We had to be in Korr in time to catch the MAF flight to Marsabit that would take us on to Nairobi. MAF stands for Mission Aviation Fellowship, but I prefer to call it Missionary Air Force. MAF provides a critical means of transport to remote areas for those who work for humanitarian organizations. I also had to be back in Nairobi to meet 21 safari travelers who would be arriving that evening.
While we were driving to Korr we met Ntoi’joni Ng’osoni of Ongeli village, a strong, tall woman who works tirelessly to keep all of her children in school. I was so pleased to run into her and hear about her children. I told her we’d be back to visit her later in the month, when I return to Korr with Kura.
The sun was bright and strong and Gumps glided over the desert sand track. Omar was in the back, as usual. “How are we this morning, Omar?” I called out. “Everything is ‘tick’, Mama Rungu!” Omar replied. Tick means check, a ok.
In Korr we waited at Amina’s place, under the covered dining area where she served us tea. Before I left Ngurunit, Amina Rage had given me a bag of mandazi — delicious fried dough. We sipped tea and popped the delicious morsels into our mouths. A stream of visitors started arriving after hearing that we were in town. It was fun visiting with friends that we knew as well as the residents of Korr who were curious to see us.
We only had to wait an hour before we heard the MAF plane buzz the airstrip. “Let’s go!” shouted Kura, and we all piled into Gumps. Kura floored it through town, spewing a small cloud of dust. Then it was all a blur — bags loaded, quick goodbyes and a check with the pilot to make sure we were on the passenger manifest. “You are not on the list of passengers,” the pilot told me. I told him we must be, and that I had in my laptop a confirmation of the purchased flight. “I’ll take you to Marsabit,” he told us, “but if all the passengers show up, we will have to leave you there.”
This could not be happening. I was fuming. It did not help that an annoying representative of the organization, who had appointed herself resident authority of MAF and northern Kenya residents, decided to interview us. I tried to explain the circumstances that might have led to our cancellation (we had cancelled our original flight to Korr but not the return), but after the third attempt I gave up. It was inconceivable to this woman that MAF could have made a mistake. No question in her mind: We were utterly at fault – I almost got the impression that she thought we deserved to be in these circumstances.
Once on the ground in Marsabit, our bags were taken off the plane. The pilot checked the passenger manifest and all passengers were present. We would not be on the flight. I offered to pay any passenger who would be willing to give us their spot on the plane. I did not want to advertise the amount of money I was willing to pay in the presence of so many onlookers, but it didn’t matter – not one passenger was tempted. They all were going to make this flight to Nairobi.
The MAF representative, in the meantime, had called MAF headquarters and handed me her phone. I had one minute to explain our circumstances to Hodgson at the MAF office, as her phone would soon be out of airtime. I quickly gave Hodgson my phone number and he told me that he would try and schedule a charter flight to pick us up, but we had just minutes to confirm that we would pay the $1,600 by credit card upon our arrival in Nairobi. I had no choice, I told him.
The plane departed and the representative left in another vehicle, leaving Sarah and I, two white women with luggage and money and cameras, on the side of the runway. We were vulnerable and alone at the Marsabit airstrip on the wrong side of town.
Hodgson called back to say that they would not be able to schedule a charter. I watched as two men started walking toward us on the now-deserted airstrip.