Kenya--January 12, 2010

So getting in and out of Nairobi was pretty difficult (see below)- but while we were there we had a very pleasant stay. Unfortunately our first moments in Nairobi were spent at the dentist.

Meg had cracked a tooth on day 3 of our Kilimanjaro climb and had a disturbingly memorable trip to the dentist in Moshi, Tanzania, after our return (if you ever need a dentist in Africa, don’t go to Moshi or, perhaps better put, if you ever think you might need a dentist, stay far away from Moshi.)  After recovering from the experience, we decided that perhaps it was better to leave the country for dental care and did extensive research into dentists in Nairobi and found a great one (at least judging by the durability of the work so far- Meg reserves the right to amend this posting if there are problems before we return to the US)

We stayed with Susannah Friedman, a friend of Jed’s from high school. As always we were reminded how great it is to stay with friends. Perhaps this contributed to our positive experience in Nairobi. While everything we had read and heard made Nairobi sound terrible and dangerous, with the exception of the traffic in the suburbs, we found it to be a relatively nice, safe, clean, and prosperous place.  Our visits to the National Museum (filled with information on every animal or bird you might ever possibly see on safari,) the baby elephant orphanage, and the giraffe center were a great complement to our time on safari in Tanzania.

The highlight of Meg’s stay there was spending the day with Pathfinder International, an NGO that does international work in reproductive health and HIV treatment and prevention.  After meeting with several of the staff to learn more about the organization, she went with three team members to St Francis Hospital to visit the different aspects of the program that works to prevent, identify, and treat HIV.  She also heard testimony from several patients about how much their lives had improved with appropriate treatment, follow up, and community involvement. The patients themselves specifically attributed their improved health to the work of Pathfinder and USAID (which, as part of our ongoing theoretical debate on this topic, certainly puts foreign aid in a positive light).

If only our departure from Nairobi had be as lovely as our stay… Thanks to Ethiopian Airlines, we got to spend 16 hours in the Nairobi airport. The letter below to their customer service staff summarizes our experience:

January 12, 2010

Nairobi, Kenya

Dear Ethiopian Airlines Customer Service-

 It is 5:30am and I’m sitting in the Nairobi, Kenya airport at the Ethiopian Airlines desk. At the moment I should be on an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa. However, when I showed up at the airport several hours ago to check-in for my flight, the agent told me that my internet booking was not actually complete. Despite the fact that I had booked my ticket online, received a confirmation number, and checked the Ethiopian Airlines website twice to confirm my ticket, apparently there is a glitch on the website that makes it look like a ticket has been booked but the ticket has not actually been booked (a rather big glitch, I’d say). 

The manager here was kind enough to explain this glitch to me just before he informed me that he couldn’t issue me a ticket and that I could not get on the flight I had booked. He is an idiot and very unhelpful. His name is O.M. Kiolkol. He spent an hour telling me all the reasons that he couldn’t help me including:

-       why he couldn’t just issue me a ticket now (he couldn’t process payment)

-       why he couldn’t process a payment now (as best as I can tell he doesn’t know how- perhaps a good topic for a future staff training)

-       why he couldn’t contact someone else to process a payment now (apparently the only place to do this in the Nairobi City Center office, which doesn’t open until 9am)

-       why he couldn’t call the Ethiopian Airways central reservations line (unclear exactly why this couldn’t be done though it seemed that he couldn’t make an international call)

-       why even if he were to call the central reservations line, no one would be able to help us (unclear why this is the case but he refused to even pick up the phone)

-       why our best option was to take a taxi back into the Nairobi City Center, go to the ticket office when it opened at 9am, try to complete our reservation there, take another taxi back to the airport, and get on the 6pm (in 12 hours!) flight

 So in sum, Mr. Kiolkol was less than helpful as his best option was for us to sit outside his office for 4 hours to wait for the next manager to arrive at 9am so that she could deal with our problem. In fact, as I’m writing he has just locked the office and left to go home

In my many years of airline travel, this is the most outrageous example of disastrous customer service (and sheer idiocy) that I have ever experienced. For an airline that is “Africa’s World Class Airline” and promises passengers that they will “Travel the World in Style” this is the least classy and stylish experience of my traveling life. 

Usually, I end letters such as these by asking for some sort of consideration from the airline- a refund, extra frequent flier miles, a free ticket, etc. But in this case, I don’t even know what to request. All I can think of is that I would like to avoid flying with you or seeing Mr. Kiolkol ever again. In sum, you suck. 

In anger,

Jed Herrmann

PS To add insult to injury, a mosquito keeps biting me as I’m sitting outside your office writing this. I’ve probably got malaria now; I’ll send you the doctor’s bill for that… 

(Editor’s note: Names in the above letter have been changed to protect the guilty. Also, we didn’t actually send this letter though Jed wanted to, especially after we arrived in Mumbai to discover our luggage had been left in Addis Ababa and it took them two days to deliver it to us.) 


Amina said...

What a fantastic and admirable way to spend your honeymoon. I am currently working for Pathfinder International in the Communications department and I am delighted to hear you visited a Pathfinder International project site. I would love to be able post some of your comments on our Field Journal if that is ok with you. If you are interested in visiting additional Pathfinder project sites on your trip around the world, Pathfinder also works in India and Bangladesh. If you’re interested in learning about other Pathfinder International project sites, you can visit our website at Also you may be interested to know that Pathfinder International recently launched a new microsite dedicated to the importance of quality reproductive healthcare throughout all stages of a woman’s life. You can visit by going to

Christopher said...

Sounds like you guys are having a blast, even despite the dental challenges. DCA has been interesting (to say the very least) since your departure and I must say you are missed. I am enjoyed living vicariously through your adventures until I can break away from our projects. All the best! Chris