Home. I suppose. Though it doesn’t feel like it yet. It feels alien, not in a threatening way, just in a faintly aloof, unfriendly way. Like meeting a stranger for the first time, one with whom you don’t make the instant connection you’d like to make, somebody you need to learn to get to know, to like.
The getting here was a challenge.
The eight hours in Heathrow (bristling with armed policemen in flak jackets and busy with people about to take to the skies – for what reason, one wonders? Holidays? Family reunions? Happy events? Sad ones? New homes? Like us) was followed by another 8 in the air.
A fast changeover in Nairobi, so fast that I was enormously relieved to ID our bags on the runway as we boarded our plane to Kilimanjaro (and note that the one containing kippers was splitting, kippers evidently intent on escaping) and we were winging our way back into Tanzania, above cloud through which Mts Kilimanjaro and Meru peeked to say hello. The tourists on board all took out their cameras and focused on Kilimanjaro’s increasingly meager snowcap, Kibo, (global warming making its presence felt? Or a mountain battling with the annual tramp of 20,000 pairs of human feet?).
At Kilimanjaro International Airport we cling-wrapped the bag with the kippers which was gaping wide open now and checked in for our flight – via Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam – to the Outpost. It was delayed.
So we sat. And we sat. And we watched the execu-jets outside being boarded by high-paying hunting clients who’d fly into Outpost to refuel (Outpost’s existence is sustained only en passant, only because Tanzania is too big to fly across on one tank of aviation fuel) before transferring to luxury bush camps where they’d drink Scotch and shoot Big Game.
Clock watching I grew anxious the delay would compromise our Dar connection. I went to the desk to articulate my worries. As I was doing so, a faux blonde Englishman with hot potatoes in his mouth bustled up, ‘my charter is here’. The girl on the desk didn’t bat an eyelid. Nor did I. He insisted, more loudly now (so that the entire departure lounge could hear just how terribly important he was), ‘my private charter is here, can you let me out’.
The girl behind the desk shuffled off to oblige. I wanted to spin round and tell him how rude I thought he was, interrupting whilst she was plainly dealing with me. I wanted to tell him that charters were two a penny here, that Tanzania is so vast and so poorly serviced with commercial flights that private charters thrive, I wanted to tell him I thought he was a twit and that I knew his hair wasn’t that colour naturally. I wanted to tell him that I was only being forced to fly horribly delayed commercial because my Lear jet was in the hangar on blocks (which would have been a lie, obviously – the owning a Lear, not the on blocks bit). But I didn’t. Because I was too tired to think of any of those things at the time. I did laugh though. I hope he realized my tittering was on account of his posing and not because I was impressed.
Finally our plane (the not so precise Precision Airways) boarded, by which time I knew we would not make our connection. It took several attempts to persuade airline staff of same. By which time I was almost in tears. The children were slumped in their seats, too tired even to fight. Please radio Dar and ask them to hold the flight for us, I begged pathetically, the next one doesn’t leave for 24 hours, I can’t sit in the airport for 24 hours, with kids, we’ve already been travelling for 24.
They never confirmed whether they had done or not. But we were rushed through Dar on arrival and shortly thereafter shunted onto a plane bound for Outpost which had been sitting on the tarmac for sometime sans aircon; it was like stepping into a kiln. I could only hope kippers and rest of baggage were somewhere with us.
We took off – with explanations of, and apologies for, delayed departure on account of ‘operational difficulties beyond our control’; whether we were said operational difficulties, I didn’t care.
It was only once we were airborne that the enormity of our impending isolation dawned on the children. Flying to the Outpost you traverse huge swathes of untouched Africa, not a road nor a single railway line scar the plains, no corrugated iron roofs wink up at you reassuringly. Nothing. Just bush and rock and the shadow of scudding clouds thousands of feet below. We were bound for the Middle Of Nowhere.
The children were wide eyed and quiet. Not a sound as we landed on a dirt strip throwing up a dusty cloud behind us as we rattled toward the tiny terminal building, relic of colonialism. We disembarked to fierce heat and stood in the shade of a palm waiting for the luggage to be unloaded from the plane and dragged up the sandy path to the loftily named Arrivals Hall (hall?!) on a rickety hand pulled cart.
Alas. Ours was not amongst it. All I could think of was the 5 kg of kippers tightly cling-wrapped sitting abandoned on a runway in scorching 30 degree heat. And the smell that must surely by now be emanating.