On Tuesday, I boarded a KQ flight to Kampala for a two-day conference on peace and leadership. As usual, travelling gives me an opportunity to see things as an outsider.
I developed a spirit of optimism as I approached the security gates and met Kenya Airways staff. After what I went through, I have to give the devil his due.
I have often seen and heard very negative reports about the experiences at the hands of KQ and JKIA staff. And not for nothing. There are people who have been given the most shabby treatment once or twice. From no communication about delayed flights, and when passengers inquire, they get rude responses; to stolen or missing luggage.
Obviously, at times I have felt that some of that is underserved. On Tuesday, I experienced something truly different, something quite remarkable. The meticulous attention to my needs was superb.
I met the most hospitable of people on the national carrier.
I could see that the management of Kenya Airports Authority is listening to its customers and the staff were attuned to the new expectations.
The most interesting experience was when a cleaner asked me what I felt about the ablutions. Of course, the toilet was spotlessly clean.
As a young boy, my mother advised me that one of the parameters for choosing a bride is to peep inside their toilet.
“Dirty toilets are a sign of laziness,” she would tell me. I now understand the wisdom of that advice. And true to its nature, our flight had delayed yet again.
But then, rather than leave us to stare at the rolling screens giving updates on the flights, Kenya Airways staff gave us regular updates on the status of our flight.
Previously, life went on for them even as passengers agonised. When our flight came half an hour later, it was great relief for the passengers. And the anger wasn’t as loud as before.
I haven’t been to Uganda, but arriving at the Entebbe International Airport on the other side, made me feel as though I had arrived at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. The airport was underwhelming. I puffed with great pride at what I had left back at JKIA even if it looked as though I was in awe of the shortest of dwarfs.
Despite all the hullabaloo about the economy facing challenges, compared to the neighbouring countries, Kenya by far still is an economic power house. We were whisked into our hotel before I could sample what Uganda had to offer.
There are no traffic jams in Kampala. At least not like those we see in Nairobi. I had so much on my hands and took time to stroll around the city. Ugandans are humble to a fault.
While greeting men, I noticed women going on their knees. Those not used to this spectacle can’t stop staring.
The feminist bandwagon are likely to shout hoarse about backward culture where the woman has been subjugated.
I see it differently. I see it as a symbol of humility. And it runs through the society in Uganda. Haughtiness is frowned on. The people, including the leaders like to be nice and charming.
Look at the language our leaders use when they are talking about each other, what we get are mostly insults and vulgar language. Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala has been roundly condemned for not using moderated language while responding to critics; asking him to take responsibility over the death of 10 rhinos at Tsavo East National Park.
On the downside, I missed feeling like an East African. In Entebbe, regional integration has a long way to go. The requirement for Kenyans to have a yellow fever certificate showed that we are not yet really bonded. It cost me $40 to purchase a yellow fever card.
It is mandatory for one to take yellow fever certificate at least 10 days before travelling. For uninformed passengers, paying unbudgeted Sh4,500 or risking deportation is not cheap.
This looked more like charging for an entry visa. Anyway, that is of course a small inconvenience compared to the good and warm reception by the people of Uganda.
Of course, Uganda has many good things. In all the streets of Kampala, vegetables and staple foods are sold in the open market. There is sufficient and affordable food for sale on the stalls everywhere you turned. Could that be the reason most Ugandans appear rotund? I don’t know.
But while I am here, I will enjoy the nice fresh food and soak up the humility of the Ugandan people. It is worth my visit.
Mr Guleid is a governance consultant and the chairman, FCDC Secretariat; [email protected]