It is exactly 30 years to the day since I first left Kenya as a naive girl for America on that fateful 19th April 1989. I had not traveled outside Kenya then, least of all boarded an Aeroplane before.
Looking back in retrospect, reliving the journey from Nairobi via London to Chicago, the humor, the anecdotes and all the challenges of life away from home ever since, I can attest that my God is faithful.
Like many students then in search of college education, I had travelled on a student visa. I honestly don’t know why but I did not know at the time that USA was in north America. Perhaps because I dropped geography in Form 2 in favour of history in Form 3 and 4.
Naturally, as excitement built up for the impending trip to the land of milk and honey, and endless opportunities, I would review the lessons and narratives about America by our class 6 and 7 geography teacher at Arap Moi Primary School in Nkoroi. He was a good story teller. Before every geography lesson he would ask us to imagine we were in the place he was going to base the lesson about.
One memorable lesson was about the city of London. He told us that in London, machines could talk to you and open doors for you, and even tell you “door is ajar or door is closed.” I found all that intriguing and I could not comprehend, at the time, how that was possible. As fate would have it, I was to transit through London on my way to America.
I was very prepared in advance. I had bought one of those tourist or safari clothing for my trip. From Nairobi to London I was going to wear a long Kitenge dress because the flight was taking off almost at midnight and change to safari dress in London.
One of the enduring anxieties on my mind was how I was to handle the escalator out of an experience during a school tour during primary school. We had had a tour to the airport, Firestone and Kikomi Industries back in the the good old days. While riding an escalator, my finger had gotten cut badly while holding onto the rail for support. I was terrified.
On the D-Day, the whole clan came to see me off. Then, family and friends were allowed inside, but not beyond the clearing point.The whole of Nkoroi showed up to bid farewell to their daughter.
I wore a greenish/yellow kitenge, red sweater and very high red stylish shoes that were in fashion back then. As I have said, it was my first time on a plane. I decided since I was not familiar with the routine, I was going to copy the person that was next to me.
The devil is a liar and has some brute sense of humour. I happened to sit next to a very unfriendly mzungu. I started by asking him how one buckles the safety belt. He looked at me with some cold disinterest and ignored me completely. I decided I was just going to learn by observing his every move. Somehow I manoeuvered it and succeeded.
When the meals came, I observed what my unfriendly partner was doing. He actually caught me twice looking at him opening the liquid coffee creamer and also adjusting the sound to the in-flight TV console via the provided headphones.
When the hostess asked me “chicken something or fish,” I just mumbled “that one.” She looked so confused but I could not tell what the question was, she ended up serving me fish which was not my plan. As she was handing me the meal, I reach out with my hand, missed the tray as she released and everything poured onto my lap.
I lost it, letting a loud “Ngai!” which was heard from the plane all the way to Timbuktu. For the first time I saw the unfriendly guy’s wry smile. He took off his headphones, looked at the mess on my lap, smiled again, shook his head and went back to his movie, ignoring my embarrassing moment.
I was already missing my mother, 35,000 feet above sea level awkwardly handling my food on my lap, feeling it seep through the Kitenge all the way to the crotch below.
Luckily the hostess was sympathetic and showed me the bathroom where I could take care of the mess. I was already wet all the way to my underwear. I did not expect the bathroom to be that tiny. I’m claustrophobic.
To minimize the time in the bathroom all by myself, on a plane 35,000 feet above sea level, I skipped the step of drying my underwear with a towel handed to me by my hostess and went commando all the way to london.