So I walked into a bar….
Surely, any tale that begins like this has to be good. As I was finishing my journey in East Africa I arrived back in Nairobi at the close of a very long day on the road, I walked into a bar and scanned the room for a seat. Hungry and dusty from a long days travel on a broken overlanding truck that at best would reach 30mph on a better moment and on the lesser moments left us standing on the side of the road left me in a state of mind where I simply wanted to sit down somewhere and order a meal, a safe meal, that would be served up with a good cold Krest Ginger. I had been on the road for the last 20 plus days it was time for a moment of civilization and electricity and a moment free of tear gas and armed soldiers.
As I scanned the room, over near the back wall, in the corner under heads of savannah animals, was one bar stool between three guys who were seated at the counter and two of them telling tales of their day in loud and boisterous voices. One more scan of the room and realizing that if I was going to have a hot meal the only option I had was to take the open bar stool at the counter with the three hearty guys. The bartender comes over and asks “nini ili?” Having heard this phrase throughout the East, nini ili becomes a common part of all language translations, in other words, “what do you want to eat?” It was simple. ” Kirfaransa and Ginger”. Translated: Give me the biggest plate of french fries and a cold ginger ale and leave me be.
While waiting for my fries to come up, two of the guys decided I would be the new conversation, so here begins the tale of Djibouti Bill. The first man greeted me and asked where might you be traveling too? He was a large man of German descent, fluent in English and well schooled, his question of course prompted the start of a conversation that would last for well over an hour of which would culminate in one of the most bizarre gathering of four strangers in a bar in an airport in East Africa that I would never have imagined could occur.
The German man spoke of moving to Uganda several years back and how he had met his family and best friend, to which he was traveling with. How their work was in philanthropy and there focus was on helping local villages for clean water and basic health needs. His buddy, also of European descent finally chimed in and the conversation just carried on.
Several ginger ales later it was time for us to wrap up our conversation and head our separate ways in the world, with the odds of never crossing paths again. As we waited for the bartender to write up our tab, the third man who had been sitting next to the wall gets up and walks over to me. He had been quietly sitting in the corner, minding his own business. Looking up occasionally with a look of interest in the conversation but would quickly go back to his meal. He paid his tab and as he left, he reached in his pocket and pulled out a 1000 djibouti bill and placed it on the counter in front of me. I looked at him and at what he had placed on the counter. In one breath he said, “I know you like to bring home currency from around the world, here is a bill from Djibouti.” As I looked back at the bill then turned around to speak, he had vanished in the crowd. Myself and the European guys just looked at each other in amazement and they asked who was he, “I could only say, “I don’t know, but he is right”.
I had traveled half way around the world to sit in a random bar in East Africa for a meal with three strangers at a bar counter. I walked away carrying a Djibouti bill from a man I had realized over time to be a person I had met one night near my town in the States at a training meeting. It was during a short stint in the US Civil Air Patrol and we spoke briefly about travel and seeing the world. Our encounter in the States was so brief, I never got his name. Then well over a year later, half way around the world in a dim lit and crowded bar in an East African airport, we met again, the encounter almost as brief as the first.
Travel is an amazing thing, it simply never ceases to amaze me to the encounters and the experiences we have. The people you meet along the way, the stories you come home with and the memories that last a lifetime. Every adventure has its moments that stand out, some more so than others, but I honestly believe this encounter half way around the world has to be one of the best I have ever experienced. Maybe one day, the planets will align again, and we will get the opportunity to meet again, but this time for a longer conversation. Until then, who Djibouti Bill is remains a mystery.