Since childhood I have envisioned traveling to the majestic continent of Africa to reconnect to the roots of my ancestors. I envisioned myself landing at a huge airport in the motherland and being greeted with open arms and exotic flowers by beautiful adorned African princes and princesses. My greeters would embrace me with hugs, escort me to the village and then take me immediately to meet with the tribal chief. Of course, later that day we would exchange stories, partake in exotic dishes and strong drink for the Grand Welcome Back To Africa celebration. By now you have figured out that this was ONLY a dream and if you have ever been to the continent you would know that it is very likely that NONE of those series of events actually happened. So let me share with you my real story of one of my many African adventures.....
Ten years ago I along with along with a young woman named Jamie traveled to Africa to visit a friend in Nigeria. We flew from New York to Abidjan (located in the Ivory Coast) where we changed planes for the final leg of our flight to Lagos, Nigeria. Well... I pretty much figured it was going to be a different kind of travel experience when my favorite cookies and snack items were openly stolen in my face and later eaten by the security guard in the airport. However being a great sport, I decided to let the incident go because after all I didn't need those cookies anyway.
My travel partner and I shrugged the cookie theft off, laughed about the ordeal and proceeded to head towards the counter to get the information on our connecting flight with African based airline, Air Afrique. After twenty minutes at the Air Afrique counter, we got our boarding passes and were instructed to go outside to the tarp and LOOK for our plane. I realized that the instructions weren't very clear so I turned back to the counter to get greater clarity from the attendant but I realized that she had already disappeared into the back area.
At that point I turned to Jamie and said, "Surely she wasn't telling us to actually LOOK for our flight. There must be signs outside. Plus I am quite sure that someone will show us our flight once we're outside. C'mon Jamie let's go on the tarp and someone will tell us which flight to get on."
Once outside we realized that it was utter chaos on the tarp. There were about 7-8 different airplanes and passengers were heading in all different directions. Jamie and I looked for specific signs to point to the Lagos flight but there were none. Being mindful that our flight was scheduled to leave in about 15 minutes,we began to walk up to the various flight attendants posted in front of different airplanes and inquire about our flight.
Each time I would say, "Excuse me, can you please tell us which plane is going to Lagos?" In a rather harsh and aggravated tone each airline worker would respond by saying, "I don't know your flight but you should hurry." Finally, after several failed attempts to get the much needed information we were directed by a male flight attendant to go to the last plane on our left because it was going to Lagos.
Immediately, Jamie and I ran towards the plane, got in the long line and patiently waited to board our flight with about 100 other people. However, after hearing some yelling and witnessing a small commotion in the front of the line we noticed that the plane was ALMOST FULL. But how was that possible when there were still almost 100 people in front of us?! I thought to myself, "All of these people must be waiting on another arriving flight. This is OUR plane, those are OUR seats and I can prove it with these $1800 ticket stubs right here.....besides they wouldn't do us like that. Nawwww...."
I then turned to Jamie and said, " I heard the attendant call our flight number so this is OUR flight but how is it possible for the plane to be almost filled if all of these people are still in line?" Jamie replied, "I don't know Tosha, but it seems like that's what the fuss up front is about. These other people are ALL expecting to get on OUR flight." I thought to myself, "YOU MUST BE KIDDING ME??!!"
Jamie and I quickly realized that the boarding of passengers had nothing to do with boarding zones or even ACTUAL tickets for that matter. The boarding was actually on a first come and first serve basis. Meaning that the priority was given to who could "come up first" and pay the attendent cash on the spot! They were actually reselling reserved seats on the plane. This can't be happening! Jamie and I stood in line looking puzzled for about 2 minutes before I looked at Jamie and said, "When in Rome do as the Romans. We are getting on this flight! I'm going straight to the front of the line so make sure that you keep up with me...no matter what!"
Now this is where the real drama began. I was determined to board this flight. I carefully thought about the task before me and immediately took on the persona of a track athlete just before the pop-off of the start gun. I shook out my limbs, mapped out my plan to slip pass the attendant, surveyed the area, squared my body up for the mad dash and then I checked out my competition.
What?!!! You gotta be kidding me! So now I was forced to go back down the stairs and figure out how to get my travel partner who is now being blocked in view by the African man that I just elbowed in the stomach!!!!!!! This can't be happening!
The worst part of it all is that I had to go back down and face ALL of the people that I pissed off getting on the flight! For example, the entrepreneurial/hustler airline attendant, my agitated race-to-the-seat African competitor AND the entire front-line that I had skipped to make it on the flight. So what next? Well in true African leadership fashion I boldly went back down the steps, grabbed Jamie by the arm, pulled her through the bottom of the human barricade, pushed the attendent out-of-the way and made way to our long awaited seats in the back of the airplane!
Jamie and I sat down tired, relieved and in awe of the experience. Within a few minutes we were laughing uncontrollably at the ordeal. As we buckled our seat belts and waited for the airplane to take-off one of the our fellow African passengers asked me, "Where exactly are you from?" I looked at him, smiled and said, "We're African, can't you tell?"