Thursday, September 30, 2010

September 30th - The Long Way Home, Part II - Léopold Sédar Senghor Airport

Across the street from the rented house I spent two weeks in.
The view from my hotel suite.  Compare and contrast.
It’s not until I wake that I see how luxurious the hotel I’ve been transported to truly is.  I have an ocean view from the patio of my suite, and breakfast is served in a restaurant with cloth napkins.  The buffet features eggs, sausage, waffles, and most importantly – real coffee.  There has only been Nescafé instant since my arrival; every morning Idy brought a pot of hot water and a tin of the dark, powdery stuff out to the living room floor, along with a box of sugar and a can of condensed milk.  Breakfast was always fresh bread from a local bakery, a chocolate flavored spread, butter, and fresh fruit.  I’ve been drinking the tea that I’d brought with me instead of instant coffee.  I never got a taste for the watery nothingness of Nescafé, but it seems to be a popular beverage in the city - vendors sell it from wheeled carts on sidewalks.  At the hotel, I fix myself a plate of eggs and join Ram - still dressed in his suit, at a table.  I’ve only slept for a few hours, but the hot shower I took – the first since arriving in Senegal, felt like an unquantifiable luxury, and put me at ease.

“You didn’t get dinner last night,” Ram says when I sit down.  There were containers of airline food waiting to be distributed in the lobby amid last night's frenzy, but I hadn't bothered to get one.
“I was so tired by the time I got my room key, I just wanted to go to sleep,” I reply.  It’s sweet that Ram is worried about my food intake, when clearly I have a pile of hot food right in front of me.  I can't eat much of it though, this western-style food is foreign to me now and sits strangely in my stomach. 

After our brief respite we repeat the previous night’s exercise of piling onto buses, and are transported back to the airport.  Having gone through security once already, we are routed through quickly.  There aren’t many officers manning the security checkpoints this early in the morning, and as I peer into an empty security booth I glimpse a computer with an unfinished game of spider solitaire on the screen.

Also repeated is the endless wait at the gate.  Tempers flare as the time drags, Ram breaks his cool exterior responding to a large man who insists that he wait his turn.  “I have been waiting,” he says in perfectly accented, pointedly angry French.  “I have been waiting here as long as you have.”  It's like watching Jean-Luc Picard dress down an insubordinate officer, only with a different accent.  Once everyone finally squeezes their way through the gate, there's a bus on the tarmac that we sit in for at least half an hour before it taxis us to the aircraft, followed by a slow, agitated climb up a staircase into the craft itself.  I wonder if I will ever get home.  It isn’t until we’ve all been seated for some time that we get an explanation for last night’s cancellation: there had been a snowstorm in Madrid, the region was unprepared for the weather, resulting in mayhem on the roads and airports.  No flights have been able to arrive or depart since late last night.  

Once we finally, definitively take off, exhausted passengers all around me cover their heads with airline blankets, the only parts of them visible are calves and feet.  Making my way down the aisle to use the bathroom I feel like I'm participating in some kind of performance piece, or anti-war demonstration where people drape themselves in cloth to represent the dead.  The bathroom is fetid and lacks toilet paper, but I've gained valuable squatting skills.  I proudly hover over the toilet receptacle, victorious in the face of filth.  I return to my seat serene;  I've successfully left Dakar, now all that's left to navigate is Madrid.

1 comment:

AJ said...

Happy 30th! Now we need to get drunk ;)