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French connection

August 9, 2009

Location: departure gate of Murtala Mohammed international airport (28th September 2008). Destination and mission: IESE, Barcelona, to “baby-sit” 47 LBS EMBA participants, 15 children and 17 spouses. To my right, prior to boarding, a young man dressed in de rigueur outfit: jeans blazer on jeans trousers – tag still on the left sleeve of his blazer (part of the code?) with a t-shirt underneath. The logo on his phones’ screensaver matches the Addidas trainers he has on. Coincidence? His beard and moustache are straight out of GQ, his NY face cap is encrusted with bling bling. New passport with bulging boarding pass breaching one of the pages lies like an orphan beside him.

First timer? JJC? Closer to my right, another young man. Extra large Karl Kani shirt drips over baggy saggy jeans, with jerry curly ruffled coco waves to match. Glimmering watch on his left complements the bracelet on his right. Just came through security check and as he slips his black, heavy buckle belt through the loops of his jeans, gravitation pulls the buckle, clang; onto the floor (you should seen the buckle of his friend). Two dog-tags shimmer; reflecting the fluorescent light above. Blue leather on yellow metal seats several passengers.

Announcement of a missing Naija passport accompany the shuffle of feet; Rapiscan metal detector beeps. A dash to the rest room, three white metal toilet paper rollers on the wall – all empty, and the alternative: water in a Miranda bottle sits snugly on browned white tiles; a silver metal protrusion with Gerebit etched on the lower left corner sends water down the WC when pushed.

On the floor, islands of urine strewn over the floor lazily dry up (poor target practise or passengers harried by boarding flight announcements?). Skye bank widgets boldly marked CHARGE YOUR PHONE FREE, strategically litter the length of the departure area – fancy that, I wasn’t aware there was a surcharge for electricity now. On several screens, Skye bank’s hakuna matata ads are reiteratively reeled: people dancing, bobbing, smiling, swaying and waving in a pantomime.

On the plane, the French crew serve with finesse: a menu is passed before meals are served; Champagne for aperitif, a small discrete card in each tray gives the airlines’ word that neither the beef nor fish meal (with dodo & a toothpick to boot) contains pork. The gentlemen sitting beside me: my immediate right an Algerian, an official of the Algerian Handball Association. To my further right a Naija bro – he snored throughout the flight, except during meals and the usual jut to the rest room.

The next day at Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris at 6am looked like a horizontal Christmas tree all lit up on the eve. Airport attendant holds plane for the first batch of six. We, the left-overs, snarl through a queue that ends with a snooty airport police officer that thinks everyone in the world speaks French (I overhear an English man curse under his breath) – one compelling reason never to learn this beautiful language? Three of us are left to find gate F27 under the expansively curved wood-like ceiling, perforated with cubes of glass filtering light into the airport. We find our way.

Irresistible: share my last two Rothmans. Under the cold, groggy Paris morning, above us two over-head bridges stare down at us while two French policemen take a break and a pair of ladies parlez vous between drags and puffs of cigarettes. My co-smoker, spruced up in Niger Delta garb (replete with the “resource control” hat), sticks out like a sore thumb, his wife rests her aching knees (high heels). Both are a spectacle for the French police who are “randomly” checking passengers in transit. Trust the French: not a single announcement in English: we’re swamped with vous avec, and vous avons to the hilt.

We miss our flight. The departure gate was changed while we were in the air and left 10 minutes earlier than scheduled! Resolved not to spend a cent on any of their products, even their coffee (the aroma warmly embraced the air around several dug-out like cafes, one floor below, between the E & F gates). It was the female instinct of my friend’s wife that whiffed the possibility that we had missed our flight.

Irony: I opted for Air France thinking I’d get a “blink of Paris and die” and also to get to Barcelona before the Amsterdam contingent (in retrospect: galling tosh!) My friend and his wife were given tickets to buy breakfast, though I wasn’t given one and longed for a bite and coffee, I went back to claim my right. Coincidence: post fuming and flipping about France (more specifically, post peeving and pouting about Paris) I bump into Barcelona: “Where your soul is drunk all day”, by Nigel Andrews, in the Financial Times – the only item I took at the airport (it was free).

P.S During the trip I was reading The book thief – its about a book thief (duh!) and the “misdeeds” of Miss Meminger of Molching, Munich (no. 33 Himmel street, a not so heavenly street, to be exact). Guess what? I “stole” a book: No country for old men. This chronicle is a cocktail of the writing style of both books, I think.

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