5 a.m., February 20
In about 24 hours I will arrive in Nairobi. This morning I will put together the last of my things. I have two large roll-on duffel bags, one medium-sized duffel bag, a wheeled carry-on bag and my backpack. All of my clothes are wrapped around the various fragile items. In the carry-on I bring all the valuables – my laptop, satellite phone, camera and medicines. When I return to the U.S. in a month, I will be down to just one large roll-on duffel bag with the other two duffels nestled inside, empty.
Someone told me that people in the U.S. would find the journey fascinating, so here it is: my husband, Doug, drives me to the Albany Airport (1 ½ hours) where I pick up my rental car. I drive 4 hours to Newark and shuffle my bags from rental car to mono-rail to British Airways check-in desk. Then spend 2 hours of final e-mails, writing notes in my journal. At 6:50 p.m., we depart for London, arriving 7 hours later at 6:45 a.m., UK time. After some last minute shopping and breakfast at the British Airways Terminal 5 lounge, I leave at 10:05 a.m. on the 8 1/2 hour flight to Nairobi.
I love this leg of the journey – traveling from the heart of London, over the Alps, and down the long, dry side of the continent of Africa. I will never forget the time I had the opportunity to share this journey with a special seatmate, Richard Leakey, who looked upon this dramatic dry land with such fondness.
I arrive in the dark – 9:35 p.m. at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi. If I’m lucky I will be one of the first in line to purchase my Kenyan visa and then it is the hustle and bustle of weary travelers scrambling for luggage. The bags are x-rayed before they are put on the carousel and, thanks to a tip from an old friend in the safari business, I know to look for the chalk marks that alert the customs agents. It’s an old habit, as I imagine this has changed in light of new security rules at airports, but I still bring a wet cloth from the plane to wipe the chalk marks clean. I have never been stopped by the customs agents, no matter how outrageous the items in my bags might be.
When you exit the customs area you are greeted by a sea of black faces and big smiles. Almost everyone is holding signs – names, safari companies, NGOs, grand causes. I will be looking for just one face, just one big smile. I will be looking for Kura. And he will say, “Are you well, Mama Rungu?” And I will reply, “Yes, Kura, I am well enough.”