Monday, 21 February 2011

Departure Lounge in Lome

Departure Lounge in Lome
Sitting in a hot and humid departure lounge in Lome, Togo, waiting for several hours before embarking on Ethiopian Airlines flight to Douala, Cameroon, I wipe away sweat from my forehead with the palm of my hand and rub it onto my chino jeans ala African style.
A cloth is useless and a tissue just gets shredded by my three and a half day stubble. The hand method is the best. The cloth gets drenched with two or three wipes and then it wets your trouser pocket. The hand is designed not to absorb moisture and therefore ideal for conveying sweat from the head to the jeans. Normal trousers can’t do the trick because it cannot absorb moisture. Jeans, either chino or blue jeans, are the working man’s trousers – they are made to sweat in!
There are two stand up air conditioners in the lounge where you can find temporary relief from the sweltering conditions. You need to plant yourself selfishly in front of the air con for a minute or two to get the maximum benefit.
The transit hall was full of people and so is the departure lounge. All flights use the same halls.
Gnassangbe Eyadema International Airport is unusually busy today because some flights have been delayed.
An Indian lady takes out a wad of money to pay for a drink.
I go to the toilet. The floor is messy. Can’t they aim?
Back in the lounge I drop down on the hard metal seats where you sit till your bum is numb.
Some passengers are called to board another flight. But as soon as they leave more people pour into the lounge. The distant drone of an propeller driven air craft sweeps into the open door at Gate 2.
The constant bell ringing before announcements makes me think of the Parisians police sirens that wakes one up at night.
I am the only person sporting a T-shirt. Most men have the American or English style collared button-down shirt.
Sweat is running off everyone’s faces now. The lounge could soon turn into a sauna!
No one enters the Sale Koromsa Ist Class lounge – and no one exits either.
I desperately need to cool down, but there are four people ahead of me at the air con. Their conversations seem to be important enough to keep them standing in front of the air con for several minutes. This leaves me gasping for breath like a Koi fish out of the water.
As I look out of the window I see the jet planes standing silently with open doors and bellies awaiting the next belly full of humans.
Ah, the air con is available! My kingdom for an air con! While I am cooling down others are already lining up. The next one is a nun with white head gear and white robe. When it is her turn she turns her back on the pleasure the air con provides and faces the crowd, the sweating crowd. Her look is stern; she does not want to betray the fact that she is enjoying the cool air.
A lady is pushed in the door on a wheel chair. Her legs reveal the terrible disease called elephantiasis. It is a crippling and painful disease, rampant in Africa. But no one pays any attention to her at all. They are used to it.
The announcer drops a bomb-shell: the flight from Adis Abiba to Abidjan is delayed due to operation crisis. It will now only arrive in Togo 2 hours later. ‘The company apologizes for this inconvenience.’
But no one responds to the announcement at all. There is no surprise, no anger, and no disappointment. If this was a departure lounge in the UK, USA, Australia or South Africa there would have been gasps of emotional responses and even rude remarks about the incompetence of the airlines. But not in Africa: Africa can wait; Africa can wait a long time because they have learned patience, like the patient earth waits for the rain in the right season.
A baby finally gives up all hope of ever reaching its home and lets rip with a high sounding shrill yell that pierces the drone of voices in the lounge. Nothing the mother can do can pacify the babe. The passengers in the lounge pay no attention to the baby crisis. It is normal for a baby to cry in Africa.
A bald shaven East European businessman enters the hall and looks around for a seat. There is none. He is so overdressed in his three piece suit, rimless spectacles, black leather attaché case and computer bag that he literally sticks out like a sore thumb. This is Africa, man!
Due to my concentration to scribble my observances into my little note book I had completely forgotten about the man sitting next to me. When I turn to him he is fast asleep, mouth wide open. Then I suddenly notice how many people are asleep in the lounge! No wonder no one responded to the announcement!
A very large businessman steps out of the first class lounge with his baggage.
Kids run up and down the aisles to entertain themselves. No one reprimands them.
There’s Douala’s call to board now! We converge on the ground staff desk to have our tickets ripped. I spot a white haired priest hunchbacked from too many devotions. He looks lifeless. Where there’s a nun, there’s a priest! Priestly rituals have a way of gnawing away at the soul until it slowly dies and gives up the struggle to try to enjoy life. Life becomes a dull routine. Man’s traditions make void the power of God, the Bible tells us.
A hooked nose Frenchman, smartly dressed in a white full length shirt revealing a pansy flowered coloured pattern on the inside of the collar, sleeves rolled back to reveal a blue leather strapped expensive name brand watch and stepping out in charcoal suede long pointed shoes pushes in front of me. I let him.
‘Merci,’ he says embarrassingly.
When we have to alight from the bus on the tarmac in front of the plane, I happened to be in front of old Frenchie. He lets me go ahead of him. I smile. He smiles and wants to talk but I just don’t have the energy to practice my French after sitting in the hot lounge for several hours.
All I really want to do is get on that plane and fly into the blue sky.

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