met the housekeeper, Martina, a young lady who cleans the rooms on my level. She welcomed me to Kenya and asked, “What’s good in Colorado?” I cocked my head to the side and had to ask what she meant. “It’s winter?” She added, and I understand her fascination with seasons. Apparently Kenya has such a mild climate that the trees do not even shed. There is the rainy season and the dry season but the temperature stays between 70 and 80 degrees all year. I explained it’s fall in Colorado, so some days are very hot and some are very cold and it might even snow. 

I love the grounds of the hotel, and the people are so friendly and laid back. It’s a nice place to stay, even though the walls are so thin I heard someone’s phone alarm vibrate this morning. (Maybe that’s where the expression “the walls have ears” comes from?)

When I finally got my room I used my Clorox wipes to clean off all the switches, handles, and flat surfaces. I developed this routine in India and the repetitive motions help me relax and get to know the room better.

Next, as you probably guessed, I took a shower. Or tried to. But because no two showers are alike, my travel-abused brain was not happy to have another puzzle to unlock. The knob was simple: two dots to show it summons both hot and cold water. However, you control the water temperature on the angle of the handle, which can be interpreted as variety of possibilities.

The handle that made me “can’t even.”

I turned the handle the way that made sense to me. Got cold water. Turned it the other way. Even colder water. So I turned it back and let it run. As I waited I messaged my coworker to see if cold showers were the thing here. But her hot water worked! “Actually it got too steamy at one point,” she said.

Great. My room must be broken, I thought. I stood in the cold water and almost cried picturing two weeks without a warm shower (#firstworldproblems). Still, I wished I was home.

Then I had a thought. How about I just try the wrong way again? Even though I knew I interpreted the vague markings correctly. Just for kicks, I flipped the handle to the other side and immediately hot water burned my left arm.

Lesson learned: When I think I’m doing it right but it still doesn’t work, try it the way I thought was wrong.

So far I’ve been taking my malaria pills regularly  and I’m thankful the side-effects so far are muscle aches/cramps and nausea. I heard stories of a girl who turned orange and others whose eyes developed an extreme sensitivity to light…

It is now 7 AM. We’re supposed to go shopping for supplies at the market today. I’m here for 2.5 weeks, so I hope as time goes on I’ll be able to write about more than my failures in the room!

Can’t wait to show you more of Nairobi!

Meet the author
Founder - Art Director - Animator | Website

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Karianne is the founder of Windmill Ways. She plays the cello professionally and currently works as an Art Director for a charity. Because she loves animated shows and movies, she studies 3D animation and graduated with a BFA with the unfortunate class of 2020. Her dream vacation would be just staying home, but "home" being a glamorous cabin somewhere in the mountains surrounded by forest.

Favorite band: Lord Huron
Favorite book: This Present Darkness
Favorite quote: "Get all the advice and instruction you can, so you will be wise the rest of your life. You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail." Proverbs 19:20-21 (NLT)

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1 Comment

  • Lynne October 1, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    So happy you are safe. We are scheduled to get snow on Monday. Love you lots!

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