Into the light

More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere. Brightness everywhere, the sun. Just yesterday, an autumnal London was drenched in rain. The airplane drenched in rain. A cold wind, darkness. But here, from the morning’s earliest moments, the airport is ablaze with sunlight, all of us in sunlight.

Ryszard Kapuscinski – The Shadow of the Sun. My African Life

This is how journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski describes his very first impression of the African contintent, and I can only concur. Exiting the airplane in Addis Ababa, I have to shield my eyes from the sun.  It is only 8:30 in the morning, but it is already as bright as it gets on a hot summer noon in Germany.

Approaching Addis Ababa

The whole terminal is filled with overwhelming smells of sweet spices, perfumes and fabric softener. Many people are dressed businesslike, but you also see basketball jerseys and colourful traditional garments. A group of American tourists is filming a video. “Take off the lid!”, one of them shouts at the camerawoman.

All around there are bilingual signs, both in English and in the squiggly lines that are Ethiopian letters. A display wishes the travellers a Happy Ethiopian New Year 2008. I take a little nap at the gate, then board the plane to Nairobi.

My first impression of Kenya is a different story. It is already visible from the plane that the weather is overcast. In stark contrast to Ethiopia with its green hills and square fertile fields that look like a rag rug, Nairobi’s surroundings seem to be a sandy, dusty landscape, scarcely equipped with thorny bushes. Slim green rivers are meandering through the brownish area. As we approach the landing strip, I see a lonely cow trotting along a dust road.

Driving home from the airport with Willis

As promised, a driver is already waiting for me at the airport. Willis takes me straight to the house I will be staying at for the next few days. “I want to learn a little German”, he says. “I meet so many Germans. Bayern Munich has the best football players of the Bundesliga!” His heart is beating for Arsenal, though.

We drive by a few landmarks that I had read about earlier: The Kenyatta International Convention Center with its characteristic round tower,  Uhuru Park (uhuru means freedom in Kiswahili. Yes, that’s how Lieutenant Uhura got her name!) and the National Assembly that looks sort of like a modern version of Big Ben. I would later learn that the parliament’s electricity was recently disconnected because somehow someone had failed to pay their bills.

As we drive through the city, Willis asks me: “Which do you think is harder to learn, English or German?” Oh boy. I wish Willis the best of luck.

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