Thursday, February 17, 2011

First Leg

A good flight is any that you walk away from – an axiom that holds true even when your kosher meal is lost, your personal video screen is busted and the Mennonite 3-year-old sitting directly behind you, in a remarkable show of endurance, alternates between shrieking and kicking for the entirety of the 12 hour flight. A show of kindness from “Sara BK”, my Ethiopian Airlines stewardess, in assembling an ad hoc fruit bowl for me bumped the experience up a notch from tolerable. I spent the flight reviewing my Swahili lessons and devouring the Lonely Planet guide I had thus far neglected, gaining new appreciation for the scant 3 years that Kenya has been acquainted with both democratic rule, and the for terrifying selection of options that much of Africa has had between kleptocratic strongmen and chaotic, often tainted, and too frequently violent democracy. I have to say I would be more optimistic about the prospects if the family names of Odinga and Kibaki were not common to both the 30+ years of autocracy and the current green shoots of democracy.

Nothing remarkable about the Addis Ababa airport save maybe for the absolute lack of anything for sale save for off-brand cigarettes, duty free liquor and a broad selection of flowy embroidered dresses which I can state with some certainty that my wife would not be interested in. The security screener saw “Place of Birth: Pennsylvania” on my passport and immediately started chatting me up about his extended family in Erie. I made polite conversation and only subtly alluded to the fact that as of this moment I had more first hand experience with Ethiopia than Erie.

There were several large church groups on my flight, easily identified by their coordinated and increasingly blunt T-shirts. One group simply stated in 72 point font “VISITING ORPHANS 2011”. I can’t imagine anything more pure of purpose or impotent of impact. My inner economist tells me that Africa’s fortunes will have turned a corner when there are more people on the flights from America for the purpose of doing things with Africa than for it. Lest you all throw the collective hypocrisy flag, I actually like the fact that one of the reasons that Kenya was chosen for our Corps destination is because IBM recently closed a large telecommunications outsourcing deal, and our small base town of Nyeri is a target for greater IT business opportunity. If faithfully executed, Corporate Social Responsibility is more effective - not more insidious - when it’s paired with a capitalistic goal. Altruism is limited to the extent of the charitable instinct, business endures. I’m convinced we can have it both ways.

Next stop, Nairobi… or “Nairobbery” as I’ve now learned, as it is apparently in contention with Lagos and Johannesburg for the title of Africa’s most dangerous city. Fortunately, we’ll be staying in the Fairview hotel for a few days prior to moving up to Nyeri, a location which received rave reviews, and is largely untouched by crime due to its close proximity to the Israeli Embassy and accompanying omnipresent anti-terrorism squads. Also, the proprietor of the hotel invited me to Shabbas dinner (h/t Jeff Dorfman).

Things that I’ve already realized I’ve forgotten, all of which should be easily procured upon arrival:

            Swahili phrase book, left on shelf at home
            poncho, as the rainy season has begun
            knife, for peeling fruits and vegetables
            flashlight, for inevitable power outages

Since the rest of my IBM team does not start arriving until late Friday, I’m hoping to use my extra day to see the Nairobi wildlife reserve, Africa’s oldest reserve, and the only one worldwide adjacent to a capital. Giraffes with the backdrop of office buildings is said to be quite compelling, I’ll see if I can pull it off.


  1. Dave,

    Adela and I smiled broadly at this post, with a collective sentiment of "welcome to our world!" When you spoke of the plane trip, we had only two words: Ethiopian Airlines. Your description of the airport is relatively lackluster since it is supposed to be one of the nicest around. Wait till you see Njdili, and what a "real" African airport looks like. But I won't spoil your wide-eyed African virginity...I recall it fondly...Adela says she’ll make you a sandwich for your next Ethiopian flight. 

    Have a great safari and a good Shabbos!

  2. BE CAREFUL!!!!!!!!!!!! Just what I wanted to hear--danger in Nairobi. However--since you are there, enjoy also.