After eight hours in the air, our plane rumbled down from the sky. All around me, passengers were craning to look out their windows. Being in the center aisle, I didn’t have this luxury, making me all the more anxious. It was 10 o’clock and dark. All I could make out were dots of lights, red, blue and yellow and the rolling of the plane’s wheels on the track.
The seatbelt light dimmed out. I moved urgently, desperate for my first look at this foreign land. As I stepped out of the plane and into the tunnel that leads to the airport, I was greeted with an unexpected warm gush of air. It was humid. Coming from the snow-covered streets of Toronto, this was a nice change. I hurried forwards, aching now for a window, any window. I would not get a chance until I was through customs. Unlike Pearson International Airport, this airport was small and offered few windows. A crowd of passengers around me urged me on, like a wave. We swarmed towards customs.
Besides the airport staff and security, we were the only people. As we lined up at customs, I was forced to wait once more. In this time, culture shock began to set in. Men with rifles across their chests stood along the edges of the room. They wore full army attire and blank faces. This was unlike anything I’d ever seen at home. When my turn came, I had to be urged forwards by a woman behind me.
My customs officer was a large woman with delicate hands. She took my passport and asked me the usual questions.
Where are you coming from? How long are you staying? Business or pleasure? I gave the correct answers and she nodded. With a “Thak, Thak, Thaaaak,” she stamped my passport and I was done. She handed it back and said, “Welcome to Kenya.”
Her accent was one I would become very familiar with over the next few weeks. As I moved on, she raised her hand at the next passenger. I took a final glance at the soldiers. At that moment I realized how far from home I was; I was half way across the world in an unfamiliar place, full of unfamiliar faces.
I finally stepped outside the airport at around 10:30. The warm air embraced me. Despite the hour, the streets were busy. Car lights flashed across my face. Dozens of taxi drivers called out, hoping to get my business. A large woman black woman, pushing a cart of luggage, walked past me and into one of the waiting taxis. The man rushed over to help her. They spoke quickly in a language I did not yet understand. I stood in silence and let the world rush past me, encompassed with excitement, fear and anticipation. This trip would change my life and I was just beginning to realize that.