[This post is a bit text-heavy. If you don’t like reading, scroll down to see a few photos.]
On March 16th, I finished packing my bags at my friend Aidan’s house in London with the plan of taking a taxi to the tube station and catching the tube out to Heathrow Airport in good time for my flight to Africa on Kenya Airways. The very short taxi ride (it’s a 15 minute walk) was to prevent all the sweating from walking with my bags, and to avoid overworking my bad knee. Unfortunately, it turns out that phoning for a taxi in London is not a good idea. The first company took a while to take down the address etc, then put me on hold to wait for an automated message that would give me an estimate of the arrival time of the taxi. After 10 minutes on hold, the machine told me there were no taxis available and promptly hung up.
We called another company and they said the taxi was on its way and wouldn’t be long. After some time I called them and they said it would be about 15 minutes. By this point I was starting to run short of time to take the tube, and had begun entertaining the thought of paying an exorbitant sum for the taxi to drive me the whole way to the airport. Eventually the taxi company called to tell me the taxi was at my address, but there was no taxi in sight. It turns out he went to a completely different address despite the fact that I had gone to the trouble of spelling the name of the street for the operator.
He called me back 5 minutes later to tell me that the taxi was so far away he could not be rerouted to my location and I would have to begin the entire process over again, and it would take 15 minutes for a new cab to arrive. Half an hour later, the taxi arrived. He looked like one of the goons out of the movie Lock, Stock, and Three Smoking Barrels and honked at a lot of people as we sped toward the airport. I ran in and found the check-in counters were already closed, but an airport staff member suggested I go to the customer service desk.
I asked the the lady at the Kenya Airways customer service desk if there was any chance of boarding the flight and she said no, absolutely not. I asked again, trying my hardest to imitate the puppy dog eyes I’d seen in some movies, and she took me over to the First Class check-in desk, where I was allowed to check in. She then took me to the Special Baggage bag drop so I could drop my backpacks without any delay and told me to sprint all the way to the gate, which I did.
I ran all the way onto the plane, sat down sweating more than if I were still back in Burma in the hot season, and tried to breathe. This was the closest I had ever been to missing a flight (out of 138 flights I’ve taken in my lifetime, the only one I ever missed a connecting flight missed because the first flight was massively delayed, so I had to wait in Frankfurt for a few hours until the next one). The second closest I’ve ever been to missing a flight was avoided because of a broken toilet in San Francisco (click here for that story).
And now for some photos!
My flight from London landed in Nairobi on the morning of March 17th, after which I caught my connecting flight to Kigali (Rwanda) via Bujumbura (Burundi). At the airport in Bujumbura, there was an ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) plane:
In the early afternoon the plane landed in Kigali, capital of Rwanda. After clearing customs and grabbing my bags, I found a taxi driver waiting with my name on a piece of paper. We drove three and a half hours northwest through the beautiful green mountains of Rwanda to the border crossing at Gisenyi. This waterfall is typical of the scenery along the road from Kigali to Gisenyi:
At Gisenyi, the taxi driver explained to me what to do on the Rwandan side of the border, then met me again after I had walked across the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo and its customs office. There, when the customs officers took my passport and didn’t return it, he assured me that the Merlin HR staff would get it back for me the following day, which turned out to mean the next week.
I spent 6 days in Goma, doing a small amount of work and getting a very basic introduction to the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo). This is one of our vehicles, being loaded up to transport stuff to field offices in North Kivu. The flags were added for extra visibility as the roads in the area are not always safe; making it clear that the truck belongs to a medical charity hopefully decreases the likelihood of running into trouble.
My clippers decided not to work once I arrived in DRC, so I borrowed Gareth’s clippers. Turns out the battery was not fully charged, resulting in this new hairstyle until it was charged enough to finish the job:
Even in Goma you get a few creepy crawlies in the house, like this millipede:
Gareth found this tiny skink on his shorts, and it seemed quite happy to hang out on his finger and pose for a photo:
Although I can’t say I like Goma very much, it is pretty cool to see the nearby volcano on a clear day from the centre of town:
On March 23rd I left Goma for Kindu, the pleasant little town (‘Kindu Paradise’ as some of us like to call it) where I would be based for nearly half a year.