Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The road to Kampala

I am finally in Kampala, about 40 hours after leaving my apartment in New Haven.

My last day in New Haven passed by faster than other days; the day was on fast-forward mode. Hmm, may be it was because I was functioning on less than 5 hours of sleep, or because I scheduled 2 meetings at 8:30 and 10 that morning, or because I had left much of my packing till that day, whatever the case, I was doing something, or another non-stop till I left for JFK. At 11:15pm, I boarded Emirates’ Boeing 777-R.

I got to JFK at 6:20pm for an 11 o’clock flight; that was certainly the earliest I had ever been for any flight. I was so early that the check-in counter was not yet open. Well, I had decided to leave New Haven on 4 pm shuttle, because it was my first time taking this airport shuttle and I feared for bad rush-hour traffic. Thankfully, or not, there was absolutely no hint of any traffic delay. Even after what seemed like 50 stops at multiple shuttle pick-up locations, I got to the airport with almost 5 hours to spare.

So, I tried to occupy myself. I stood, resting on a beam, at the rear of the Departures hall- 6:40pm; ‘stole’ an abandoned luggage roller; stood and waited in-line as I watched the counter being set-up -7:00pm; # 3 on the check-in line; paid a $50 fee for being over the luggage allowance; and finally, checked-in my luggage- 7:20pm. I also had a chance to slip in a few phone calls here and there. After all that, I still had plenty of time to kill, and so decided to check and respond to emails. It took almost 10 minutes to find an electricity socket for my laptop. I found one and set-up shop on the floor along the glass wall of some fancy duty-free shop, about 6 ft from the entrance. I certainly wandered for a minute who supremely designed the airport and decided on the most appropriate, and convenient place to place electrical outlets. All that, and I still had 3.5 hrs to go. I paid for internet service, all of $7.95 for 24 hrs. Not too bad, I thought; but all I needed was 3 hrs, still not terrible. I checked emails, news, bank statement and update my podcast library. I made even more phone calls, grabbed a bite from Au Bon Pain and … continued killing time.

I finally arrived at the departure gate 15 minutes before boarding, I made even more phone calls, including one to disable my phone. During my last call, as I paced in an empty area adjacent to my departure gate, I noticed a gentleman fast asleep; I recalled seeing him earlier at the check-in counter. After a few shakes, he woke up; he was traveling on my flight. He was so grateful and he explained he had been traveling since 8am that day from somewhere in Canada (can’t recall where) on his was to Karachi and it was almost 11pm. You could certainly not blame the poor guy for dosing off.

I had not been on a trans-Atlantic flight in over 5 years. My first impression on entering the plane was: “Wow, this plane is huge.” 10 aisles of seats and God knows how many rows. We departed a few minutes later than scheduled, off to Dubai. My grand plan was to get as much sleep as possible and do one or two hours of reading. The flight was estimated to take 14 hours to get to Dubai, plenty or time to sleep.  For the first few minutes, I could not help but continue pondering about being in the flying behemoth. Then, there was an onslaught of flight attendants; there seemed to be twice the attendant- to-passenger ratio compared to other flights I have taken. Also, everyone knows flight attendants are generally more beautiful than average; but both the male and female attendants on this flight were gorgeous, a good two standard deviations above average. Enough said on that.


Of course, my grand plans hardly ever work as expected. As I surfed through the media system to get some relaxing music to put me to sleep, I discovered the extensive selections of music, movies and TV shows. Before long I was watching Boston Legal episodes,  then, Maid of Honor, Hancock and Vantage Point, and intermittently listening to UK top pop hits, Egyptian and Arabic pop music. Seven hours into the flight I finally was ready to sleep. I got a few hours; but it is never quite relaxing sleeping on any mode of transportation- plane, train or car. Then for the rest of the flight it was catnaps interspersed with random music.

My crazy flight itinerary had a 12 hour layover in Dubai; I did not have much control over this detail due to the last minute change I made to my ticket. I did not think much of the length of the wait until my arrival at Dubai since there was a note on my ticket stating that the airline routinely booked a hotel at the airport for people like me with long layovers. We landed at 8:30 pm at the new international terminal that opened that week. At Dubai, I tried to check into the ‘hotel’ only to find that the note I had read was a phantom. My options were to stay at the airport for 12 hours or apply for a visa onsite to enter Dubai and find a hotel. Since my sister, Fisayo, was in Dubai, I went along and applied for the visa so I could get a chance to visit with her. It was indeed the easiest visa I have ever gotten; the visa was processed in a few minutes, but the price was a couple hundred dollars of unanticipated expense. The immigration officer did not seem to care much; he was chatting on speakerphone with a friend while he processed the visa. I wondered how and why my prior application was rejected when I applied from home. About an hour after arriving in Dubai, I was in Fisayo’s hotel room on the outskirts of downtown Dubai. My taxi was a brand new Toyota Camry, so were the hundreds of other taxis I saw.

Dubai! I had always wanted to visit to experience the crazy developments from the past few years. Now all I had was about 11 hours. I would have loved stay longer, but was unwilling to make more changes to my itinerary and incur further charges. After some late night Indian food, Fisayo and I took to the road. I tried to take in the nightglow of lighted skyscrapers, cranes, store signs. Fisayo, had not been impressed with the city thus far. She had been there less than a week and had much to complain about –the difficult navigation of the highways, excessive use of the word ‘luxury,’ the crappiness of her $400/night hotel, the vast gulf separating the rich and the poor, the overdependence of the country on expatriates… to name a few. I did not sleep that night; I stayed up to watch the third Obama vs McCain, which started at 5:30am. Unfortunately, I had to leave again for the airport before the most interesting parts of the debates.

Off I went enroute to Kampala. The plane was much smaller; it was an Airbus but I forget the exact specs. Another notably difference from my prior plane was with the media options and interface; it was much more primitive. I had little choice but to get my  well needed and deserved sleep. I again had a short stop in Addis Ababa. My neighbor on the fight was a Kampala shoe-trader returning from a business trip from Dubai. He seemed to be just as tired as I was and slept most of the way.

The most exciting thing on this leg trip was during out stop in Ethiopia.  The stop was for a little over an hour; we offloaded over half of the passengers and had a handful of new ones. While waiting on the plane there was another Pakistani gentleman, sitting two aisles away from me, who suddenly burst into loud singing in some unknown language as he listened to music on his earphones. He then removed his earphone and tried to explain to his neighbor that he was singing a beautiful song and wanted to share it with everyone since he had one of the best voices in the area he grew up.  I am not quite sure who deceived this poor guy, but I certainly can sing better than him and God knows saying I have a bad voice is a gross understatement. Anyways, almost everyone within hearing distance of this man flashed him horrible looks, but he kept singing away. I had to explain to this guy, who was now quite annoying, in as kind a front as I could muster that not everyone understood or really wanted to listen to what he was singing. He was actually quite grateful and apologetic. He was intrestingly oblivious to the idea that he may have been disturbing.

In a few hours after leaving Addis Ababa, we were descending towards Entebbe International Airport. I did not have any explicit expectations, but was quite surprised at how small the  airport was. The plane taxied to a stop and stairs were rolled up to the door. We descended to the asphalt, walked to the terminal gate and were greeted with a nice air-conditioned room with countless signs of Barclays in blue lettering. The interior of the terminal was also small but had a about a 20 year more modern feel compared to the exterior airport fa├žade. Going through immigration was very smooth and quite straight forward considering one of my luggage was an ugly light-blue glorified garbage container box with a red lid and signs saying Remedy plastered on all the sides; it contained medical supplies. I had a middle-aged man carrying a sign with my misspelled name on it; and off to Kampala I went.



Congratulations all on President elect Barack Obama.



Quote of the day:

Democracy and capitalism are the two great pillars of the American idea.

To have rocked one of those pillars may be regarded as a misfortune.

To have damaged the reputation of both, at home and abroad, is a pretty stunning achievement for an American president. – Boris Johnson Mayor of London on President Bush.

If you actually read all my ramblings above you deserve a price. I have not been able to post as frequently as I want secondary to my laziness, long days at work and inconvenient internet options. More posts are in the making: A day in Kampala, Mulago (the hospital I work) introduction, and Muzungu (Lugandan word for a foreigner or White person) or Not… 

1 comment:

F.F. said...

dude doc, ur writing skills r remarkable. unbelievable, i have never read ur writings.

quite entertaining - humorous Dayo.
i hope u r doing well. i have not called you. i am so sorry. i keep waiting 4 u online. but i guess buyin a phone card wn't hurt. i'll call u soon. (left charger at wrk this weekend).

You tke care of u. i want to hear more about Uganda.
k, be good. miss ya!!