Luke In Kenya Part 1: Flying Into A New Year/World
Luke in Kenya: Part 1
“Luke in Kenya” is a travel series from Managing Editor Luke Armstrong as he travels to Kenya to visit the homeland of his adopted brother.
Two days before my departure, my adopted Kenyan brother wrote (succinctly I may add), “Hey Luke, I just realized that you really suck at making a flight itinerary.” He was right. I flew out of Minneapolis at 5 p.m. on December 31 and arrived in Nairobi at 4 a.m. on January 2, connecting in Chicago, London and Cairo before my plane-weary body touched down in Nairobi. There are better ways to make this trip.
But I looked forward to two days in a limbo I’ve learned to love: airports. Flights lend themselves to a revealing sort of reflection — a contemplation of the place left and consideration of the destination to come. Each flight was filled with a distinctive cast of characters. A flight attendant on my MSP-CHI leg had a dress hanging in the airplane’s closet so that she could rush a few minutes late to a wedding reception upon arrival. She kindly gave me two free drink vouchers for my CHI-LON leg. “If you’re going to be flying over New Year’s Eve, you should probably have some champagne on the house,” she told me.
On my CHI-LON leg I sat next to Trace, a woman who shared my champagne and unabashedly told me how the best day of her life was when her son turned 18 and left the nest for good. “Some people should never be mothers,” she said. “He’s a sweet kid, and I was kind to him. It’s great having him now, but if I could do it over again, I would have never been a mother.”
Trace was on a way ticket to meeting her British boyfriend on his turf. The last hour of the eight-hour flight she spent fixing her makeup in anticipation of her amorous rendezvous. He promised to meet her cab from the airport with chilled champagne to toast the new year and their new life together. “I don’t know how I’ll do it,” she said, “but I’m not going back to Ohio.”
Flying form London to Cairo on Egypt Air I sat next to Lucha — an woman in her seventies wearing a gaudy collection of glittering gold jewelry. When I inquired about her family, she told me without emotion, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but they are all dead.” Later, when she opened up and her frowned turned to light laughter, she told me about her granddaughter, making me doubt the veracity of her earlier statement. This flight was also the only one I’d been on where a group of children were allowed to run up and down the aisle of the plane.
“That woman is from Somalia,” Lucha said, pointing out a large woman in a hijab. Later she waved this stranger over and said something in Arabic to her. “I told her,” she translated, “to run up and down the aisle to lose some weight. I think she is pregnant.”
On my last leg — a full day after I’d left the U.S. — I sat next to Steve, a 21-year-old American Political Science major who was six months into his gap year in Jordan. “I’m not supposed to be speaking English,” he informed me. “Arabic is a tough language and I signed a contract to only speak Arabic for a year.” But, since he was on vacation and spending two weeks in Kenya, he decided that English was okay.
When I arrived I went straight to the ATM, which promptly ate my card. I’d retrieve it later that afternoon from the bank after several calls and plenty of “uh-oh” thoughts.
When my brother Calvin arrived at the airport at 5 a.m. to meet me, he introduced me to his cousin Anita, part of my brother’s family I had come to Kenya to know, since in a way, they are also part of my family.
“Welcome to Kenya. Our cab driver is being arrested,” he said as he we walked out to the road. “They’ll release him soon. They’re just looking for a bribe. The police here would sell their own mothers for money.”
When our cab driver returned, we’d barely pulled out of the parking lot before the police detained him again. This time they told him his vehicle was not roadworthy. But 200 Kenyan shillings helped make it legal again. My brother laughed, “They saw that now he had a Muzungu (a foreigner) and figured he was now good for some more money.”
In the remaining darkness of night, our driver put his un-roadworthy vehicle in gear and we headed for Calvin’s uncle’s house, where I’d be staying for 10 days in Nairobi until my other brother Tyler arrived and we departed for the village where Calvin grew up. Until then, time for this Muzungu to explore.
About the Author
After setting out to hitchhike from Chile to Alaska, Luke Maguire Armstrong stopped in Guatemala where he spent four years directing the social service programs of the charity Nuestros Ahijados. He is the author of, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on Amazon.com) which is especially enjoyed by people “who don’t read poetry.” (Follow Luke on Twitter: @lukespartacus). His new book, How We Are Human, was recently released.