Fire in Ouagadougou. Delay in Abidjan. Explosion in Nairobi. “Vacation” in Alexandria…

(c) National Geographic

It’s 0851 in Alexandria and even though my itinerary didn’t include this city, I had hoped to earn some well-deserved 36 hours [at least] as a compensation for the past few days — apparently the fastest I have seen in my single lifetime. [Plus, I can’t wait to hit the bed after spending the night maximising Abdallah’s wireless access to clear my eDesk.]

The story started on Sunday, June 3, when I returned to Lagos from the eLearning conference in Nairobi. I was to leave for Ouagadougou that same night but there were complications (confession: I loved the fact that I didn’t have to travel that night), and it wasn’t until Monday night that I started getting worried. Getting a flight to Ouagadougou in time for the Global Knowledge Partnership (Africa) meeting was practically impossible. I almost made the Afriqiyah flight but 15 hours at that airport (remember Trapped in Tripoli?) was discouraging enough. Then I got a flight from Accra to Ouagadougou, but none to Accra in time for the connection. I instantly became a travel agent, combining online search tools and advise through mobile calls. Then it clicked, a travel agent said I could get to Ouagadougou via Abidjan with almost no delay…

It turned out he was lying (or was he just under pressure?), so I ended up getting a last-minute ticket to Abidjan with the hope that I would get a connecting flight on Wednesday morning to Ouagadougou. It wasn’t very easy speaking my almost inexistent French in Cote d’Ivoire’s beautiful (and lively) capital but the hustlers came to the rescue. Smart young men clutching mobile phones, and with a digital map of the city at the back of their brains, approach you the moment they notice that you’re a stranger in the elephant city. Multilingual, sharp and with an extra dose of kindness, the young man helped me around the city (especially with Air Burkina’s iron lady — who shut the door in my face and asked me to return he next day) and earned about $15. I would have spent much more if Eric had not argued with the cab driver that picked me from the airport — and he also took me to an Internet cafe where I paid about 10% of the hotel’s charges. 🙂

I joined the flight to Ouagadougou after successfully picking my ticket… but I arrived at the meeting just after the closing coffee break! Fortunately, there was a follow-up meeting: the ICT Best Practices Forum put together by Microsoft, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, African Development Bank and the Government of Burkina Faso. After the first day of the second workshop, I discovered that my number (from the SIM pack I bought in Ouagadougou only 3 months earlier) had been issued to another subscriber, and I had a new number. So, if you ever buy a Celtel SIM pack in Ouagadougou, be sure that your number changes after 90 days of inactivity.

Leaving Ouagadougou for Cairo (via a complex route: Ouagadougou – Abidjan – Douala – Nairobi – Cairo) wasn’t without its own drama. I arrived well ahead of my flight time but there was fire at the airport. Even though all I saw (and perceived) was the smoke, the theories were as many as the number of people standing outside the petit airport — a rough estimate of about 200 people. Activities resumed after about four hours of standing around and calculating how many minutes I needed to make my connecting flights to Cairo, but… we arrived Abidjan 40 minutes after the Douala/Nairobi flight took off. That was another unplanned night in Abidjan, but Air Burkina did well by absorbing the costs and apologising for the delay (while I was wondering if it was really their fault).

After a night spent without Internet access, I made my way to the airport to get a seat on the next Abidjan-Douala-Nairobi flight since the Kenya Airways office was closed the previous night. Thanks to another friend in Nairobi, the Nairobi-Cairo flight was confirmed at no cost, just in time before the $50 hammer would land on any no show head. As if the drama was not enough, the flight was delayed by 4 hours! I took advantage of my Nigerian (ECOWAS-friendly) passport and strolled into Abidjan city, taking off to a distant restaurant where I could get some real food (at least away from the decorated meals and coffee breaks of the past few days). I returned in time for the flight and we left for Nairobi via Douala. With some slight turbulence and cut-through-sighs, we landed in Douala… and then, the heavens were opened. It rained heavily and my mind went to the recent unfortunate event under similar circumstances.

I hoped the pilot would wait for the rain to stop, and I think he wanted to, but he didn’t. I did not open my eyes until I heard the familiar sound indicating seat belts could be off the hook! It was a brief stop-over in Nairobi and I almost fainted when my phone rang. Even though I inserted a Kenyan SIM, how did anyone know my exact arrival time?… I found an Internet cafe at the airport and all the thoughts melted away. I replenished my TIMES and Economist stock for the week and proceeded for boarding. Right there at the Nairobi airport, we all listened to the sad story of the bomb at the city center. It was after I arrived Cairo that I discovered a friend was in the hotel, but he left unhurt. I wonder what the families of the not-so-fortunate would be thinking about now: another disaster, but not on CNN this time… right before their eyes. 9/11, Iraq, Gaza… something is fundamentally wrong with the world as it is!

Egyptian immigration jolted me off my thoughts of how we could possibly save the world from itself when my passport (along with most non-Egyptians) was taken to a special room where they… I don’t know, but my Thomas Cook guide said something like, “… to protect Egypt from harm.” I was yet to recover from that thought when he started talking about football — the almost-natural topic when most people discover my green passport. He wasn’t happy that he met a Nigerian who didn’t like football, but I at least knew all the names he mentioned. Phew, he threw up some names that I only heard from Tope Soremi (now a Mr., not Master) in passing. The Global Development Network meeting was at the impressive Conrad Hotel and I had to drop off my luggage to join the next session (need I explain why I arrived late?) — and of course a quick visit to the shower was necessary.

At the end of the conference that focused on the role of Knowledge Management in Africa’s development, I knew I had to escape from myself. I had read so much about Global Warming (in last week’s edition of Economist and msafiri, the Kenya Airways inflight magazine) for me to know that I was experiencing my own form of Body Warming — and a break was necessary. I joined a cruise for dinner during one of the evenings, visited the amazing Egyptian museum, was at the Alexandria library, danced to some good music… but one day is never good enough! I decided to leave the conference environment completely and ended up in Alexandria but I have been up since I got here (blame the wireless, please). I’m however about to obey my body — jump on the bed, wake up late, shower, hit the road and get on the flight to Lagos. I trust that I will be fresh enough by 2pm tomorrow, so I can speak without stress on my mind while I’m with this month’s Mentorship Class (my monthly give-back, along with Deolu Akinyemi).

I’ll be back in Egypt by the end of August into early September (for the Youth Employment Summit and the ICT4Peace Conference) but I promise to join a direct flight this time, and to see Egypt (especially the sphinx and pyramids — and not from a distance).

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