When I created this blog a while ago, the idea was that I would post pictures to it on a regular basis. That has not happened, but who knows, it still might. In the mean time, however, I may as well use it to keep track of my travels.
I'm writing this from a small house just outside Nairobi, Kenya, where I arrived last night. The house belongs to the head of the research team that my friend Tracy Montgomery works for; she is the reason I'm in Kenya right now. She does (and has been doing, since August) field research on hyenas (hyenae? No, but I wish) in the Masai Mara, a game preserve that I believed until last night was part of the Serengetti. (Apparently, it's only called the Serengetti in Tanzania).
So, seeing as it's 7 am here now, and my flight got in at 9 pm last night, there isn't a lot to tell. The travel was relatively smooth- got to JFK well in advance of when I needed to be there (took Metro North from New Haven, then Mwanzaa's parents drove me from 125th St Station to JFK). First flight to Amsterdam, I ended up with all 3 center seats to myself. Would have been nicer to have that on the second flight, as that's when I actually wanted to sleep, but still, it was nice. Second flight, not so lucky, but still managed to get an hour or two of sleep.
But the juiciest part of my trip so far (and it's not actually that juicy) was after I arrived at the airport. I managed to pick the absolute slowest line for getting my Visa, such that my 2 checked bags were 2 of maybe 4 left on the belt by the time I got down do bag claim (but still, they made it, so hey). Now, one of the bags was just mostly clothes, toiletries, etc. But the other large, heavy duffel was (is) mostly filled with supplies for the research camp that Tracy works at- 2 power inverters, 2 solar panel controllers, 3 tarps, a large Maglite, plus some small things Tracy mom sent me to bring over. (Apparently, getting things sent in to Kenya via post is difficult to impossible).
So here's the problem. I am relatively aware that bringing new things into a country when I am planning to leave them there will likely be an issue. So I am a little nervous when I approach customs. In retrospect, here are some things I should have done:
-Unpacked the items from their boxes so they didn't look brand new
-Tell the customs person that everything I had with me would indeed be coming back to the States with me
-Tell the customs person that everything I had with me was just clothes and personal items
Here's the problem. I am relatively bad at lying, and I straight up dislike lying to authority figures in places such as airports, where everyone seems to generally be a little on edge and ready to imprison me (this is how I think). So I open up the bag (although apparently, I misinterpreted his initial gesture, such that he at first told me to go, but then I lifted the bag up to the table, so he's like "Well, now that you've lifted it up, let's have a look." Probably the most frustrating part of all of it, actually). In any case, after some discussion and explanation of what the things were (wherein I foolishly decide to tell them that I bought the power inverters, then claim they cost $20 each, which is pretty ridiculous (I didn't actually know how much they were, as they were simply shipped to me). Everything else I say I don't know how much it was because it was just sent to me). Eventually, after explaining what things are, and trying not to break out into a sweat, the guy tells me he has to charge me duty taxes, which come out to about $40. Whatever, not a big deal, and I assume that I will get paid back by the research group, but even if I don't, it's not that much. While this is going on, I happen to look over and thankfully see Tracy (as well as our friend Sarah Skeist, also visiting) waiting for me and being generally amused by the situation. I'm relatively relieved to see them, as I had been having issues with my cell that I brought with me and hadn't managed to make contact with Tracy yet.
So, finally, make it through customs, $40 poorer but with a resolve to learn to lie better, we get in Tracy's car with "Michigan State Hyena Research" (or something to that effect) and a silhouette of a hyena on it, drive to "the cottage," a nice little house on the outskirts of Nairobi, chat, shower (last warm shower I will have until March 7, likely) and sleep.
Today: 7 hour drive to the Masai Mara! I'm pretty excited.