Mambo poa!11 March 2010

One year ago I was alone, saddled with bags, inside Nairobi's Jomo Kenyetta airport, watching the last of the travelers filter out as the airport closed for the night. I had just missed my connection to Mombasa, where I was supposed to meet my friend Mary. She wasn't answering her cell phone. As the luggage carousel sputtered to a halt, the touts and taxi drivers sprung on me like jackals on a carcass. No, I didn't need a safari. No, I don't want to ride an elephant. Just get me to a hotel, please, somewhere I can sleep. I was wrecked after ~20 hours of travel, and I (stupidly) hadn't planned for the occasion in which I missed my connection. The last flight out.

I zeroed in on my guy, one of the better dressed of the lot. He explained that he ran a tour company, and that he could show me some rooms. Wouldn't I look at some pamphlets in his office? Dubious, and only marginally reassured by the fact that his office was in the terminal itself, I followed. I have a place, my friend told me to go there, I said, can you just help me get there? No, he said, that is too far and they have no room. Please, look at these nice places. Very nice, and not too much. This one, I said, looks fine. How much? Two hundred dollars, that's a good price (no, it's not). Somehow I got him to go for half of that and pick me up in the morning. The room was dirtier than a dorm room, and about the same size. Whatever, there was a bed with a net on it. And a prayer rug, just in case.

That's how I started a five week trip to Tanzania as part of IBM's Corporate Service Corps program, a trip that a year later I still think of often, if not daily. It was an incredible experience, and I'm incredibly grateful that I had a chance to participate. I long to go back to Tanzania, who knows what the future holds.


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