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Of touching kindness from strangers and our complicated relationship with public holidays

Peter Kimani


 Azimio leader Raila Odinga speaks when he hosted Muslim leaders for Iftar at Crowne plaza in Nairobi. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

I understand today is a public holiday - properly declared, complete with the backing of a gazette notice - but the Muslim faithful will not observe it until there is a sighting of the moon marking the end of Ramadhan. They say the government is meddling in matters of their faith.

Ramadhan, incidentally, is the milestone that Raila Odinga, aka Baba, has been waiting so that he can announce a resumption of his Maandamano, the anti-government rallies that essentially turn workdays into forced public holidays.

We enjoy so many public holidays these days; there was one on Monday at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, when a cargo plane stalled on the runway -  precipitating a virtual shutdown of the airport for 7 hours.

That’s because, despite all the hullabaloo about airport expansion, we have not built a new runway for 40 years.

So, when I arrived at the airport on Tuesday, I half-expected to find a littered runway from the Monday chaos. But I had more immediate chaos to deal with: I had checked in online and had a seat assigned, but I couldn’t print a boarding pass because, the computer-generated notification from Precision Air declared, I needed to pick one at the airport. The same portal said I did not need any further documents to verify my identity.

The taxi driver arrives late and takes even longer at the fuel station; it appears he is servicing his car as I wait. There’s an oil leak, he says. He drives like crazy afterwards and we arrive faster than anticipated.

But the Precision desk is closed; they have left to board passengers. This precipitates frantic calls by a Kenya Airways staff member and a rehash of my details: I have checked in online, I have a seat assigned, but I have no boarding pass. No, I have no luggage to check in…

Another Precision passenger is writhing on the floor, wailing that she has missed the flight. I feel like joining her in the protest, but a boarding pass is miraculously written by hand and the kind staffer escorts me to immigration desk.

A kinder passenger allows me to go first; the kindness from strangers is touching...

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