I haven’t been on an aeroplane since I was nine years old.
No actually, I have. I spent about twenty minutes on a Cessna between Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam about a year ago.
But other than that domestic flight to Kisum’ City [but do I say!] I haven’t been off the ground except to jump.
So I was fairly excited about my first international flight. To Dar.
Being a writer, I figured an airport would be the perfect place for me. Duty free shopping, lots of accents, and all those strange people to watch. I was sure I’d find fodder for a script, or at least meet some guy who looks like Tom Hanks.
Instead I was claustrophobic and cold, and I realised that ‘duty-free’ Baileys costs less at Mwalimu Wine Agencies in town. It’s offical: I hate airports.
I had planned to get to the airport by Citi Hoppa, but I arrived at Ambassadeur just as the ‘last’ one was leaving town. I haggled with a cab driver who claimed there were no more buses until morning. He wanted to charge me 1,200, but I could only M-Pesa a thousand, so he settled for that. Thank heavens for little brothers.
The drive to the airport was uneasy because I didn’t actually have the thousand with me, and I kept wondering what would happen if my phone battery suddenly died. The cab driver had insisted we begin the journey, as he was sure the money would arrive enroute. Of course, that didn’t stop him from passing by Shell for fuel and insisting that I pay for it. *Groan*
We got to the airport and parked right behind a Double M. So much for no buses. Though in all fairness, it must have left town like an hour before we did. We didn’t find any jam.
I got to the airport and discovered the first rule of packing: keep your laptop separate. I’m not one for luggage, so I’d stuffed everything into my rucksack. Which is fine, except that every time I got to a security gate, I had to open my rucksack, remove my computer, pass it through x-ray, get to the other side and repack my bag. Kindly note that my bag was not well packed to begin with.
I had an electronic ticket, so I went to the pretty ladies in red, and went through the usual drama of explaining my name change. Long story. Happens at every immigration counter. Not fun.
I should point out that I’d almost left my passport at home [and had accidentally carried my daughter’s instead – had to get off the mat and go back home and get mine; truly embarrassing]. I had actually been warned not to carry it. After all, it’s East Africa Community; the border is open.
Note to East Africans: The border is NOT open.
I got to the duty-free area with several hours to spare, and idly walked up and down checking prices. There wasn’t much seating space, so people were splayed on the corridors and floors. The smart ones had carried iPods and books and things. One group of teenagers was seated in a big circle playing card games. They’d clearly planned ahead.
Once I was done roaming the 12 gates, I sat in a corner and looked for a socket. My beloved Sasha Black has no batteries. Really. She has a big empty space in her rump that’s marked with yellow neon.
I found one socket, but the seat in front of it was occupied, and I didn’t want to negotiate. So I plugged in to X-Fm and sat quietly with my Rock music.
In a movie, some gorgeous boy would have walked up to talk to me. But in real life airports, people seem to mind their own business. I noticed a pair of really pretty girls and focused on them for a while, trying to figure out where they were from. One was reading a book of Baganda phrases, but they later boarded a plane to Lilongwe.
I also noticed this Asian girl in killer heels and a litty bitty dress who walked so gracefully you’d think she was in flats. I have got to learn to walk like that.
After waiting two hours in one waiting room, we were waved into a second waiting room with less comfortable chairs. There were more people to watch here, especially the two mothers with their two pretty babies, the sulky teenager that kept staring at the stars then crying and being forced to hug her mother, the lost-looking blonde guy who plugged in his earphones and almost missed his plane, the chubby pretty teenagers that looked just like their mum, the gypsy-looking lady with her bohemian earrings and gorgeous red top, and the cute guy in glasses that I’d have talked to if this had been a movie.
I noticed this one guy who had such swag. You can’t help noticing a man like that. It didn’t matter that he was barely fifty-five inches tall, he had confidence and pride that would put a star to shame. I thought he was a pilot, or maybe cabin crew. Turns out he’s the conductor on the airport shuttle thingie.
But ai, the dude had swag. Mm-mm!
There was a gang of other guys too. I don’t know who they were, but they had black suits and striped ties, some red, some orange. None of them was wearing a blazer, and there were no girls with them. I thought they might be rugby players, or heavily bearded school boys – they certainly looked fratty.
I noticed them because all twenty had the same confident attitude. They weren’t rowdy or unruly, just present bordering on arrogance, and so hot. I’d sure like to find out who they were.
When we finally got on the plane, it started moving backward. Call me Gashede, but I’ve never known a plane to move in reverse. This one did, Twice. It’s a Tanzanian plane.
To distract us from the wrong direction, the cabin crew stood up and demonstrated how to use the safety gear. Now this part was funny. They stood in the aisle and made all these hand gestures like the signal people on a carrier ship, arms all waving and neon floater jackets, it was hilarious! Especially because two of them were super hot females with make up and little skirts. You don’t see this in the movies.
After a while, they started serving food. It was fun to feel TZ ubrazza again, and the male steward was delightfully cheeky. I settled for a pie, some cake, and a bottle of Merlot. Bad idea.
First, I am not a seasoned drinker. Actually, I am not a drinker, period. I have been known to get high on the smell of Redds. So 200 ml of Merlot was a bad, baaaad idea. I ended up so drunk that I was staggering … while seated! And no, it does not wear off during a one hour flight.
Luckily, the plane didn’t land until midnight, so I snuck safely into bed and slept it off. But not before unpacking and repacking my laptop at customs, and standing at the desk so long that I thought I would fall over. Open border my ***.
The trip back was more eventful. First, voila, le airport.
Looks pretty, doesn’t it? Well, it looks nothing like that at 2.00 a.m. It’s cold and wet and lonely, the forex bureau isn’t open, there’s no staff in sight, and all you hear is bells and sad airport music. Le sigh.
At 3.00 they finally let us in, and the immigration guy, in true immigration fashion, walks away with my passport without explaining why. Apparently, he couldn’t read the expiry date … and the renewal date right above it. *russumfussum*
I then had to go through the unpack-repack saga, except on this side, they made me take off my shoes and my glass bangles. How now?
Then I get to the KQ desk and some pretty TZian steward – male – again takes my passport without saying why. Do these people not know that one gets very nervous when one’s passport is taken away?
Apparently, he wanted me to pack up my bookbag in polythene because it had perfumes in it. At an additional cost of Tsh 7500. *russumfussum*
Enter the immigration lady, who insisted I sign an ENTRY form, even though I was LEAVING the country. Why? Because the exit forms were all out. *russumfussum* Honestly you’d think … ! I stood there so long I was worried that my face might be on a Wanted Ad or something.
Two more sessions of unpack-repack and not a forex in sight, before I finally got to the gateway … where they stole my hairspray. It is no longer legal to carry more than 100ml of liquid in your rucksack. WTF? I mean, she couldn’t have picked my cheap perfume or my Limara. Nooooo, she had to select my 600bob hairspray that I had used once! Silly woman!
There should be a special corner of Hell for child molesters and immigration agents.
On the flight back I was amused by the dancing safety demo, and I stayed well away from the wine rack. We had teeny little croissants and black tea, with butter and apricot jam. Not too bad.
Our side of the border was ok. I managed to get lost in the airport while finding a forex bureau. Only I can get lost in my own country’s airport.
Note to self: the airport has lousy exchange rates.
I stood at immigration for quite a while as the lady harassed some Japanese tourists via their interpreter, a short, savvy guy with an arra-erro accent. He fit right in.
An Asian lady and her child looked lost too, but a local girl showed them where to go, so I hope they got out ok.
I finally got to baggage, praying that my stuff wasn’t lost. I had a lot of books in there. And chocolate. I followed the crowd to the exit where a guy tried to charge me 1800 for a cab. I opted for a Citi Hoppa, spent two hours in traffic, and when I got home, all I could do was sleep.
The moral of the story, ladies and gents, is always carry playing cards to the airport. Radio-phones lose signals and can run out of batteries.
I still can’t believe they took my hair spray!
♫ I’m going home ♫ Da-da-da♫
No, it’s not a song.