Kenyatta International Airport – Nairobi, Kenya – January, 2004.
Two long weeks were finally at an end. My friend Pat and I had spent two weeks in and around Nairobi, Kenya visiting the slums, rundown hospitals and people dying of AIDS. The third world is not for the faint of heart and I was wondering if it was for me. (From this trip Pat and I started a school for girls from the slums, but that is a story for another day.)
We arrived at the airport early hoping to have a couple of adult beverages before we faced the next 24 hours. 20 of which we would spend in a silver metal tube 36,000 feet above the ground and traveling at 600 miles per hour.
Tired, dusty and thirsty we walked into the airport. After checking our bags and receiving our boarding passes we were anxious to clear passport control, find a barstool and…well… drink!
Heading to passport control, I heard a click and felt cold metal against the side of my head. Peaking out of the corner of my eye there was a Kenyan army sergeant pointing a .9mm Glock at my right temple. I froze, stopped breathing and hoped that I didn’t pee my pants.
“What do you have in the package?” Mr. Sergeant said in an interesting Swahili English mix of languages.
“Sir, please take it.” I said in what seemed like slow motion then I meekly handed the package to him.
Earlier in the week, I had visited a wood carving shop in the city of Machakos, about 20 miles southwest from Nairobi and purchased a beautiful hand crafted walking cane. The cane featured and elephant, lion and giraffe beautifully carved just below the handle. The shopkeeper neatly wrapped it in butcher paper so it would not be scratched on the way back to the States.
After handing it to the Sergeant, I realized what the fuss was about. As he kept the Glock pointed at my head (Actually this was a relief because he could have pulled the AK-47 slung over his shoulder.) The cane wrapped up had the profile of a rifle. The sergeant opened the butcher paper with his free hand and started laughing. As he placed his Glock back into its holster he anded the cane back to me. I immediately removed it from the wrapper.
At the gate, the airline person said I had to check the cane in as luggage. She would not let me take it onboard. I’m sure you guessed it. That was the last time I saw my cane.
2 responses to “Tales From the Road – Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi, Kenya”
What’s the lesson in this story? Don’t buy walking canes abroad. You can be shot for it.
Not all stories require a lesson. Except one might want to think through their travel plans first….