Tourists' anxious wait for the escape from Nairobi
Saturday 17 May 2003
The lobbies of Nairobi's luxury hotels were filled with impatient tourists and their packed suitcases yesterday. Most were saying they were eager to find a flight out of Kenya as soon as possible.
Clarence Wimbs, an American tourist from Pennsylvania, told of his relief. "I was meant to travel on BA today, but we got this notice of a possible terrorist attack," he said, climbing into a minibus outside the Hilton Hotel after breakfast.
"We managed to change our tickets and leave in a few hours with Kenya Airways. I am concerned but not afraid. If you become afraid you're dealing right in the terrorists' hands," he added.
His friend, Jim, recalled the great moments they had had over the past 14 days in Kenya. "We visited the game parks, the Masai Mara, Samburu. We also went down to the coast," he said. "But since Thursday night my only concern was to get out of Kenya as quickly as possible."
Nevertheless, as most tourists who visit Kenya book their holidays through organised tour operators, there was no sign of panic at international airlines' offices in Nairobi. Only a few people were trying to change their BA tickets.
Flight BA064 just managed to slip under the net before the 10pm deadline set by the Government on Thursday when it ordered the suspension of all British services to and from the African country because of an "imminent" terrorist threat.
Olive Wood, 73, from Caterham, Surrey, said on arrival at Heathrow yesteday: "We just checked in and we weren't told anything. I would rather not have known that there were terrorist threats. I cannot see the point. There's no point in getting stressed about it."
Some bemused, others philosophical, its 228 passengers touched down soon after dawn while an estimated 1,200 other travellers were left stranded in Kenya.
David Waidaka, a Kenyan, had no worries before boarding. "I don't feel threatened," he said. "When a threat is issued, as the Kenyan government just did, there are counter-measures put in place. This might be the last BA flight to England for a long time. Maybe I'll make history."
Despite the starkness of the warning, many of those who disembarked yesterday appeared unperturbed, even inured to the threat. "Since 9/11, terrorism is a threat that we have all come to live with and, sadly, it's the way of the world these days," said Graeme Patterson, a 45-year-old conservationist living in New York.
Sue Harrison, 58, from London, who was returning from a business trip, said: "It's life these days. We have to be philosophical otherwise we would not travel anywhere and then we would just be giving in to the terrorists."
Another Kenyan, Bishop Karanja, accompanied by his wife, was even defiant. "I am not worried. I am a Christian. I would advise British Airways to continue flying and even add more flights. I think they are giving in to terrorism. The terrorists should know they can't stop everybody. So please tell them not to stop any flights."
Many tourists in Nairobi were trying to make contingency plans. Clarisse Shaffler, an elderly American from Oregon, sitting in a leather armchair in the Stanley Hotel, said she had been stranded before while travelling with BA. "It's the fourth time it's happened to my husband and I."
Mr Shaffler said: "They are moving us out of Nairobi, to Tanzania. They must think there is danger here. It's part of life, part of the experience. We had a lot of it. We're ready for more."
The British high commission in Nairobi sent an e-mail warning to resident British citizens. It said: "We believe there is a very real risk of further terrorist attacks in Kenya in the near future ...Our advice to the British community is that every individual must decide for themselves to what extent they change their lifestyle in response to this threat ... But I would urge you to think carefully about the sensible and relatively easy precautions it is possible to take that would reduce the risk."
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