By Anon Hammurabi © 2005
16th of April, 2005
I arrived in London from Oslo all right, and thanks to the New and Enhanced Heathrow Airport I've now got several waiting hours in front of me. Four, at least.
No, thanks, I already had a cigarette.
So here I'm sitting discovering the subtle arrogance of airport architecture: How to calm the mice in the maze.
It's a simple trick for simple minds.
You place tall windows along the walls and permit the monkeys to observe the busy life on the airstrip. There's always something going on. These little mutant cars that sweep along the ground, seemingly unaware of where they are going and what they were supposed to be doing there, judging from the way they drive, are everywhere. And the keen observer not too busy with his jetlag-hallucinations will notice the way John Doe's luggage is handled. It's not. It's violated. Some of it is even left by the side of the plane, as if the throwers (that's what us world travelers call 'em) decided that the colours just weren't right. The observer who, in addition to his remarkable eye for details, also has the power of foresight and recognizes the immediate risk of his underwear ending up in a muddy side-road somewhere, or in Kuala Lumpur, or both.
The optimist goes for a lucky shot, the pessimist tries to recollect his insurance for the trip, the sleepy thinks about how much he needs to take nap.
The number of people engaged at Heathrow is also remarkable. I bet half of them aren't really employed, they just like hanging out, watching all the action. Explains why the service rates a good “so-so.” Heathrow says it's for security reasons. Heh. So why is it that they scanned my newly apprehended pack of Marlboro with a hand-scanner? While holding it in their hands? The bastard even wanted to seize my two lighters (one of them with cute puppies on it, don't ask) since they were against regulations. I was like, "Excuse me, sir, but where do you think I just came from?" standing beneath the International connection-point.
It's not like my intestines haven't been x-rayed four times already! My lighters have been approved by several independent authorities in two different countries! Despite the puppies!
Nah, they're probably checking the tar-level or something. "Sorry, sir, we don't accept Marlboro. It's too good for ya. In fact, WE are too good for ya. Turn around and return to the country you came from, please."
Heh, I was just a victim of British, understated impertinence. I was in line for a black coffee, thinking about serving the Pakistani girl behind the counter a "hot and black, just the way I like women," when I realized that they didn't accept credit cards. So much for the future. I took out a $20 note and asked if it was possible getting the change in dollars. The beautiful Pakistani had to ask her superior. Meanwhile, this ultraBritish woman behind me puts two pounds on the counter, smiling and saying: "It's all right. I'll pay for it."
I protested out of courtesy, but to no avail. I thanked her and wanted to give her a hug to really express my gratitude (jetlag does strange things to you) to which my jet-lagged imagination failed and I repeated myself four times instead. Turning my back to her, just about to go for the designated smoking area, I realized that it hadn't been generosity that had triggered this sudden friendliness - the old hag was just sick of standing in line in her lunch break and wanted the bloody idiot of a foreigner in front of her to get out of her way. What a nerve! I almost turned to really set things straight when I remembered the coffee in my hands, paid for by my adversary. Intelligent. Cruel. Sometimes a bit on the dim side. The British.
London out. Khartoum, Sudan, next.
The midnight stop in Beirut was interesting in a boring way. First off, it was a big surprise! Nobody had told me that we were going to the Middle East. Oh, well.
Even though the local time must've been nine-ish in the evening, it was pitch black and all you could see from the airport was diamond lights revealing unseen settlements, very like Tromsø at night.
People grouped around me at the middle of the plane there for no particular reason. I was too tired or follow their conversations, but my Arabic has never been any good, anyway. It's mostly non-existent.
The people seemed like a family in the way they dealt with each other, but when some of them left to be embraced by the Beirut nights and, topless Arab dancers (of whom I was thinking at the moment), it was clear that they'd just met on this flight. I reminded myself that I'm a stuck-up Norwegian and that we are the most anti-social culture in the world, giving us some room to misunderstand friendliness, so I closed my eyes to consummate my relationship with the topless Arab dancers instead.
Suddenly there was a 'bump' and the flight radio said we were going to land in Khartoum in ten minutes, if the turbulence didn't kill us. I looked out the window, peering through the dark I realized I was looking at a long, wide, snake-like black patch between myriad city lights, and I realized I was looking at the Nile. Either that one or the Blue or the White one. To me it's more or less the same. This is the river upon which stone was transported to the great pyramids in Ancient Egypt, the river on which Monsieur Poirot solved a difficult murder case, and the very same river where James Bond was seduced and drugged to sleep by the Russian agent Triple X. My heart jumped.
After a mess with one Arab guy who went to have a smoke in the toilet, we were down, in the passport control and through the checking out. It probably took a while, but I was so jet-lagged and far into those lovely arms of those Arabic topless dancers that I didn't even get it. Thinking about it now, I was standing there thinking about the passport control in China, actually. They made your knees tremble. Sudan is different. I ended up getting through the control in a line that was for Sudanese residents only, since the guy I was standing behind in the right line met an old friend behind the counter (or maybe he just wanted to chat with him). I was glad to see my luggage, protested that I didn't have anything to pay this guy who insisted on carrying it, which ended up with a shrug and a smile from me when we were all through to the parking lot. I'm not a sucker you can squeeze for cash, and these guys were employed by the airport, meaning they've got steady jobs and steady salaries much in the way the rest of the people don't.
I met with NRC’s Mr. P who took me to the offices were I was to spend the night. It was about two or three in the morning, hot as hell, and since I hadn't brought any pass-photos with me, Mr. P was so kind to tell me that I was going to get up at five the next morning to get it sorted.
Having unpacked my most necessary stuff, and filled my water-bottle, I met a lizard in the kitchen. I decided to call him Lobo.
Anon Hammurabi is a writer from Oslo, Norway.
July 27, 2005
London-Khartoum (Sudan, Part 1)
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