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Times Photographer Waiting To Discover His Fate-Brevard NC


Last updated 5/4/2020 at 4:54pm

Park Baker

The clouds in Kenya aren't really that different, but for some reason they seem more grand.

Editor's Note: Park Baker, The Transylvania Times' staff photographer, has been stranded in Kenya with his girlfriend, who lives in the country. The following is the latest on his situation.

Circumstances haven't changed much since last I wrote, all international flights are still grounded in Kenya, and it has now been extended to May 6. It will probably be extended again, so I am prepared, I think, to wait it out.

Different embassies have been announcing flights to get their people home if they are here. The Japanese embassy had a flight out of Nairobi last week, so did Germany and Australia. But these flights are one-way to places like Togo, Ethiopia, London or Frankfurt and cost thousands of dollars. From there you have to figure your own way back to the U.S., prove you aren't sick and already have an onward ticket. The U.S. embassy announced a flight out of Nairobi two weeks ago, but for $4,500, and it went straight to JFK airport in New York. That seemed like the last place I would want to be.

I had hoped that with the recent decline in the value of crude oil ticket prices might drop as well, but I have learned that most airlines hedge on fuel so they don't lose money if fuel prices skyrocket. The same economics apply here as well though. So, like many others around the world, I wait.

My days are spent reading, writing, cooking, movie bingeing, doing yoga and getting to know my neighbors. One is a Kenyan Rastafarian who was once a popular rapper here and is married to an Indian woman who grew up in the UK. They just had a baby. The people at the other end of the gated compound are an older married couple. He is a white Canadian commercial photographer who has been freelance for about 40 years, and she is a Kenyan professor of botany. They have a beautiful garden and he has been taking really emotive photos all over the world since before I was alive, let alone an actual employed photographer. Many people here use slingshots and peanuts or other nuts to keep monkeys off their porches - my aim is quite good now.

There is a curfew here in Nairobi, 7 p.m. to 5 a.m., and there is also a city-wide travel restriction. Nobody is allowed to leave the city unless it is essential travel and no one is allowed to come in. This has cut down immensely on the traffic and comes with expected results. A photo of Mt. Kenya was circulating the internet last week, taken with a zoom lens from the top of one of the buildings downtown. Haters thought it had been photoshopped. Kenyans that have never even left Nairobi didn't believe it was real. While Mt. Kenya is about a five hour drive from the city, it is actually visible with no pollution.

Most vehicles I have seen here run on diesel, which is particularly dirty, and with a few million cars, buses and trucks off the road the air quality has improved dramatically in the short time I have been here. As always, that silver lining has a cost.

With less people able to get to work or having been laid off, there is more crime occurring. A friend of a friend was recently robbed by the "Kilimani Spiderman," a guy who scales walls, fences and balconies. People report having been robbed from the third and fourth floors of their apartment buildings.

Park Baker

A monkey skull.

We have rented a car, splitting the cost three ways with a neighbor, so trips to the grocery store are much easier. I have been taking some solo driving trips around the city just to get out of the house. The central business district of Nairobi is less busy of course, because many of the white collar Kenyans can work from home. But many, many people don't have that luxury. So it's still really busy. The population of metropolitan Nairobi is about 10 million people.

It is in stark contrast to the photos I am seeing of Western cities. Social distancing just isn't possible here.

That enhances my anxieties about the pandemic and the health care system here is not equipped.

Grim estimates about the death toll should the pandemic hit hard here are almost surreal and are heartbreaking. The status quo for so many people here is suffering – without a pandemic.


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