Thursday, December 02, 2010

Life In Transit

On the tarmac. In transit. A man without a country.

Every once in a while, I end up with an itinerary that leaves me stranded and hapless somewhere. Years ago, on the way to Manila, the routing with United used to leave me at Seoul Kimpo Airport for at least four to six hours. Back in the early 1990s, Kimpo was a drab and dreary place. True hell on Earth if you were stuck in the transit lounge. After a couple times of that hell, I started paying the entry fee just to use the airport facilities.

My flight from Kigali to Entebbe arrived at noon and my flight from Entebbe to Brussels doesn't leave until 11:35pm. That's nearly twelve hours hanging out at the airport. Or trying to find something to do.

Unfortunately, emails from Edmund and Clare weren't received until after I was en route and I completely missed Clare at the airport because instead of paying the US$50 fee for a visa and an entry stamp, I was escorted to the transit lounge and then the First Class Lounge (where I paid a fee).

Beef samosas and Diet Coke.

The First Class Lounge is free to business class and first class travelers. As I am neither, I had to pay US$25 for three hours. I've been here since about 2pm.

It's not bad as far as lounges go. It's comfortable. There's free Wi-Fi, along with free food and drink. Televisions play football all day and there's a billiards table, a water fall and free use of a shower. I had promised the receptionist I would use the shower but never got around to it.

Heading to the First Class Lounge at EBB!

The good thing is that I got a lot of work done. Emails, blog updates and did most of the work on the reports for CQI. That way, I won't have to spend a lot of time on those in Italy - where I plan to focus my energies on Ferrari and Lady Gaga.

The nice thing is that I'm also being very nicely taken care of my the ground staff here. My first handler got off at 6pm and she brought up her replacement to introduce me. She's currently handling my check-in and baggage transfers to Florence.

Of course, she just came by to ask if I was going to Florence, Florida or Florence, California. Thank goodness she asked! Florence, Italy please.

Soon, it will be time to board Brussels Airlines 465 for the return flight to Brussels where I hear that Europe has been blanketed in a snowstorm for the past few days. With only my thin jacket, it should be fun! Happily, I'm told that tonight's flight is extremely light and looks I'll have a good chance of commandeering another row to myself!

Writing this blog.

Something other than beef and veg samosas.

The bathroom with shower.

My daylong perch.

Just Like Bread

Improperly proofed croissants.

This is going to seem quite out on the edge since I have no real basis other than anecdotal, but it seems that Uganda doesn't make the best croissants I've ever tasted.

And I wonder if this goes hand-in-hand with their histories. Uganda has a history with the British. The British have a history with poor food. Rwanda has a history with the French. The French have a history of Grand Cuisine.

Seems that all of the croissants I've had in Uganda were more like bread. Take this croissant on Air Uganda today. Nice, buttery but more like bread. Looks to me like they didn't let the dough proof enough - and how do I know this? I once worked with a supplier who didn't always properly proof their croissants. Sometimes they would be beautifully flaky, other times they looked like this. They looked and felt like bread.

Maybe that's why Marie Antoinette said: "Let them eat cake!"

Air Uganda 7351

The photo that nearly got me arrested.

These Rwandans are so polite!

Another CRJ-200.

Cruising again over Lake Victoria.

Air Uganda feeds us - damn you, United!!!

Landing Entebbe.

Kheuwel Couture

Calculating the tissue.

Ever since I attended the EAFCA Conference in Addis Ababa back in 2007, I've been wanting to get myself a traditional African outfit. For the past two weeks, I've been thinking about it but only got around to telling Eric that I wanted to go and get one yesterday. He immediately calls a friend and after the barista training is completed, we're on our way.

Surprisingly, the tailor is just down the street from my hotel. It's about five in the afternoon and I need one now. My flight leaves the next morning. Obviously, I need a custom job and what place can measure and custom tailor an entire outfit (with embroidery) in just a few hours? Well, these guys at Kheuwel Couture say that they will have my outfit ready by 7:30am. Wow.

Samples of their work.

They toss out magazines of samples of various styles of Kitengi for me to choose. Being not African, I really don't know what is "kheuwel" (cool) and what is not. I ask Eric and his friend to be my guides. They help me select a style of cut and embroidery that's fashionable and sensible. With the approval of our tailor, we're on to selection of "tissue".

Now, I don't understand why they call it "tissue" but the texture is very different than the fabric I'm used to. Maybe it's made from banana leaves? It has a texture that reminds me of modern-day sailcloth material. They show me several styles of tissue to select and I choose one that suits my tastes.

Eric calls the tailor. It's 7:45am - he's late!

Somehow, even in the face of ignorance of another culture, my "tastes" have led me to select a tissue that prices out to be US$250 for the outfit. Well, I wasn't expecting to pay that much for a Kitengi! Turns out the one I selected is "first quality" tissue. They show me "second quality" tissue and it's a bit stiffer and the difference is noticeable to me. They price the second quality and it comes out at US$203. That's not enough to make a difference but $250 is still more than I have.

After a moment or two, the lady says she can do the second quality tissue for US$167. I can't help but ask if she'll do me the First Quality tissue for $200 instead. No, that's not possible.

We debate a little more before settling on the deal. Suddenly, the tailor takes his stride. The master is at work. He grabs his measuring tape and starts barking out metric measurements in French. It's Cat this, catorze that and I think I'm hearing too many numbers above 100 in there somewhere. I certainly hope he's not talking decimeters!

Dressed like the next King of Kigali.

Finally, with measurements taken, tissue selected and deposit given, I thank the tailor and his team and bid them adieu. $167 for a custom tailored suit. Made overnight. That's gotta be a steal - even though I imagine it would be cheaper if I weren't a mzungu.

We're there bright and early this morning and no one is there except the keepers. The tailor is nowhere to be seen but my suit is neatly folded on the table awaiting my arrival. Whatever the case, he finished my suit before going to bed.

I try it on and it fits, well, perfectly - I guess. To be honest, I don't know how a Kitengi is supposed to fit. It's a bit loose and comfortable like a proper Barong Tagalog or Guyabera and the matching pants are slightly baggy and Eric tells me it looks good and proper.

I'll be ready for Kwanzaa or any African themed celebration with a proper Kitengi custom made for me in Kigali, Rwanda.