Project Rwanda 3: A Transit full of Surprises

by Waleed Ali Khan

Thanks to the surprisingly impressive wireless service provided by the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, I’m reporting from Nairobi (at least that is where i started writing this blog). This was supposed to be an insignificant transit destination, but it turned out to be an adventure of sorts.


Just a reminder; I am on my way to Rwanda for the OLPC project (see my previous blog post). Since Qatar Airways does not fly to Rwanda, I am taking Kenya Airways from Nairobi to Kigali. The Nairobi Airport is very homely, clean and high tech (WiFi and the “tunnels” to take you from the plane to the airport). After having my luggage issues resolved, Abhay and I proceeded to the “Transit Lounge” and decided to experiment with the XO (the OLPC Laptop) while we waited for the next flight which was in 10 hours. After an hour, we decided to roam around the airport when we had the crazy idea to leave the airport and explore Nairobi. The visa for 12 hours was just 10 dollars, so we headed towards immigration to get out of the airport. Abhay was allowed a “visa on arrival” but they told me that Pakistanis cannot do so. After I begged them, they sent me to this other person who sent me to another person. When I asked him about the visa, he asked for my nationality and I told him I am Pakistani. He stared me right in the eye with an angry face and started saying “Paki Paki Paki!” and then took off in Swahili. After that he just stared at me and said “Khan?” and I responded with a yes, but fortunately he signed my visa and we were out of the airport in no time.clip_image002

My Tanzanian friend warned me about the locals trying to rip “tourists”  off, and so after several minutes of bargaining we managed to find someone who would show me and Abhay a bit around Nairobi, take us for dinner and then bring us back to the Airport on time for only $30.  The two surprising aspects of Nairobi are that 1.) it is very green, despite being very urban (mainly because of the National Park that is huge and beautiful. You can even see giraffes in the park from the street) and 2.) that it is so developed. I’m not the kind of person who stereotypes african cities to be underdeveloped, but the fact that it had so many high rise buildings came as a surprise to me. clip_image003

We learnt a lot about the Kenyans through our driver, Peter, who was extremely friendly and very well spoken. As soon as I got into the car, I practiced my swahili skills with Peter (“Mimi Chappa Wewe – thanks Fati!, mshenzi, mambo, jambo, mambo jambo, hebu nyamaza). Peter kept mentioning how Indians rule the country and own all the expensive hotels, . I took the opportunity to ask him about his opinions of the Indians being so rich and powerful. After giving a smile, and me reassuring him that I won’t mind, he said “They are selfish. They are just here for the money. and they don’t let the natives to go up”. He then went on talking about how the Indians do not like to mix with the locals, and have their own schools. He mentioned that the Aga Khan school was the only school in Nairobi where there is a mix, and that is where his nephews study. The country’s experience with clip_image004the Indians led him to be suspicious of the chinese, who are building a bridge for Nairobi free of cost, and Peter believed  it was their first step to “take over” the country and exploit its resources.

I can’t finish my blog without talking about the Football fever in Kenya. It is insane. Josh very aptly said that they do not believe that the World Cup is happening in South Africa, but is instead it is happening in the entire African continent. From billboards to radio shows (“The Time is Ours” says the Radio host), all i hear is football. I think football brings a smile on every east African, young and old alike. I can go on and on about Nairobi, as it has definitely become one of my favorite cities in the world, but I’ve got to stop here and go have dinner. Jimmy told us that he is going to show us around on our way back from Kigali. lets hope that works out.clip_image005

When we arrived back at the airport, we finally got to meet the students from Pittsburgh, live. They were very enthusiastic and friendly, and I think i speak on behalf of everyone that they made sure that we weren’t left out. Our flight to Kigali was very pleasant, and i used Amy’s Lonely Planet guide on East Africa to get acquainted with Rwanda, its sites and especially its history. I can easily say that my view about global politics and perhaps even the human psyche has changed after reading about this very tragic genocide that devastated Rwanda as still leaves a scar on the minds of its people.