The concierge arranged a beautiful silver cab to pick me from the hotel and take me to Dulles. My cab driver was a black moustached and bronze skinned Afghani who has been living in the US for the last 32 years.
America is all he has, he explained to me as he spun the steering wheel around the broad curves of the Washington freeways, since this is where his children were born. He folded a stick of minty chewing gum into his mouth, as we crossed the Potomac river.
Patchy black and white copies of a taveez written in Arabic were tucked into the sun visor. And easy conversation flowed into a comfortable silence and we arrived at Dulles in good time – my Afghani friend proudly described it as one of the most beautiful airports in the country.
I checked in for my flight – note to travellers: local airlines give a new name to the matatu concept of flying by charging you for every bag you check in on a domestic flight ($25 per piece) and selling snacks on the flight – and a long five and a half hours later I arrived at LAX.
In true LA style – a city renowned for a transport system that is splitting at its seams and desperately needs an overhaul – our plane sat on the runway for half an hour before we were allocated a docking station. The announcement of renovations and traffic jams and delays began as soon as we stepped off the plane and repeated for the half hour or so that it took for our bags to arrive on the carousel. Eventually, it blurred into the white noise that characterised the airport: the sound of horns, whirr of wheels on bags, pressure release of brakes on buses and music from private cars.
I waited on the platform for a red shuttle bus to take me to the Best Western in China Town, and as I waited an old Indian man came and stood next to me. He asked if I was Pakistani, and when he heard I was Kenyan he placed a hand of blessing on my head. Tears came to his eyes as he told me how I reminded him of his daughter who lived in Parklands (a Nairobi suburb) and how he used to live in Thika (a satellite town outside the Nairobi CBD) before moving to LA.
I was ten hours ahead of life in Nairobi, alone in a strange country and separated from the three friends I had spent the last five days with. But Manubhai from Thika with his heartfelt gesture made home feel both less and more far away at the same time.
The shuttle ride into Chinatown was fast, and I checked into the hotel shortly after 11pm. Master Chef was the only restaurant in the area open and in typical American style, my first meal in LA was greasy Chinese food at midnight and a fortune cookie that read: “A cheerful message is on its way to you”.