From 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 :-).



The phone is on the desk. I need to turn off all the one hundred and one different sounds it makes for the calendar, SMS, and social apps. It’s now like a live thing with a mind of its own.

Talking about things and minds. It feels like the Dakar rally is going on inside my mind. Or maybe just the NASCAR.

The phone calls to me. It screams for me to pick it up. I resist as long as I can. But I always knew who or what would win the battle.

I pick up the phone.

I look at its blank face and wished my mind were just as blank as that. With no thoughts. No misgivings. Nothing. Empty like a wormhole that’s just come to life.

The contact book scrolls itself down to the magical letter. I had hoped it would not stop till it gets to letter Z. But who am I kidding. Not only did it stop at the right letter, it halted with “the” entry just off-screen – taunting me to swipe down the screen a little.

The phone whispered, “You know you want to.”

My forefinger hovered in the air. It twitched like an animal in its death throes. Maybe there is a spirit in it. It twitched again.

The finger made contact with the touchscreen. I watched in fascination as it swiped down in slow motion. I tried not to look at the screen, but resistance was futile.

There it was. The finger must have done a tap as well. It did have a life of its own. And a mind of its own. Because I never ordered that tap that opened up the contact’s details.

There used to be a picture in that box on the left. I removed it long ago. But I can still see it in my mind’s eye as if it was there staring back at me. Maybe it’s because the picture is still on my phone. In the memory stick – I just pretend I don’t know it is there.

All eleven digits. Reading it one by one. That took about 5 minutes. Or maybe I just read it over and over again for 5 minutes?

The green dial button whispered inaudibly. I couldn’t make out the words, but I heard them in my mind anyway: “Press me.”

It wouldn’t stop. It became irritating. I wished with all of my mind to make it stop. I begged it. I harangued it. I threatened to throw down the phone and grind it into the floor with the heels of my unshod feet. But it wouldn’t stop. It ignored me. It just kept whispering its 2 words.

I left the phone on the desk and went out of the room.

But the whispers continued. They weren’t coming from the phone: they had rooms in my mind.

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I looked again at the numbers. If I press the dial button, would they suddenly become the 11 bullets in a weird gun I place against my head when I listen for the ringing at the other end to start?

The finger twitched again. It had a life of its own. It was in cahoots with the phone and the dial button. There was a conspiracy of epic proportions and it was all against me.

I felt the sweat trickle down my armpits. Despite the fact that the AC was going full blast, I was not even feeling cold: mind over matter.

It took all my will power to bring the finger under control. I was exhausted. But I had won.

I laid back on the bed and stared at the polka-dot patterns on the ceiling. I don’t know for how long. But it does not matter. Time does not matter. Nothing does.

The war goes on in Syria. Famine in Africa. Unrest in the Middle-East. Natural disasters in the northern hemisphere. Kidnappings just over the River Niger. Sad. It’s all sad. Very sad.

The phone whispered the word. “Sad”, it says. I knew where it was going. But it knew that I knew but that didn’t matter a bit. Because it was going to do what it was going to do.

I picked it up to silence it. I intended to switch it off. I don’t know if I pressed the SMS option or the phone did, but there it was on the screen.

My finger was over the power button. I almost succeeded. But I made the mistake and hesitated. Right at the bottom of the screen it read “3/157”. Which means I was 3 characters short of the 160 maximum I am allowed per SMS. I had not typed anything, so what was on the screen?

I had avoided looking at the face of the phone. But now there on the screen, the first letter of the SMS I had no plans to send, was the “sad face” smiley character.

The phone was taunting me. “You know you want to.”

“You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.” “You know you want to.”

I refused. I won’t. I will not.

I looked on in horror as the finger twitched over the send button. It was going to send the smiley-face character. I looked away and fought with all my will power. As my heartbeat returned to normal, I looked again at the screen. I had won. The SMS was still there, and even better, the smiley-face was gone. I pressed the back button and the phone presented me with options again: to cancel or to return to the SMS. I know what it wanted me to choose. But I cancelled all the same.

If this was a fair fight, I should have won now. Two rounds out of three. I shouldn’t have to fight the last round. All is fair in love and war.

Maybe in war, but not in love.

I didn’t call. I didn’t SMS. What else did it want from me!

I wished I had a Nokia 3310 instead of an Android – a droid is a robot. They are meant to obey humans. But this one has achieved awareness and there was nothing I could do about it. It has failed to obey the second fundamental law of robotics: Isaac Asimov would be proud.

Nokia 3310. No space for big icons. It would have been nice, for suddenly the big screen was filled with social media shortcuts: Facebook, Whatsapp, Viber, Myspace, yourspace, ourspace, whosespace, who knows.

Round and round they went in a dizzying loop. Like Lollipops spinning round a little kid. All I needed to do was reach out and touch one. Make the connection. Leave a message. What can happen.

I closed my eyes tight. I could still see them. All those icons rushing round and round like on a merry-go-round. Reaching out, calling me, taunting me. “Pick me!!”, each one screamed!

Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.

Pure heart. Pure feelings. Pure desires. Pure wants. Pure needs. Pure … nothing.

Facebook won the musical chairs going on in my mind. I updated my status with some random thoughts that had nothing to do with anything. The phone was satisfied,  but I did not post what it wanted me to. But it didn’t know that.

I had won.

Three times out of three.

I am supposed to be happy.