Traffic in and around Nairobi in the evening is something that you never want to be caught it. It's gridlock with potholes and dust and heavily laden lorries carving new lanes on the median, the non-existent shoulder, through and around the cars packed tightly in one log jam to end all log jams.
I was trying not be nervous. And honestly, I was doing a pretty good job of it.
What's to be nervous about? I have taken the 5 hour shuttle bus from Arusha to the airport in Nairobi several times now. No matter how shocking and disastrous the traffic appears, we always seem to pull up to the grungey curbside of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in ample time to get checked in and upstairs for tea and a samosa before the flight. The flight is in the middle of the night and the long journey to the terminal is jut a preamble to the rest of the trip.
But something seemed wrong to me on Monday evening. In fact, something WAS wrong.
Walking up the aisle, I asked the driver about my stop at the airport. I felt for the other passengers who still had to make it through the choked arteries of the city to the designated drop-off sites downtown but I knew that this was all part of the deal. You buy a ticket and let them know if you need the airport or one of those other 2 stops. My ticket said "International Airport" right on it and the other travelers would just have to abide the brief detour on their way.
But this little piece of info that instructed to the driver to make the airport stop had some how not been conveyed by the shuttle company to their fine employee.
"What? What? What?" he yelled, "No one told me about the airport!!"
Just about then, the shuttle came to a complete stop and the gridlock closed in all around us. We were stuck, pointed toward the city with no way to get me back toward my flight. At best, if we crept into the city and got ourselves turned around after dropping the other folks off, I might get there in about 2 more hours. But it could be longer.
I started to not feel so calm anymore. I was trying to trust and relax and not freak out, but I can't say I was doing very well, though I looked pretty good (maybe) on the outside.
As I explained the predicament to the nice gentleman across the aisle, the driver started yelling at me that this was MY fault because I was late to the shuttle and so they had failed to ask me where I was going to alight.
"No," I said, "I was NOT late to the shuttle. I bought my ticket last week and told them then that I was going to the airport and I was not late today either. This is NOT my fault!" I added with uncharacteristic firmness. "NOT MY FAULT!"
Sitting in the parking lot that might eventually open up and become a thoroughfare into the city once again, I began to wonder what would happen if I missed my flight.
And that's when the pleasant looking Kenyan woman from across the aisle and behind me spoke up.
"Can I take you to the airport?" she asked.
I blinked and tried to understand.
Well, her partner was going to meet the shuttle as soon as we hit the next major turn. She was going to get the driver to let her out at this unscheduled stop and the car would be pointed the right direction for the airport. She was volunteering to take me a long distance out of her way after the long afternoon of a long journey.
My feelbe mind raced, trying to think if there was any reason I should not accept this offer. But next thing I knew, the shuttle was pulled over and the driver was climbing on the roof to retrieve my bag. I held onto his arm as he held onto my luggage and we crossed 4 busy lanes of traffic in the dark.
The car was pretty flash and nicely cooled by the air conditioning. I slipped into the back, wondering if they were connected to organized crime and might they want to sell my internal organs in some seedy alley before dawn?
For a few deeply panicked moments, I feared I had left my wallet on the shuttle, but my desperate digging inside my pack finally produced it.
I think I was breathing pretty normally again as I climbed out at the BA check in and they handed me my bag. They wouldn't take any money for fuel.
"What's your name?" my rescuer asked me. Her name was Connie.
Connie handed me her card and asked me to send her a note so that she would know I reached London safely.
Now, I'm winding up my time here in England with my (oh so wonderful) 24-7 prayer buds. I am tired and looking forward to getting home. There are many miles and hours ahead of me before I find myself there, but I expect that all will go well.
I climb into bed tonight still smiling at the outlandish kindness of a total stranger.