In Kenya, at least.
Yesterday morning, the red gravel of the airport was unusually busy. We unloaded the cool boxes and fresh(ish) veggies.
Then eight Kenyans, one sick German Shepard, and one exhausted kawajja squeezed into the back of an Antonov AN32 and took off or a bumpy flight to Juba. It was not a pleasant flight. We were crammed behind cargo, and were, in fact, cargo ourselves, all packed like tobacco in a cigarette.
One guy sweated through both his shirts and read scripture from a well worn bible the entire trip. One guy covered his eyes and leaned forward for the duration. Whenever we hit turbulence the guys would start talking louder over the deafening whir of the props, as if to show how not afraid they were.
We dropped into Juba an hour after take off and unloaded all the cargo for our camps there and climbed back in the plane. While the customs officers in their purple camouflage gave us trouble about the dog.
They were making trouble were there was none, to prove to everybody they were in charge.
Slowly nine people had gathered at the rear of the plane clutching plastic bags and suitcases.
“Sonuvabitch,” growled the InMo. “They want to hop a lift and I am the most senior employee around.We are not a frickin bus!” I had checked out mentally two days before hand and did not want to deal with this.
I turned my hat backwards and approached the people, “Who are you with?”
“The General Director said we could ride on this plane.”
“Kilo-Kilo, The General Director of all airports in South Sudan”
There’s a little habit of referring to people with difficult names by their military initials. I am sometimes called Bravo Whiskey. Which is cool.
“I don’t know who you are, I don’t know who he is, but I know he didn’t pay for this plane. I did. He never OKed it with me.”
I looked to the Russian pilots for some help, but they were just chartering. I knew it was up to me.
“I am on goddamn vacation already!” blared the InMo. “I need a drink,” he finished and proceeded to piss off into the belly of the plane.
“Please, Sir. We are begging you to let us on this plane,” pleaded one hitchhiker. He, like the rest of them, had desperation in his eyes. Each one really wanted out of Sudan for one reason or another. I understood that, but for all I knew these guys had their bags packed with ammunition and cocaine and someone was getting paid off somewhere. I sighed a sigh of exasperation and helplessness.
I also wanted to leave Sudan and I had a connection to catch in Loki at 5:00. I knew we could fit them, but that if I let them on the plane I would simultaneously be doing the wrong and the right thing.
I closed my eyes and clenched my thumbs in my fist and glared at the hitchhikers and the mustachioed Ruskies.
I let them fly.
When we arrived at the camp, had a beer, sent some emails, and in no time I was back at the airstrip.
Upon arrival, I was informed I was to take care of the dog. I thought the dog was staying in Loki, but it was going back to Nairobi on my flight, which meant I was carrying the documents and responsibility. I’d never imported an animal besides a brother or two. Vordu had apparently suffered a stroke which searching for mines and was being flown back for treatment.
While I’m checking, in a mzungu asks me if I’m a de-miner. I say no: I’m just helping out with their dog. He was English and liked him immediately. We got a beer and discovered that we had talked for an hour or so one night in Rumbek.
Tequila’s a hell of a drug.
I saw the cargo truck leaving for our jet and ensured Vordu was on safe and sound.
I climbed on I watched the Heroes season finale on my iPod, and then fell asleep—it was a bit of a let down—only to be woken by the wail and bump of the tires touching tarmac.
My bag showed up on the carousel and I walked to the exit, until I remembered the pup. I turn around and a large braided lady asked, “is it your dog?”
I was the only one left in the terminal.
“Well. . .technically. My company is handling the dog for a partner firm.”
“We can’t get the cage out. I was hoping you could open the door and let him jump out.”
Visions of me chasing a sick, hungry, mine-sniffing, Alsatian amidst propellers and luggage trucks played in my mind like a movie trailer.
“If they got the cage in plane, we can get it out.” I dropped my bags and walked out on the airstrip and around the side of the white and blue jet tosee on guy in the plane pushing and one guy on the ground pulling the cage. Vordu was braced against the tilt, wide eyed like child on a high dive.
Thanks to the class I took in college, HA457, “Logistics: Removing live Animals From Planes in Developing Nations,” we got Vodu and his cage out at the same time.
I had the papers and everything, but no asked. We loaded my luggage and an amazingly docile canine into the car and I melted into the front seat. I remained there, liquefied, as we sat in Nairobi traffic for the next three hours. I slept through dropping the dog off and woke up only to be greeted by my Masaai friends as I returned to my little house by the jockey club.
“Pombe Baridi!” they said as they helped me with my suitcase. It means, ‘cold beer,” but it’s one of the few phrases we both know.
The power was out, so I stumbed straight into the bedroom; my consciousness fading in the expansive double bed, I remembered how my first day ever in Nairobi involved dogs as well. I thought about how I spent the whole day traveling through four cities across two countries.
And then I thought about how this was just the first leg:
I don’t know if I’ll get a chance to chnepr on the road, but we’ll see.