Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Paris and the Luggage

So for New Year's I decided to do something a little different, a little change for me, nothing drastic, but just give it a little go and see where it takes me. I went on vacation to the developed world. Paris specifically.

The four days were nice. Matt and I walked around Paris, ate crepes, talked French, etc. We only went to one museum because the lines were around the block because of the holidays. We went to the new museum of developing world art, which is Chirac's answer to the British Museum. The verdict: British museum is much bigger and has a much better collection of stuff, which Chirac's has really neat architecture, and in both cases, the countries from which the artifacts were taken would probably like them back. And the kids all say that colonialism is dead.

The other thing of note we did was New Year's. We went to this restaurant whose name translates to "In the Dark?" It is a restaurant run by blind people so you can see what it is like for one meal. The dining room is completely black. Not a pinprick of light anywhere. You are led to your seats conga-line style - being dropped off by your blind waitress as you go. There are no menus, you get what you are served. You fill your wine glass by sticking your finger in it and pouring very very carefully. You locate your plate by touch, and figure out which section is duck and which is butternut squash by sticking your fingers in it. (In a weird way, it was like the ultimate foodie test - it's amazing how much we rely on our vision to identify what we are eating.) After dinner, we went back to our hotel to watch the Eiffel Tower to light up the new year. Instead of the little TV provided in our hotel room, we snuck out on to the fire escape, went up to the top, then climbed this rickety little metal ladder to the roof. We had a beautiful view of the tower. I took the above picture of the skyline in the other direction. It was weird and bizarre being the only ones up there and with the light refelcting off the clouds.

Then I took a two hour nap and headed off to the airport to go to Kenya. My eventual destination was Kampala again, but it was cheaper to fly to Nairobi and then grab an overnight bus from Nairobi to Kampala. After all, once you have been on a plane for 9 hours, what's 12 more in a bus?

The only little snaffoo was that though I arrived safe and sound , the Luggage did not. So I faced the choice of being in one of the most dangerous cities in East Africa, at midnight, alone with no hotel and no luggage, or to get on an overnight bus departing from one of the nasty sections of the city, alone, with only my laptop bag. I didn't even have any toothpaste because the rat bastards at Charles de Gaulle confiscated it because it was 4 oz and therefore MUST be plastic explosives in disguise. Well, off I go. KLM assured me that this happened all the time and that Luggage would be along to K ampala on the next flight. (This happens all the time? Management should have a quick review of what to tell and not to tell the paying public...) So off I went. The bus trip went as smoothly as any 12 bus trip through a developing world backwater. I arrived and checked into the hotel. No Luggage. Next day, no Luggage. KLM has no clue what continent the bag might be on and can I please come back tomorrow? So I decided that the only sensible thing to do would be to camp out at the office until they found my bag. It took 30 minutes before they were calling baggage claim offices around the world to get the crazy white lady OUT of there. They found the bag. They would have it at the hotel by end of business.

Around 3:30 they called. Good news, Luggage had arrived in Kampala. Bad new, it had promptly been confiscated by customs and I had to go down to the airport (which is in another city 30 miles away) and get it out of hock. The round trip took three hours and I managed not to pay any bribes. Most of the time at the airport was taken up with a Kalfka-eque process of obtaining a security badge, which I didn't even need. There was no one manning the security check. But - in true African style - people still formed a somewhat disorderly mob to put their belongings down and pass through the metal detectors, even though there was no one there to look at what was in the bags or stop us if we set it off. I did the same.

So Luggage and I are back together again in Kampala. I will hopefully get enough accomplished on my second year thesis in the next two weeks to do some interesting stuff before I leave East Africa.

Happy New Year.

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