Friday, January 27, 2012

Arrival in Africa

I arrived in Lilongwe last Saturday night, the 21st, after approximately 26 hours of traveling. That's 4 flights, 5 airports, and 3 continents. 

Stairs leading to gate 3
The moment I got off the plane in the Nairobi airport, I knew I was in Africa. No airy glass and metal terminal here, rather a narrow and humid hallway, with a cracked tile floor and a 1970s decor. It was lined on one side by shops selling typical airport fare, and on the other side by benches housing a variety of travellers, including groups of African nuns in full habit. I ducked into the bathroom, where I got to use my first (and so far only) squat toilet of the trip, much to the admiration of the other foreigner there. (I turned out to be on the same flight as that woman, who in turn had run into the woman sitting next to her earlier in the bathroom... this was not a particularly large or busy airport, in other words). 

Past the security checkpoint
I wandered down the terminal and found my gate at the very end of the hall, down a narrow set of stairs that looked more like they'd lead to a restaurant bathroom than to a security checkpoint and boarding area. I was handed a laminated boarding card in exchange for my ticket, went through the 70s-era security checkpoint, and had a seat. The change of pace ("African time", some call it) was evident - no hum of activity at the gate, none of the urgency you'd see in a European or American airport. In fact, aside from the people working the security checkpoint, I didn't see any airline or airport employees around at all. About 15 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave, the doors to the tarmac were suddenly opened and we lined up, turned in our boarding cards, and walked the 50m to the plane. I cast a brief glance at the passing baggage cart, wondering whether my checked luggage would make it to Lilongwe intact and on-time - accounts from past travellers to Lilongwe suggested the odds were not high.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Airport Adventures

Some rambling notes on my adventures through airports so far:


  • 13:15. Arrive at the airport. Westjet can check my bags, but not me, all the way through to Lilongwe. I need to pick up my remaining boarding passes at the gate in Toronto. 

  • 15:00. Talk a boarding pass checker into letting me into a restricted area without the right boarding pass. Reach my gate and find it unmanned. I suppose I am over 3 hours early. 
  • 15:05. Scan the walls and pillars for a power outlet, find what seems like a quiet spot at the back with access to power, and then realize the empty area nearby is a play area for children ages 2-5. Escape with great haste. 
  • 15:15. Spot some sort of public health containment team stationed two gates over from mine. I count 4 cops, 9 paramedics/doctors/medical support staff, 3 stretchers, and 2 women in Public Health Agency of Canada vests. Contagion? I grab a seat with a view.
  • 15:25. Contaminated flight arrives, but no one's getting off. No one is getting on, either. Who is patient zero?  
  • 15:40. People are finally coming off the plane. Paramedics and cops are leaving. Stretchers are empty. How anticlimactic. 
  • 15:55. Find a power outlet and seat outside the play area's blast radius. 
  • 16:00. Plane from Amsterdam arrives at the gate. No Public Health officials milling around for this flight, just border control. 
  • 17:15. Finally get my remaining boarding passes.
  • 18:15. On-board and thrilled to discover there is no one in the seat next to mine. Makes the fact that there are 2 toddlers and a bored 6-year-old within a 3-seat radius more palatable.