Saturday, August 26, 2017

A trip to the Embassy

In the past, this would not be a big deal, but being post-9/11 and especially here in Kenya—who knew?

My first exposure to the Canadian Embassy in Nairobi was on my initial trip to Nairobi in March 1982. At that time, I had been instructed by my younger brother Harry and Kate (his girlfriend later wife) to rendezvous with him at Comcraft House in downtown Nairobi after their safari.

Not such a big deal since this was one of the first things I usually did as a Canadian travelling abroad—signing in. This was done so that the Feds could keep track of which Canadian national was in a foreign country.

Nowadays, I have an app with my i-Phone which lets the Canadian gov't, through a security agency, International SOS, keep the Feds apprised of my every movement thanks to GPS. Nevertheless, a groovy, yet scary thought a la 1984.

Undaunted, I left my second home away from home —the Nairobi Youth Hostel, where I spent considerable time on four of my African sojourns during the 1980s. A place, I might add, that my African globetrotting younger brother and then girlfriend Kate, would never stay in—too lowbrow for them and not accommodating for couples.

Nevertheless, our supposed meeting at the embassy had been planned a few months earlier whilst I was still in the barren cold of Alberta and my brother in the wilds of northern Nigeria where he and his girlfriend were at a Teacher's College in Manchok.

To go to a Canadian Embassy back then just meant walking in to a small room, signing in, or walking to a small glass cubicle, much like a bank teller's station, to see an embassy representative if need be. There was no security or showing of passport that I can remember--it was a safer time.

Zoom to the present, 2017.

The smallish consulate at Comcraft House has long gone, no longer a stuffy, pokey office in a downtown high-rise. The Canadian Embassy, like its counterpart the US Embassy, is out in the boonies of Nairobi. Now, a coned off, long entrance, no parking, huge concrete walls with razor wire, a force of about 10 GPS security guards, 24/7 CCTV cameras, tire traps, an elaborate security alarm, and retractable heavy metal gates with cylinders that rise and fall upon entry.
Oddly enough, unlike the US Embassy, here there were no M-16 gun toting bearded Blackwater security guys roaming the perimeter.

Before you even get to the first security pillbox, a guard asks for ID and your purpose. Next, your passport is passed onto to another guard who visually scans your passport then radios to someone inside the embassy. There are two other GPS security dudes we have to confer with.

The OK is given then Gracie and I walk down an ivy lined walled outdoor corridor to another security gate where we are asked for our passport and or in Gracie's case—her Kenyan ID. The heavy metal gate is open then we go to another concrete security building where we are directed to the x-ray area one by one.

First, we have to show passport and then given an ID pass. We surrender any metal, step counter and cell phones, but are instructed to switch them off first before putting them in a locker and given a key for it. I was carrying my leather brief case with all my documents and passed it through the x-ray machine. Then I was asked to open my case and was told to also remove my chargers. Then was asked if I had anything else, so had to go through another part of my case to remove flash drives and my key fob--who knew? Guess you can't be too careful these days.

After all that, then you finally retrieve whatever went through the x-ray machine and enter into the huge driveway entrance to the embassy pass gleaming pictures of Trudeau the Younger and his new set of cronies--beats the hell out of the former Turneresque portrait

The expanse of the lobby of the new embassy is larger than the whole former embassy downtown. This and the waiting room is all open. Open to the elements to some degree which makes it like waiting in a fridge to see someone. No need for a/c here.

A receptionist is behind what I think is bullet proof glass and one of those sliding trays where you put your passport in for further perusal. She instructs us to wait your turn in the freezing open foyer or warmer waiting room cum library.

Back in 1982, I have pictures that took of my brother and of me inside the embassy--that would be verboten these days. During my sojourns through Africa I would check in at different Canadian embassies to sign in and to check out the latest news in the Globe and Mail and other papers or magazines that the embassies often have. Today in Nairobi, there were no Canadian newspapers and the latest magazine, Harper's (no relation to ex-PM Stephen) was a 2013 issue.

Fact of the matter is, it is tougher getting into this embassy than going through airport security before boarding a flight to either Canada or America these days—a bit over the top if you ask me, but Kenya is now the land where those shifty Al-Shabab can strike anytime.


  1. Replies
    1. It was even worse when I went with my kids as I forgot I had so much electronic stuff--plus a lot of notes and phone number are on my phones--I can never remember them