Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Love Hate Relationship

Having just returned from another trip to Kenya, I can honestly say I am developing a love hate relationship with airports. Unlike my previous Transit from Hell, this trip was rather uneventful with only one “incident” occurring yet again involving my luggage. Besides the personality less security and customs officials whose sole purpose in life is to humiliate you with an over botoxed like expressionless and void of emotions face, I found the other people I met fascinating. Reflecting back on my 5 hour layover in Nairobi, I couldn’t help but recall the conversations I had, the people I met and the impact some of them had on my views on life.
My journey started off like so many before – trying to fit my whole wardrobe into a suitcase just big enough to stuff in the lifeless body of a full grown Labrador. And NO I haven’t actually done that before! Having had to scale down on my wardrobe I eventually manage to zip my bag close using a technique I perfected years ago: Sitting on your suitcase in just the right manner you can manage to close it, no matter how overcapacity it is, on the second or third attempt. Jumping on it is sometimes also required and cursing is absolutely optional but usually unavoidable. For my two days and one night in Nairobi I managed to pack the essentials which included all my "oils of delay", hair products, certain other beauty essentials, four outfits, two pairs of shoes, PJ’s and undergarments (it just sounds so much more sophisticated than underwear) to last me a week, because you never know when the next ash cloud, earthquake, snow and/or fog could fuck with air traffic again.

Traffic was a breeze for once and I arrived at the airport in Johannesburg thirty minutes early. Feeling relaxed and confident I checked in my luggage, got my ticket and unassumingly made my way to the security checkpoint. I took off my shiny accessories and my belt, placed them along with my fag bag and Blackberry into a tray and as they made it through the X-ray thingamajig I strolled through the metal detector without any bells or whistles going off. Then the dreaded words “Please come with me” got spewed in my perfectly moisturised face. I was escorted to a table where the zombie like man posing as a human proceeded to search my fag bag. Eye drops, lip eyes, deodorant, my inhaler, travel size moisturizer, hand cream and my IPod were all carefully scrutinized. It was embarrassing having people walk past thinking I was some kind of Yves Saint Laurent product smuggler. Being the Drama Queen that I am it’s not surprising that there was a brief but intense altercation.
Lobotomy man wanted to throw away my stuff and I wasn’t about to have it. We fought and at one point it almost escalated into a screaming match as there was no way in hell I was about to throw away or leave behind any of my “dangerous items”. Fuck, how is a half empty bottle of deodorant, eye drops or lip gloss a flight risk? Stinky passengers with desiccated skin are a far greater danger don’t you think? Eventually, I managed to get through to Mr Fuck Face, and we settled on me throwing away my deodorant and matches in exchange for keeping the rest of my essential and now classified “non-dangerous” items.

The rest of my journey was uneventful. Two hours stuck in traffic in Nairobi, being briefly entertained by a petite female police officer who were beating up a guy three times her size with a thin long black baton and seeing Giraffes and cows crazing together next to the road all made for excellent distractions. As the sun was setting and the smell of leaves and wood burning permeated the air I made it to my hotel at dusk. My meetings went as scheduled and at around 2pm the next day I made my way back to the airport. Armed with a fascinating book about a case I worked on “Killing Kebble” and my IPod playing Nina Simone I was ready for my 5 hour wait at Jomo Kenyatta International. But as luck would have it, I didn’t get to read much of my book.
For some strange reason, I must have looked like a people person that day as I met the three most interesting people in a span of 5 hours. The first guy I met was a travel agent from Kenya. With a slight American accent I found him to be dynamic, well spoken and best of all interesting. He told me of his planned engagement and even solicited some advice from me about how to propose. We exchanged Facebook and Twitter details and he was off to India. The second man I met was a Canadian miner, who spends months away from home. Married for seven years, but being together with his wife for twenty seven years, they have no children and live simple lives. He spoke with such endearment of wife that it was clear he missed her and loved her very much. He entertained me with tales of his work in Africa, stories that he must one day pen to paper. His take on life is to be happy with what you have, even if it’s not much and that love, friendship and family is more important than money, fancy cars or the best brands.

The last person I met before leaving Kenya was a very sweat and pretty woman and her demure but attentive brother from Rwanda. They were refugees from the genocide that occurred there. They lost family in the conflict and she also saw her father murdered and mother raped. They fled Rwanda by foot and barely made it alive to Kenya where they have been exiled since. At first she seemed hesitant to tell me her story; clearly the memories were still painful and fresh in her mind. They were heading back to their hometown of Kigali in Rwanda and her message of forgiveness both stunned and amazed me. “Even though we will never forget what happened, my body’s scars reminds me of that every day, but we can forgive, and I have forgiven them. It’s time to move on” she confidently said. She extended myself and hubby an invitation to “come home” and visit her in Rwanda and we surely will do so one day.
I never did manage to finish my book, or be soothed by the poignant lyrics of Nina Simone during my 5 hour wait. But what I did manage was to be amazed and enlightened by three people with such diverse backgrounds, experiences and infectious spirits that it made my initial airport altercation in Johannesburg seem almost insignificant. I unexpectedly managed to open the door to enlightenment by engaging with my fellow travellers, in transit to different destinations, each carrying with them a tale, a history and a future. Yes, I have a love hate relationships with airports but every so often I am reminded by the most unassuming of people that life is not about the destination but it’s all about the journey.

Till next time.


Jason Shaw said...

Oh gosh, what a pickle, travel never runs smoothly, always piled high with danger and people poking around in things they really shouldn't!

Pierre said...

@Jason Shaw, so true. Especially if those things are mine!

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