Sunday, 10 April 2016

Destination : somewhere

So here I am sitting in an airport. This has happened quite often in the past few years and even more often in the last seven months since I started my new job. I have transited through Geneva, Amsterdam, Zurich, Brussels, Paris, Istanbul and London, heading to Calgary, Nairobi, Niamey, Budapest, Edinburgh and Dakar. I landed for a stopover in Dar-es-Salaam, Lomé, Cotonou and Ouagadougou. Although I am not totally sure because in the middle of the night all African airports seem the same, especially when looking at them from the top of the stairs of an aircraft. Although we are not allowed to disembark, they would usually let me stand in the open door, breathe in the warm and humid air, filled with the scents of the continent I love. And invariably it would feel like home. 

So, here I am again. This time it is Geneva, waiting to embark on a journey to Senegal. I do not like traveling. The excitement wore off quite some time ago. I hate packing and despite doing it what seems like every other week, I still panic about potentially forgetting something, taking the wrong clothes (which I often do) and losing my luggage. Also African flights have this uncanny thing for either arriving or leaving in the middle of the night. There is nothing like showing up in the office for a full day of work at 9am after a night spent cramped in a tremendously uncomfortable seat, being woken up after three hours of sleep because they want to serve you some tepid breakfast. 

I will only be gone for five days, back on Friday morning. Supposedly they booked us into a very nice hotel, the Radisson Blu. Yes, that would be the same chain as the one they blew up in Bamako a few months back. Oh well, I guess I shall just keep my head down and hope that the seaview room will compensate for any disturbance caused by the local section of jihadi activists.

Then I come home, water my plants and throw in a load of laundry before heading off to Niamey on Sunday. I have been to Niger three times now and it is a bit like going home. Except of course that each room in that Chinese hotel has its own specifics, including plugs not working, doors not closing and the bathroom getting flooded each time you take a shower. Now which one of these calamities I shall be faced with will only be known when they finally give me a key to the next available room. You see, check-in is a process there. In the three times I have visited, it has never happened that they actually just had my reservation and provided the corresponding key. No. Usually they cannot find the booking. Then when they finally find it (under someone else’s name), they do not have any rooms because they are overbooked. When they do happen to have a room, it is not clean, so they need to produce a cleaner complete with a vacuum in the middle of night. Keeping in mind that we never got there before 10pm, that is proof of some amazingly efficient room service. Last time I believe it was a combination of all of the above, which meant that the rooms finally got allocated an hour and half after our arrival, thus at 1am. I guess I should be just grateful we didn’t have to sleep on the sofa in the lobby.

The hotel food is another sight to behold, as it is certainly not something that you would like to experience with any of your other senses, least of all tasting it. On our first (and last) attempt to order supper, we were served with a piece of chicken that would have put to shame the rubber tyres of a truck. We made a sporting effort at munching it down, but I can honestly say that in my several years of African dining this was the only time I was faced with food that was not genuinely inedible. For breakfast I usually stick to eggs, figuring that this should remain fit for human consumption even if relatively under or overcooked. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. Normal Nigerien food found in restaurants, served in people’s houses or even on the street is pretty darn good. But this Chinese-European-African fusion is a complete disaster. Anyways, we shall see how that goes this time around. Niamey, here we come.