Sunday, 21 January 2018

Nairobi, Kenya, January 2018

How safe is Nairobi? Well, there are certainly more security measures in place than I’ve seen in any other city so far. Judging from that, we should be able to feel very safe. Highway traffic is surveyed 24 hours by CCTV, heavily armed guards are seen everywhere, be it at the entrance of official or even private buildings, shops or inside malls.

Security procedures for getting inside the UN compound are seemingly being tightened on an almost weekly basis, resulting in me not being able to access the premises: even though I had been registered as a visitor the day before, consequently did appear on the respective list which the guard at the gate had in front of her, had my passport on me, passed the bag scan, and was granted a day access pass, we still hadn’t done everything right. My host was not aware that she’d have to pick me up at the entrance, as any visitor now needs to be accompanied by a staff member. I went back to my hotel without having achieved anything.

Our colleague tells us that, when a UN staff is interested in buying or renting a house, it needs to be inspected and signed off to ensure it meets the UN's security requirements. This includes among others a day guard and two night guards (or 1 guard and a dog at night); an electric fence surrounding the property; alarms and sufficient lighting around the house at night. His lovely property doesn’t give the impression of such a fortress – he explains us that the electric fence is well hidden just behind the dense hedges. “We like to pretend it’s not there.”

The terrible incident of the shooting in a shopping mall, resulting in 67 deaths in 2013, still rings in everyone’s ears. During the elections at the end of last year, there was real fear of a massive outbreak of violence, which fortunately didn’t occur. Still Maina, the driver, says that things are being exaggerated, and any white person can walk around any part of Nairobi during the day without needing to be afraid. 

He might be right, or not. At the end of the day, though, Nairobi (or at least the very few parts I’ve seen of it) has surprised me very pleasantly, especially because the city is incredibly green, last but not least thanks to the wonderful Nairobi National Park. It’s worth a visit, and in any case, the only zero risk option is not ever leaving your bedroom.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Margao-Mumbai, India, January 2018








The train  is getting faster, and the sound of the wheels on the tracks repeats more frequently.

They say you haven't really traveled in India if you haven't traveled by train - with the night train probably being the gold standard.

We were told that trains to and from Delhi are currently delayed by up to 12 hours due to the capital's notorious winter fog. But here in Goa, there is no fog. No excuse nor explanation is offered for what ends up being a 4 hour delay. We take it lightly, and utilize the time for exploring the charming town of Margao, sipping freshly pressed fruit juice and shopping for the paper Christmas stars that still decorate almost every house in Goa, until they will be retired on Three King's Day, 6th January.

The platform is filled with suit cases, bags, backpacks, children, elderly people, foreigners and Indians, people sitting on the floor eating, reading the newspaper or even working on their laptop, as the Bombay Express creeps into the station, carriage after carriage passing until the train finally comes to a full stop.

In second class A/C (air condition), you travel quite comfortably, with 2 levels of bunk beds on top of each other, 4 beds in one compartment, separated from the corridor just by a curtain rather than a door. Even the toilets (western style or Indian style, i.e. hole in the floor, available at opposite ends of the carriage, respectively), are very much bearable, at least at the beginning of the journey.

We put the sheets on our beds, switch of the light and lie down.

In the morning hours, I wake up from restless sleep by the cries of the chai-wallah coming through - "Chai chai chai, samose, chai". The train is slowing down, we pass the first few stations that are already part of the city, until we enter the main station and final destination - Mumbai, City of Seven Islands.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Miami, USA, 2. September 2017

Dear Frank,

whenever I travel, I have to think of you. Or, to be precise, of this song of yours - "Jet Lag". Actually, just about these 2 or  3 lines from it.

"Airports make me sad. Sure they shouldn't all look the same. They're just landing paths. Boring tourist shopping chains...."

Airports really are the most unnatural, sterile, hyper-man made environments I can imagine. Whenever I walk these long corridors, queue at security checks, endure the cold light, the constant announcements, the luxury shops, I long for a forest, a mountain landscape, a waterfall or....some place serene, real, humid, filled of fresh air. My, our real habitat as humans.

Music, once again. After 18, or perhaps 20 hours of sleepless travelling, sitting in a food court in Miami Airport, and the radio plays pop songs that are slightly dated. Like this one - "Where are you going". A very familiar tune, like an old friend, not heard for long, not spoken for long. Where are you going? Starting to lose track, this is a long journey with many stop-overs, which one is next? Another city, another hostile airport, and eventually, a final destination.

Frank Turner - Jet Lag

Dave Matthews Band - Where Are You Going