Astonishingly dumb luck in Arusha

Merry Christmas to all! I had my own Christmas miracle yesterday. I normally use the same taxi company to get around Nairobi, for safety, but occasionally I hop into a random one or use one that a friend recommends. This was one of those times, and I was carrying a bag. I bounded out of the cab, and the sketchy guy I’d seen eying me (who I was trying to avoid) called out for me. I reluctantly turned, and there was the driver holding it up for me. Thank you!! In a city nicknamed Nai-robbery, that is a miracle.

The rest of the story I will chalk up to astonishingly dumb luck – I keep waiting for karma to swing the other way..

Turbo-prop. Not my photo or my plane (my plane was smaller)

This morning at 8:15am I flew out to Arusha, Tanzania for the start of my safari. I arrived at the airport mad early, around 6:15am, and the flight gate is not yet posted on the screens (every other gate is posted.) I go to gate 4, which is listed on the ticket, and they tell me that the flight is not leaving there. I call Mikey, and halfway through the call it occurs to me that they might never put up the gate and leave anyway, puzzled but not unsurprised that nobody’s shown up for the flight. Sure enough, the lady at the ?Info? desk tells me to rush to gate 4 – “don’t worry about the monitors,” she chides, “just get to the gate or you’ll miss the flight!”

The flight was a teeny-tiny turbo-prop; we had to crouch just to get inside. It was flying to Kilimanjaro airport, about an hour from Arusha, and most of the 15 people on it were going to climb the mountain. I’d thought about doing it – it’s supposed to be a relatively easy eight day climb, but when I saw what the damn thing looked like I had a hard time imagining it to be easy. A huge craggy mountain with a shock of snow towered waaay above the clouds. “That’s an easy eight day climb?” I said. The others didn’t seem fazed at all. At the moment I was very happy that my vacation was going to be spent in a jeep.

kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro from the airplane. They call this an easy climb... (Also not my photo.)

Just then, a loud blaring sound began to come from the cockpit. You know the sound – you’ve heard it if you have ever seen a movie where something goes wrong. It is the “something is very wrong” sound. Bah, bah, bah, bah…you know? I looked around terrified and said the shemah. (The shemah is a Jewish prayer recognizing god as the one and only. I don’t think I could really say that I believe in god in that sense, but when I was in elementary school it was hammered into my head that it should be the last words to leave a Jew’s lips. If you ever see me mumbling something while you are driving a car, please slow down.) But then ten seconds later it stopped and ten minutes later we landed. Again, nobody else seemed fazed.

I hadn’t planned for the $100 entry fee into the country, but not to worry – they had ATMs set up for that! But the ATM said “ATM closed.” Not “ATM out of money” but “closed”…as if it was observing the Christmas holiday. Luckily – again, blind, dumb, astonishing, how-do-I-deserve-this luck, I had just last night found a bunch of Kenyan Shillings in the bottom of my bag that just equaled $101. I am not kidding. I changed the money, paid it, and left.

Today is a hotel day, and since I’m alone there is not much to do. I walked around town for a while but got tired of the calls of “Mzungu caribu!” (white man, welcome!) I set out to buy some fruit at the local market, and when I asked a woman how much for a mango and was quoted a price, I realized I had literally no idea what the exchange rate was. Thinking on my feet, I responded “that’s crazy! I won’t pay a white man’s price” and offered less than half of what I was quoted. She readily accepted.

I sat down in a restaurant and two men immediately sat next to me. I was quite pleasant and then asked them “you’re sitting down next to me because you want to sell me something, right? What do you want to sell me?” and one of them said “nothing.” He paused for a few seconds and continued: “Unless you’re looking for something…like weed, you like weed? I mean I don’t smoke it, but sometimes, just on the holidays, sometimes special yes? But no, it’s not for me. But as a holiday treat, you know?” He laughed. I finished my food and returned to the hotel.

Tonight I will try some Indian food; tomorrow we head to Tarangire National Park and the adventure continues…

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