Around Africa in 11 hours

16 Mar

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Getting around Africa is not a simple task, still. If it’s not expensive, the cheaper routes can be circuitous… that means they follow lines of influence rather than get to the point. If that doesn’t deter you the distances might. However the Monsieur is not one to let these realities of life get in the way. So we get on that plane and head to another part of the Motherland because we must, and things will only get better the more we travel.

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First step is a Kenya Airways flight out of Gaborone, Botswana. This city is an important stopping point because of its central position in SADC. It also helps that the economy has assumed an inviting position just awaiting foreign injections… of the financial investment kind. Stepping aboard the plane it is just so appropriate to be met by a guy called Maloba who is the Chief Purser, or #bosso of the flight attendants. Maloba’s name means ‘day before yesterday’ in Setswana and it is immediately funny as one tries to imagine why a Tswana parent would call their child Day Before Yesterday… but this man is Kenyan and his name may very well have another meaning.  As I take my seat to Yvonne Chakachaka singing ‘Mamaland’ loudly over the PA system I just knew it is going to be a good flight. When Maloba speaks over the PA, he sounds like he probably wears sartorially adventurous short suits on the weekend because his voice is so theatrical. Then his surname just had to be, Orlando, it just comes with @DrMalinga connotations. That’s when it dawned on me… I am on an African airline which was a good reason to smile and let the pilot do his job while you sip a cool Tusker lager.

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Next stop under 2 hours away is Harare, and frankly Zimbabwe looks in great shape, from the air that is. In the good old days Zimbabwe used to be the breadbasket of southern Africa. Actually, fresh produce from this fitfully sleeping giant used to find its way onto the Queen of England’s dinner table. This image is still relevant from 20 000 feet in the air… then the Pilot apologises for a section of the runway where he says it might be a little rough. To belabour a metaphor, the pilot’s apology brings you back down to earth. As does the sight of no less than 4 Air Zimbabwe Boeing jets just parked with nowhere to fly to. Like its economy, Zim needs to repair, upgrade and refuel its Jets and get going again.

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We land without incident and let off a few people and collect a few more, not before the cleaning crew get a chance to spruce up the plane… while some passengers remained on board. We aren’t allowed to disembark for the 45 minute layover. Then an 8 person cleaning crew tumbles on to the plane and tidies its way around sitting passengers. This is a service passengers do appreciate; unfortunately, it’s also a service passengers would appreciate even more if they didn’t have to see the reality of it.

Reminds me of the last time I ever considered staying at the President Hotel in Gaborone. I found the room I had booked earlier in the day in total disarray when I checked in at 2am. Confronted with the awful truth that someone else had used the bed in that room, I just couldn’t face a night between those sheets. Upon politely requesting another room I was informed by a sneering minion at the front desk that it wasn’t going to happen, never mind that other (more expensive) rooms were available. I was told, in fact, that I should wait for someone to clean up the room, or spend the night in a room designed for handicap guests. Instead of losing my temper and affecting clipped tones of an expensive education, I left the President Hotel at 2:30 in the morning to go sleep elsewhere. I have never booked there since then, and I don’t recommend it.

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Kenya Airways is a fantastic service despite its combi tendencies of stopping all over creation. It was a bit strange to have to engage with certain realities that I was not accustomed to seeing. It is reassuring however that you see the care that the Airline gives through all levels of its service.

Heading off to Nairobi was next on the itinerary… not before calling Orange back in Botswana to request the reinstatement of its Blackberry Internet Services to my phone. It was strange calling from a country that is reputedly gone to the dogs to request a simple service from a country that is allegedly a leading African country… in my experience Orange is pretty much the most disastrous network ever to perpetuate presumed African inefficiencies. This cell phone company is superb at lying about my Continent.

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Back to the uneventfully smooth flight on Kenya Airways, where there was no chicken or beef question come lunch time. On this occasion it was Lamb or Beef… lamb won. After the nom-noms Kenyan dailies miraculously appeared from somewhere, all of them discussing #Descison2013, the Kenyan Elections, which were still being tallied. ‘Heavyweights fight for survival’ ‘Suicide feared in poll centre guards death’ ‘US praises Kenyans’ conduct’ ‘Teenager wins county ward seat’ The Daily Nation had a gem in the midst of all the questions and answers about the Kenyan Vote. A letter written by none other than Bra Hugh Masekela, he was pointing out that the Poor are always forgotten in all the consultations about their development and social upliftment.

We need to go back to the good old days when borders were not strong enough to prevent us helping a brother in need. – Bra Hugh in the Daily Nation 6 March 2013.

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The land beneath the plane on the approach to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is schizophrenic in its unrelenting beauty. Green mountains with sharp elevations, deep gorges cutting through dusty land, affluent homes many with pools perched along a river, the irregular crisscross of paths cut in the earth by safari vehicles chasing down a sighting, an industrial area with near identical warehouses, and farmland with no two crops alike within its confines. A light sheet of smog hangs over an unidentified part of the city, construction takes place at the airport itself… A land of many contrasts… It can only have marked its people in the same way. There are many different types of Kenyans who make up this nation.

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Three hours to kill in the airport transit lounge is not so arduous since there is free internet, courtesy of the Airport Authority. What becomes apparent as you walk its curving trajectory is that the building is desperately in need of an upgrade. Taking a peek into the Government VIP lounge yields a time capsule of bad taste in a sad state of repair. The elections are on every TV that isn’t showing departure times. As people wait they follow every new piece of information that comes to the fore. The country’s voter allegiances are clearly defined by how sharply they contrast in candidate’s home constituencies. Technical difficulties aside the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission was masterful by all accounts, even announcing their challenges as and when they occurred as opposed to obfuscating away any issues.

At this point on March 6th the Kenyana Elections could go in any direction, so attention is rapt on the TV’s. One thing causes great excitement at about 10 pm, the numbers from the Bomas are announced. The nuances begin to be clear but nothing definitive as to who is taking the crown.

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The plane arrives and it’s time to follow the influence routes down to Tanzania on Precision Air. I see the first air-hostess who is hot… yes well it had to be mentioned didn’t it. This time we sip on Kilimanjaro beer and look at lights coming and going as the plane heads down to Dar es Salaam. Arrival is nondescript and uneventful, it is 11:45 at night after all, there is a lot of digital scanning which is my idea of what going to America must be like. A photo is taken of your face, and each finger of each hand is also scanned. If you are from Botswana there is no need to worry about a tourist visa. Nice.

Mambo Tanzania!

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