I recently traveled home to the U.S. for a wedding, a reunion, and some family time, and am currently posting from a friend's apartment in New York City. What follows is nearly verbatim from my journal entry while waiting to depart Lungi (Freetown's airport) a few weeks ago.
I love this airport scene. Okay, I love it and hate it, as I am stuck in an interminable line in steamy heat. But still...
I’m in Freetown’s Lungi airport, several stages into the rather extended departure process. First step was lugging – with the help of a very kind housemate – my enormous suitcase along the dirt road from my house to Wilkinson Road. Second was the taxi – crammed with 5 passengers, 1 driver, 2 suitcases and a backpack – to the hovercraft launch. Then the hovercraft itself: a large ferry, of sorts, bottomed with an enormous black inflatable tube, which brings you from Aberdeen across the bay to Lungi in 20 minutes. (For a bit more money, you can save 10 minutes and take a helicopter, but this time I decided to try the water route).
And now I’m standing in line for what seems to be security, to be followed (I presume) by immigration, check-in, and boarding. Three hours after leaving home, I still have three more hours to my 10:30 p.m. scheduled departure – if the flight departs on time, of course, instead of the frequent 8-12 (yes, twelve) hour delay.
Meanwhile, I’m entertained by the scene at the airport. Jostling and loud, chaotic and confusing, the crowd is a pageant of colors and personalities.
I’m dazzled by the array of West African matriarchs, splendid in their colorful regalia, serene, dignified, and utterly immune to the chaos around them. The elder aunties sit in a line against the wall; my favorite, even plumper than the rest, is bedecked from head to toe in shocking baby-meets-fuscia pink. I probably like her best because she smiled at me when I first passed, stepping gingerly over her toes and trying to maneuver my massive suitcase without any casualties.
I’m amused by the patchwork of uniforms. Policemen wear silly blue shirts with white sleeves, or the slightly more dignified pressed blue sleeves. (I’ve yet to discern the reason for the difference). The porters wear either mechanic-style light blue shirts and everyday pants, or ridiculous orange jumpsuits – a choice that seems roughly generational. And of course there are the white foreigners, too many of whom are outfitted in safari-style khaki, often involving too-short, too-tight shorts on pale white legs.
I’m intrigued by the occasional altercations that pop up intermittently around the hot, crowded terminal. The most recent was a shouting and shoving match between a cop, a well-dressed Sierra Leonean man, and a disheveled, wild-eyed white man with a mop of wiry black hair and the obligatory khaki green uniform. It ended peacefully, as far as I could tell, and provoked only mild interest from the crowd.
The line snakes endlessly back and forth, a parade of towering luggage carts, some pushed by passengers, others by porters. The cart in front of me has been abandoned – I think it had something to do with a noisy argument earlier between a plainclothes porter and an airport official – and is left to be pushed along by passing porters and, sometimes, me. Eventually, the people behind me in line convince me to skirt the lonely cart and push onward. As we leave it behind, I wonder what will become of it – or its owner – and I clutch my own cart tightly.
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