Things you learn as you avoid small talk

Revelation left me secretly swelling with pride, but also a little confused

In Summary

• It was strange to hear a South African waxing lyrical about the airport in Nairobi

Alexander Kasiu with his wife Faith Kioko and son Raul Casatro and baby Rheon Amani arrive at JKIA
Alexander Kasiu with his wife Faith Kioko and son Raul Casatro and baby Rheon Amani arrive at JKIA
Image: Douglas Okiddy

It’s probably a terrible thing to say, but I have no desire to make new friends.

That said, the way Karma works, I will have to eat my words before too long, so perhaps I should add 'for now', just in case.

Over the half century I have been on this planet, I have made and lost many friends. Some I miss and others, I can barely remember. 


Of course the advent of Facebook and before that, a social networking site called Friends Reunited (does anyone remember that excitement?), reconnected me with some of the friends I thought I had lost.

I was thinking about this during my recent interprovincial flight, when I arrived at the public departure lounge. I found that pandemic safety precautions meant that for every four seats in a row, the two middle ones were blocked off.

This made idle chit chat between strangers awkward, if not downright impossible, and that suited me right down to the ground.

The flight was full and so the physical distancing was not going to work in my favour. However, I was armed with a book, my earphones and a couple of downloaded films on my cellphone. Finally, all those younger people who always seem to have headphones on or earphones in make sense.

I didn’t need to use all my ammunition in the end. It turned out the woman in the next seat was not interested in talking either, except to ask me in a loud whisper whether the booze from the drinks service was part of the airfare.

For the rest of the flight, we just kept to ourselves and enjoyed a comfortable silence, allowing me to catch up with Barbara Streisand and Omar Sharif.

On my return trip a couple of days later, I rediscovered the exception to my “no small talk with strangers” rule. 


I am allowed to break my own directive when there is alcohol or tobacco involved. 

In Johannesburg, they had just reopened the departure lounge with the free buffet, bar and smoking area, and as I had an hour to kill before boarding, I stepped inside to indulge in some preflight day drinking.

Smokers and drinkers tend to get chatty with each other, probably because we are a dying breed, especially smokers (pun fully intended). 

Sure enough, I walked into the smoking area, and though I studiously tried to avoid making eye contact with the other two chaps in there, they soon had my attention, with one of them waxing lyrical about the airport in Nairobi.

They had no way of knowing I was Kenyan, but I couldn’t help myself asking if they meant JKIA? It turned out he did and he thought it was a wonderful airport. I couldn’t help thinking he had flown to a JKIA in a parallel universe from the one I know.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who will rush to put down things just because they are Kenyan.

However, here we were at the multiple award-winning OR Tambo International, and both heading to Cape Town International. 

These two airports have between them won the World Travel Awards gong for the best African airport every year since at least 1998. Ten times for Cape Town and 12 for ORTIA. The closest JKIA, Cairo, Casablanca and Kigali came was a nomination. 

The guy is a frequent flyer for work reasons and eventually clarified he was especially interested in the passenger lounges, and it would appear Kenya Airways wins hands down for their lounge at JKIA.

Secretly swelling with pride, but also a little confused, I went back to my drink and eventually boarded the plane to find I had an empty seat next to me for the flight back.

What Joy.  Peace and quiet and time to ruminate on JKIA’s alleged greatness.

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