Monday, March 12, 2007

Limbo

Is there anything on Earth that more closely resembles Purgatory than the terminals of international airports? Particularly African international airports? The fluorescent lights and stale recycled air; the bleary eyes and two - day old stubble of other marooned passengers; the endless cups of bad coffee / local beer in a vain search for a stimulant; the aimless rambling through cookie - cutter shops?

A contemporary interpretation of Dante's Purgatorio could quite easily be set in the Nairobi international airport. The slothful would be purged by running endlessly between departure gates as their gates got constantly rescheduled; the gluttonous would be consigned to a ceaseless supply of airline food; the wrathful would be reformed through an endless wait for a connecting flight.

While on the subject, I decided to let this hitherto unpublished post see the light of day.

Sunday, 6th November.

I am now officially ensconced in Hell. Which is to say, I am in a cyber-cafe in the Jomo
Kenyat(t)a International Airport on a day when the powers-that-be considered it judicious and desirable to set the thermostat at a toasty 43 degrees celsius. Suffering this heat after Lusaka has just turned 'cloud to cloud', in the words of the inimitable ZNBC weathermen, makes me bitter, oh so bitter. Lusaka has been unseasonably warm for the last few months, and the highs are now between 5 and 6 degrees higher than they were a few years ago. The unbroken warm weather over the last few weeks also means that I have now lived through an eight - month long summer. And after that long, long, dry summer, the rains finally broke in Lusaka last night, on the eve of my departure. Meaningless, of course, because instead of sitting in our courtyard with a steaming cuppa, I am seated in an over-heated, under-staffed internet cafe in the middle of Kenya, despondent that the warm weather seems determined to adhere so lovingly to me and never let me go.

What I should do is wander over to the Kenya Airways transfer desk and make enquiries about my connecting flight. However, I'm not sure where the KA transfer gate is, exactly. I only know that it is up a flight of stairs, and I have no desire to lug my forty-kilos-or-so of hand baggage up forty stairs, so I'm wandering around the lower levels of this particular Inferno, waiting for an announcement about my departure gate.

Once the departure gate is announced, I drag my weary self to Terminal B16, only to be informed that there is a change in gates and the flight will now depart from Gate 2c. Once I cross the stampede at security, I manage to nab one of the last few available plastic bucket chairs at the gate. In doing so, I find I have positioned myself next to a couple who are intent on fornication. I avert my eyes and try to think pure thoughts.

Close to the scheduled time of departure, a delay is announced. There were technical difficulties and the flight had to stop in Lilongwe for an hour before it could come to Nairobi. The huddled masses at the departure gate are served assorted nuts and beverages to keep them quiet.

Six hours later, we have finally departed from Nairobi. Shortly after, lunch is served. I find myself presented with a fish meal. When I object, the steward removes the fish entree with a flourish and disappears into the depths of the plane. I devour my roll of bread and dessert (a cup of pudding) and hungrily await further developments. I realize the folly of this ten minutes later as the steward slides the vegetarian option in front me - airline-patented "yellow-powder curry" and rice that resembles old nail clippings. I avert my eyes and try to sleep.

Through the duration of the flight, I am marooned next to a lady who is irate because is unable to stretch out across all three seats and sleep. She mutters angrily every time I fidget. I am a fidgety person in general, so her protests last through most of the night, but fall on deaf ears. I have no intention of moving, and she can't make me.

Upon landing in Bombay, however, things start to look up. There is a rather kitschy Indian spin-off of the American Idol show that I have been following for weeks now and , over a period of time, I have started to nurture a minor crush on one of the participants. My delight knows no bounds when I find that self-same participant sitting barely a few seats away from me . So delighted, in fact, that when I go to pick up my luggae from the carousel, I cannot tear my eyes off him long enough to pick up the right suitcase.

As I wheel someone else's Samsonite suitcase toward the Jet Airways counter, all un-mindful, I reflect that many moons ago, I was a salaried member of society. Then I travelled the world chasing a dream. Now I am back where I started, except a little higher.

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