14 November 2007

day 14 :: another airport

It is remarkably easy to get checked in for a flight when you have someone with you who knows exactly what to do. He dropped me off at check-in and dragged the bags over to the scale while the woman wrote my boarding pass. Then suddenly I and my bags were at customs, my bags were gone, and he had cut to the front of the immigration line with my passport. It took five minutes, max.

And now I’m waiting for my flight to Nairobi.

I find it sort of depressing – and yet somehow so reassuring – that a trip to a new country almost inevitably begins and ends in these little details. It seems more fitting to meet and leave a country in a grandiose way, with trumpets or music or scenery. But it’s always standing in lines and dragging too much luggage and waiting in an anonymous room. It’s not momentous enough, but it’s real, and that makes me feel better.

When I was younger, I used to feel sick with excitement before trips, and I used to imagine that I would be a different person on the other end of the flight. I am a different person in Africa, truthfully, more confident and more certain of my place in the world. I feel prettier in a place where six 0 is not the ideal and where girls much larger than me are the pretty ones dancing in music videos. I love living in Africa. I love the smell of the air in the morning, the friendships I’ve made, the chaos that every day can bring.

But these procedures as I come and I go, all the stamping and ticketing and weighing, remind me that life is universal. They are ignominious to the whole concept of a voyage, which should have more nobility to it, but so often things are less than majestic. They just are, and they will be, even in a new country.

When they called the flight, we lined up in two lines. Two men searched the men’s bags, and a woman, businesslike and kind, called me into the black curtained women’s booth (there are far fewer women than men boarding in the Juba airport). She glanced in all the pockets of my bags and patted me down, stopping to double-check the lump in my back pocket where I’d placed my passport (I’ll have none of that “secure inside pouch” nonsense).

(Side note: how, how, how do women manage to keep headscarves on while doing things like frisking? I can’t keep anything on my head to save my life, and her headscarf stays perfectly in place. I feel like a dolt.)

And, after all the mundane details of airports and airplanes, we got on a plane and left another country.

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