May 24th, 2016


Racing Around Uganda, Being Victimized in Kenya, and Penniless in Ethiopia

Two entries in two days! A modern miracle! Also, I've been having a thought. I now have a huge 250gb memory card for my phone, I reckon that could hold a lot of video. Previous attempts to video anything at all on trips filled my phone memory up after about five minutes of footage tops. I'm thinking of trying to do a video diary (or perhaps a "vlog" as the cool kids call it) on my next trip. I wouldn't be able to upload it until I get back because even in the first world uploading video is a beast, and I have zero video editing experience, but it might be interesting, and then instead of it taking six months for me to update, the update would already "be written," and just need uploading. Whaddaya think?

(Previously on Emo-snal: several hours of mild discomfort followed by forty minutes of terrifying hell)

Friday, November 6th, Day 34, Kampala, Uganda - We had a meeting at the US Embassy at 2pm. Realistically one might hope to get there within an hour from where I was, but knowing the traffic and Ugandan attitudes towards timeliness, I told Alex to pick me up at 11:00, three hours before our appointment. Alex's organization does development work in Uganda, but they had no relationship with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a major source of funding for development projects, so I had arranged this meeting. The nice woman working on USAID at the US Embassy had had a pretty busy schedule but managed to fit us in to a narrow window at 2:00, so I tried to emphasize to Alex that this was very important that we get there on time. I told him the day before, I told him earlier that morning.
   Needless to say, 11:00 came and went with no sign of him. I basically texted him every ten minutes after that asking where he was, as my own stress (and I really don't stress much) reached new levels of hysteria. 11:30 came and went. 11:45. 12:00. He always assured me they were "on their way" (I've commented on this before, it seems to be normal in Africa to lie and tell someone you're on your way when you aren't even anywhere NEAR getting on your way) 12:30. 12:45. Hyperventilation sets in.
   At 1:20 he FINALLY FINALLY rolls in with his colleague Emmanuel (in Emmanuel's car, Alex's still being at the hotel, he'd have to return again some time to finally retrieve it).
   Before we leave the leafy green confines of the Forest Cottages Hotel behind let me note that it was alright, it was leafy and green and pleasantly didn't feel like it was in the middle of the city, as it was ... but I still would recommend you stay in the Malakai Eco Lodge next time you go to Kampala, which is also leafy and green and full of beautiful gardens and ponds and.. really more garden than lodgingspace.
   But anyway, we were on our way. Being the middle of the day it wasn't the awful barely-moving rush hour traffic I had encountered the night before, but there's always traffic in Kampala. I was of course stressing out the whole time and sent the woman from the embassy an extremely apologetic email saying we may be late. But then, to Emmanuel's navigation and journey-estimating credit, we did actually arrive at the embassy just minutes before 2:00. It was remarkable, really.

   Next we were off to the bus stop! I was to catch a bus back to Nairobi, but not only that, but recall I had only intended to stay in Uganda for two days, and then Grace had returned to Nairobi and intended to send me more of my stuff. Well she did that, and Emmanuel was supposed to pick it up when it arrived in Kampala ... which.. he didn't. So now I had to retrieve my stuff from the bus company office just in time to take it back with me to Nairobi. As it happens, my bag had somehow been fairly mauled in transit, developing some gaping holes. So hooray for that completely useless transfer of stuff. But I had also had her send the beesuits I was going to use in Zanzibar, which, I had ended up staying in Uganda instead of returning to Zanzibar. So I gave these suits to Alex for his organization to use. So there was that at least. (and apparently, these bee suits being brand new (donated by Pierce Manufacturing in Fullerton California! Shout out!), apparently the bus company had wanted to charge Grace an extra hefty fee on them because they thought she was selling a product or some such mischief. I swear, getting anything done in Africa...)

   Anyway, and then I returned by overnight bus once again to Nairobi. Arriving in Nairobi I shrugged off the taxi drivers who tried to solicit me as soon as I stepped off the bus and walked a few blocks to the Kahama Hotel, in which I had stayed in 2014. The hotel I'd stayed in earlier in the trip in Nairobi had been a dingy dismal place, and Grace, bless her heart, is a "has the TV going all the time" kind of person which made me feel like I was literally going to lose my mind when I stayed with her so I decided to go with what I knew. Going into fast forward mode now, I had two or three days in Nairobi before my departure, during which I met up with several friends I hadn't had time to see in my earlier frenzied passes through Nairobi. And then:

Monday, November 9th, Day 37, Nairobi, Kenya - Let's start with a little confession, the earlier reported Giraffe Kisses and Giant Spoons actually happened this day, but was rearranged chronologically to fit the LJ Idol topics of the week.
   Anyway, after the elephant and giraffe adventures, phone-camera full of priceless photos of baby elephants, Grace and I found ourselves downtown needing to get home. It was dark (9pm?) and slightly raining. I was going to call an uber with my phone (which, at first I had just assumed uber wouldn't work in Nairobi but after being tipped off by another traveler I found it was really the best way to get around), but we were right by the bus station and Grace was impatient with my posh cab-taking ways, and convinced me to just come grab a bus with her. it would have been less than $6 for the uber and really not more than a five minute ride.
   There was a big crowd of people around the bus stop, and when a bus arrived the crowd would surge at the bus. It should also be noted that I had my big luggage bag with me because we'd stopped by a tailor to have its damages repaired (also just a few dollars. Oh also speaking of cheap Nairobi tailors, I had a nice custom tailored business suit made for me while I was there. Three piece suit for less than $100, it's quite fine! I got measured the first time I passed through Nairobi, tried it on the second time and the tailor noted adjustments that he had to make, and then picked it up this final pass through). So my arms were full with this bag (and the glorious giant wooden spoon I'd picked up earlier in the day). As a bus pulled up bound for our destination Grace bounded on to it, so any trepidation I had about the whole situation now I had no choice but to follow her on. She would later say she had tooold me she'd grab me a seat and I could have just boarded after the crush stopped.. but I didn't catch that. Anyway so as I'm caught in the crush, with my arms full, I felt my wallet levitating out of my pocket. Other pickpocket stories I've heard usually involve pickpockets so crafty that one doesn't notice the theft until hours later, but I definitely felt it, and it was the creepiest feeling. It didn't even happen fast, but with my arms full and a crush of people all around me all I could do is say "hey! HEY! HEY!!!" and by the time people had backed away from me enough for me to turn around or even get a hand to my pocket my wallet was gone. And what's worse, my phone and the whole trip's worth of pictures.
   Another woulda-shoulda-coulda that occurred to me far too late is, I could have had someone dial my number at that moment and some guilty party would be caught with a ringing phone. Oh well.
   My wallet had about $5 in it. By far the biggest loss was the photos on my phone. I texted my number from Grace's phone saying I'd pay them for my photos but never got a response. I also immediately called Wells Fargo from Grace's phone and so my cards were cancelled not ten minutes after the theft, so I hope they had fun with their five dollars.
   As it happens the only home phone number I had memorized was my parents house line which was "finally" cancelled just earlier in the year, so I couldn't tell them what happened. In fact the _only_ number I had memorized was my boss's. So I texted my boss to ask him for my mom's number (which he has because sometimes he forwards requests for speakers about bees for kids to her), and then I was able to call my parents, vent to them about what happened, and they set about cancelling my phone and other assorted necessities for me.
   Back at Grace's (I had checked out of the hotel since I was catching the flight at 4am), after the necessary actions had been taken, I entered kind of a catatonic level of shock. I know I know, it's not like someone died, there's worse problems, but the violation factor of having things stolen from my pockets and the loss of all my pictures was a pretty big deal to me. Not merely because I happen to really like pictures but in a very real way it was a problem -- I'd been fundraising all year for this project in Tanzania and now.. poof, I had lost 90% of the proof that I actually did it!!
   Grace offered me alcohol but when I'm really depressed only caffiene makes me feel better, so I had two red bulls while she drank a good amount of whisky on my behalf.
   At 1am our cab showed up and we proceeded to the airport. Fortunately there's no traffic at night. Grace had consumed a decent amount of whisky I guess and was feeling a bit of the effects-- she wrote her phone number down for me at least three times, and when I tried to decline the fourth time, just as we were pulling up at the terminal, she got mad thinking I didn't want to have her number and was thus mad at me as I exited the car and didn't really say goodbye.
   But then just after I had gone through the terminal entrance metal detector she comes running in after me in tears like a scene from a movie. It was cute.

Tuesday, November 10th, Day 38, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Arrived in Addis fairly early in the morning (I don't know, maybe 8?), with not a penny to my name. Now, on my way to Nairobi 38 days earlier I had planned an eight hour layover in Addis, but they wouldn't let me out of the airport even if I was willing to pay for a visa. When I changed my flights around I made sure to make sure I'd be able to get out of the airport, so I had gotten one of the earliest flights in that day and latest flight out (they don't DO overnight layovers apparently), and the assurance by the ticket agent that I'd be able to leave the airport -- in fact they charged me $78 in advance for the transit visa (which apparently comes with transportation to and from a hotel I can hang out with in the mean time). So You might be able to imagine my frustration when once again the airline agents at the airport refused to give me a transit visa. They said it wasn't in their computer and it wasn't on my receipt (which was a thick page of gobble-de-gook). I was very frustrated!! Finally I found the number "$78" among the jibberish on my ticket and demanded "okay what is this charge for??" and after scrutinizing it they sullenly said it looked like a transit ticket but was coded wrong .. and issued me my transit visa. Welcome to Ethiopia! I must say I love the country but every one of my experiences with their airport staff has been this kind of obstinate bureaucratic unhelpfulness.
   Rode the shuttle to the hotel they had booked me into, which was "nice" but the staff were as cold and unhelpful as the airline staff (in wild contrast to the hotel I'd have stayed in if I had a choice, where every single staffmember was memorable and friendly). My first goal once I'd set my bags down there was to see if I could go get some money. Grace had given me 2000 Kenyan shillings, about $20, which constituted a significant portion of her monthly rent. This was the only thing I had by way of money. As it happens the hotel was just a short walk from several different international business banks .... not ONE of which would exchange Kenyan shillings, the currency of their neighboring country!! So I was left pennyless in Ethiopia. (When I got home I immediately wired Grace $100 to repay her $20)
   It was an interesting experience. I so very very badly wanted just one cup of the wonderful coffee they have in Ethiopia ... I couldn't afford even just one cup. Usually traveling in places like Addis one feels a bit like a millionaire, I can do absolutely whatever I please without the least fear it will dent my wallet. Take a taxi anywhere, take a dozen people out to dinner, whatever. I tried to look at it as a cultural experience. Being penniless in an African city.
   Next I returned to my room and posted this entry which I'd been slowly slowly working on during the trip.

   Next my plan was to meet up with my friend Addis. She came to see me at the hotel but I felt really bad being utterly pennyless. I had a meal voucher at the hotel but I couldn't even buy her coffee!!! I felt awful.
   For dinner I had a meal voucher at the hotel, so we ate there. Though I told her that she'd have to pay for her own meal somehow this didn't get across correctly, because she ate too but then couldn't afford to pay for her meal (which was only like $5!!!), and despite the miniscule amount of money involved, I couldn't help either!! I felt awful x10! And on top of that the hotel shuttle for the airport was leaving just then and I had to get on it. She called a friend or family member to come bail her out and I had to run. I felt so so terrible for leaving her in the situation, for the entire situation, but there was nothing I could do! I had to run!! ): as soon as I got home I wired her $100 as well, which hopefully ameliorated her anger, she wasn't very happy with me in the immediate aftermath.

One last penniless misadventure:
Wednesday, November 11th, Day 39, Dublin, Ireland - This time we were actually permitted and required to disembark the aircraft, go through a metal detector, and reboard. after going through the screening area we were sitting in a little waiting area where there was a little airport cafe, which had a guinness tap. I hadn't set foot back in Ireland in 20 years so I would very very much have liked to have had a fresh Dublin guinness.... but... utterly penniless. ): So I could only gaze at it longingly.
   As it happens I got to talking to a young fella who was an Ethiopian who's been living in the United States, has a family there. After awhile I mentioned the Guinness tap and how I wished I had money, honestly without the least intention of soliciting a drink but he immediately thought having a guinness was a fantastic idea and volunteered to get us both a beer! ....... but then it turned out the tap was actually not hooked up at the moment. ): Almost!!!

   And then I returned to America. THE END!