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Home sweet home at the airport

Updated: 2015-01-30 10:39
By Hou Liqiang in Nairobi (China Daily Africa)

A Chinese engineering manager has thrown himself into building Jomo Kenyatta International into one of the continent's premier facilities

You might say Mu Yunqing, 31, is a dedicated worker. He has devoted more than an eighth of his life to expanding, repairing and living at Kenya's main airport - the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport - in Nairobi, the capital.

Mu, deputy general manager of China National Aero-Technology International Engineering Corporation, has made the airport area his home since July 2010.

 Home sweet home at the airport

Mu Yunqing stands in front of the new development site of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. Hou Liqiang / China Daily

In that time, he helped erect Terminal 4 and its parking garage, parking lot and other auxiliary projects. He also worked around the clock to help battle a devastating fire that ripped through the airport's old terminal in 2013 and quickly convert a parking garage into a temporary terminal and offices for airport operations.

He has also moved his wife and child to the housing camp where the company's staff lives, and he expects he will live there for at least five more years.

The most dramatic part of his new life started on Aug 7, 2013, when a fire broke out in the airport's main terminal as Mu and his colleagues were working on a parking apron project.

"The fire started at around 5 am, and then began to spread to other parts of the building at around 6 am. Once we were aware of the fire, about 10 of my colleagues and I headed to the spot with our water tanker truck," Mu recalls.

There wasn't enough water to put out the fire, so they and other workers and firefighters worked with no rest and no lunch until the afternoon. It took six hours just to contain the fire, and once it was extinguished, it was clear much of the terminal had been destroyed or severely damaged.

On the next day, Mu and his colleagues immediately started to convert the parking garage they built into a temporary terminal.

"It's a job that was quite urgent at that time because the blaze had destroyed the terminal, leaving the airport in chaos. We had to work 24 hours a day to finish it as soon as possible," says Mu.

"Though Chinese mainly work as executives, all of them devoted themselves to the project. I cannot remember how many of my colleagues took part in the work. It was as urgent as a fight against a flood. I only know that all those available were there," Mu recalled.

It took Mu and his colleagues only three weeks to get the temporary facility finished. The first floor of the parking garage became an international arrival terminal and the second floor an office area for the airport staff.

The terminal reconstruction cost about $1 million. Mu says they did the reconstruction for free. As a company working in Kenya, they needed to assume their social responsibility in the country, he says.

Home sweet home at the airport

Mu says he often has had to work overtime in the past five years because they are shorthanded. At times, he and his colleague even work until 1 am, he says.

Except for business trips, Mu returned to China to visit his family only three times. He got back to China only three days before his son was born in 2014 and had to leave after a week.

They won the bidding to build Terminal 4 and its parking garage, parking lot and other auxiliary projects in August 2010 for $50 million. Then they and Anhui Construction Engineering Group placed a successful bid for engineering, procurement and construction on the first stage of construction of the airport's new development site at $654 million.

Mu says ground was broken officially on the airport's new development site at the end of 2013, the construction might begin in February, keeping him at the airport for about another five years.

Mu and his wife finally decided she would move with their child to their camp near the airport as well. "Before, I felt very lonely especially during Spring Festival," he notes of the time following Chinese New Year that is a traditional time for family reunions. "I missed my family very much and was very sad.

"This is a huge project and I am under a lot of pressure. It will be even harder to spare time to go back to China. But I think it's not good to live apart from my family for a long time. So I chose to move my wife and child here," he says.

Mu says his destiny probably will remain tied to Nairobi's airport for some time.

"After we finish the first-stage construction, we may bid for the second-stage construction of the airport's new development site. If we win it, that would be another five years for me to stay," says Mu.


(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/30/2015 page7)

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