LONDON TO BERLIN
Not this time though. The title comes from the hook of one of my favorite songs (“From London to Berlin” by Infernal).
“From Paris to Berlin, and every disco I get in, my heart is pumping for love … you left me longing for you.”
In the last week, I have been “West-Coast” trotting. From Lagos to Accra Ghana. Stayed at the Golden Tulip Hotel. If you ever find yourself in the hotel, make sure you order the grouper fillet at least once (it’s served with chips). One second in your mouth and then it’s gone. It is that good. You almost don’t need to chew it since it is very soft and smooth. The meeting I went for in Accra was relatively OK. Went in to nip some brewing trouble with a client in the bud. Promised to find a solution to their problem by leveraging my organization’s technical resources.
Then it was on to Dakar, Senegal via Freetown.
So I took a flight on ASKY from Ghana to Freetown A relatively small plane sitting about 100 people. I was seated quite close to the back. The lunch was a surprise for such a small plane and a small airline I think. They even had a choice of drinks on offer.
After the meal we settle down for the flight. And that was when the trouble started.
The smell came in waves. I started thinking someone in the “house” was responsible. The big guy in front of me was a close suspect. It appeared he was still eating well after the lunch was over which made me more suspicious. Maybe he was letting it rip secretly – silent killer.
As I said earlier the smell came in waves. And one could almost choke on it. I kept looking at the back of the head of the big guy. After some particularly bad “waft”, he picked up some newspapers and started fanning the air with a motion that looks as if he was trying to drive away the bad air. It was at this point it hit me that he may not be responsible, or he may even be thinking the same about me. So I picked up the on-board magazine and copied his actions. So he knows we are on the same side.
At some point I realized it was coming from the toilet at the back. The hostess seated right at the back got up and adjust the toilet’s doors, but that didn’t really help. At some point I got up and looked up the aisle to see if there was any row with empty seats, but there was at least one person on every couple of seats (2 seats per side of the aisle) and I guess even though they may not exactly say no, I can understand that they had settled happily into the believe that they can stretch on this journey having got an extra seat for their economy ticket. So I sat back down, I wasn’t about to rain on anyone’s parade.
But I kept an eye on the hostess. I was hoping she would bolt and then I wouldn’t give a damn about moving forward yet. But like the true “sea captain” that she was, she stuck it out. So instead I checked the time and tried to estimate how longer the flight would be before we got to our destination.
After a particularly bad “one”, the hostess got up, rummage in some overhead bins, then went all the way to the front of the plane, found a can of air freshener and returned to the back of the plane. She sprayed it judiciously and sat back down. I was in heaven for a few minutes. Then the smell over powered the fragrance. The hostess didn’t even bother to spray it again – I guess she realized it was futile. It smelled as if the toilet had spilled over and was sloshing around in there. I hope it was a one-time fluke on a flight that was otherwise quite comfortable. But I have learnt my lesson – if I find myself on ASKY again, I am going to demand for a seat close to the front of the plane!
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In Freetown I started looking around for Senegal Airlines (which was listed as my next carrier on my itinerary). I asked around and generally found out that there was nothing like Senegal Airlines. But Africans are very helpful and someone suggested that it was ASKY. Then while looking around for the ASKY staff, another person was helpful enough to go hunting for the ASKY manager but returned to tell me that the ASKY manager had gone home and he would let me know ones the gentleman returns (my flight wasn’t going for another 2 hours or so). The smell of alcohol was strong on his breath and I thought he was slightly drunk. He suggested I made myself comfortable. After about 30 minutes, I started asking around again and finally figured out that it was Brussels Airlines.
The flight was delayed for about an hour and a half.
Finally we were airborne.
So when I landed at Dakar, I stepped out of the terminal building and into the company of a couple of people. One was a Taxi driver and the other was Idris. I hesitate to call Idris a tout. He himself said he was into business and was hustling (not the completely negative connotation – think more along the line of a “fixer”). The Taxi man attempted to convince me to let him take me to my hotel since the complimentary hotel shuttle had left (my flight was delayed by about an hour and a half from Freetown . Once I told him I had no money and intended to wait, he lost interest. But Idris was not so easily dissuaded. He was going to assist me in any way he could. Pointing out where the hotel driver was likely to stand if he was actually waiting for me. In the meantime we got talking in the cold night air. Idris (according to him) speaks French (his native language as he is from Ouagadougou the Burkina Faso capital), Spanish, Italian, a little English and Hausa (but not Yoruba). He was working with some Senegalese “Expats” (for about 3 years) in Libya but was then deported when that country’s troubles started. He made his way to Senegal . He got married to a Senegalese lady and now has two children.
Football like religion gets worked into everything. Both are as divisive as they are cohesive. He suddenly remembered that we beat them at the African cup of nations recently. He burst out laughing.
Idris: “You. Are you married?”
Me: “No. Not yet.”
Idris: “Why now?”
Idris: “A man without why and children is not OK. But a man with a wife and children is ready for anything. You see in African culture, even if you have a wife but no children and you die, you are quickly forgotten. But if you have children, they will carry on your name. People will see them and say those and the children of Mr. so and so. When you have a wife benediction will follow.”
Idris: “You see I went to fish. I caught a big fish and stopped. Then I handed over to someone else and he too caught a big fish.”
Idris: “You should catch one Senegalese lady while you are here.”
Me: “She won’t follow me. Nigeria is too far.”
Idris: “Why not. She will.”
A cat passes by. I start to make “moose moose” noises. It paid me very little attention and sauntered on its merry way – shows it is completely at ease around humans.
Idris: “You like animals.”
Me: “Yes. Growing up we raised everything – chicken, pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, ducks, cats, dogs.”
Idris: “Good. It is good to like animals. They bring good luck.”
Idris: “It is good to have cats. If you treat them well, they have no ill will towards you. In fact, if something negative is about to happen, they give you a sign. They are mystic.”
Me: “Some people don’t like them though.”
Idris: “But cats don’t like any place where someone has died. They run away immediately (he said laughing).
That’s something I am hearing for the first time I think.
Idris: “But it is not good that you beat Burkina Faso. You used Juju.”
Me: “But someone has to win.”
Sometime later he mentioned again that Nigerians have plenty juju.
I put two and two together and asked if he watched a lot of Nigerian movies.
Idris: “Yes. On Africa Magic.”
He thinks we make good films. Of course, a lot of our African neighbors now think Juju is part and parcel of everyday life and as common as dogs and chickens roaming the streets.
So he thinks the real hustlers would only take the money off visitors to Senegal while he is more interested in building relationships. He gave me his number and says if I or any of my friends visiting Senegal needs help getting around or to get anything, we can always call on him.
He has two teeth missing from his lower jaw. He says he had an accident on a scooter he owned and but for God, he nearly died. He said he then sold the scooter to pay for his hospital bills. Now he doesn’t like getting on motorcycles.
Idris: “You are a good person.”
Me: “How do you know.” I smiled.
Idris: “You are a good person. I came to you even though you didn’t know me and you still talked to me. If you weren’t a good person, you would have pretended to get on your phone and be talking to someone. But at least you gave me audience. That is good. You have a good heart.”
I smiled and thanked him.
He waited with me until his wife called. He apologized and said he had to go. That is when he slipped in the request – anything I could give him out of the goodness of my heart. Today was a bad day (I assume business-wise). I really didn’t not have any local money. I told him so and he still took it well. But said I should save his number in case when next I come I need his services. I showed him the entry on my phone and that made him really happy. He said it is all about the relationship.
If indeed I come again to Senegal – especially if it is at my own behest – he would be the person I would definitely contact to take me around. If you are headed in that direction and you want his number, let me know.
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Dakar is quite beautiful. So were the people as well. I understand that they loved sports and exercising a lot. As a colleague commented, even the older and middle-aged men did not sport big bellies. The beaches were full of people exercising.
One other thing, though there is alcohol, most citizens of Dakar don’t drink on account that the main religion is Islam. But a lot of them smoke – go figure. I guess the religion specifically mentions alcohol while there was no cigarette at the time the books were compiled. Yet, tobacco is just as destructive.
Well what happens in Dakar stays in Dakar. No, I am talking about myself. All I did was eat Gambas (over-sized prawns) and drink Pomme (apple juice with some of the fruit ground in). I am speaking for myself only of course.
Arrived Lagos at about 5:30AM. Didn’t get our luggage for over an hour earlier. I shouldn’t have checked in the darn thing. But I didn’t want to toss the 2 pieces of banana I had in the bag – and I wasn’t ready to eat them – and didn’t know if the scanner would have picked them up – yes, I guess I could be stubborn that way. Besides, the other guys except the boss checked in their luggage so I followed suit. Besides not having to mind the bag for the duration of trip sounded fun. That was Nigeria welcoming me back home in case I had forgotten how it “used” to be :-).