UC Irvine Professor Endures Racist Travel Nightmare

Before this weekend’s New York City blizzard, there was last weekend’s London, England snow storm, which turned into a whiteout of a whole different sort for author and distinguished 72-year-old UC Irvine professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o (pictured).

Returning to LA via London on December 18th from the Kwani Literary Festival in Nairobi, Kenya, Thiong’o was diverted to Lyon, France. While the rest of the Virgin Atlantic flight passengers were shuttled off to a complimentary hotel, Thiong’o writes that he and all other Kenyan passport holders were escorted by armed guard to an airport building, where they were locked in.

We were each given tiny low red plastic bedlets with aluminium foils for blankets. The cement floor was cold and dreary. It was a winter night after all. The French authorities would not even make an exception for Imani, a one-year-old, who had to share the cement floor with her parents, Brenda and Colin…

Ironically, it was Imani, with her smile and energy, who kept our spirits alive. She never once cried through the night and she shone her smile on all.

The professor’s five-day tale of woe encompasses a threatening London Virgin official, an asthma attack and the missing of his wife’s December 21st surgery in California. In the end, he was rescued by his UC Irvine research assistant Barbara Caldwell, who made alternate travel arrangements from LA.