Cruel And Unusual Punishment

27 10 2008

Not runway, I said run away! Run away!!!      (Zanzibar Airport, Tanzania)

Torture was banned by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, but I know for certain that it is still practiced with ruthless efficiency in Zanzibar.

 

After a wonderful week exploring the legendary Spice Island we returned to the airport for our return flight across the turquoise waters of the Indian Ocean. The airport was a simple facility: we checked-in at one of two counters and had the lone Customs officer stamp our passports. We were diligenty and politely searched by hand-held metal detectors before being waved through to the departure lounge.

 

Our home for the next 90 minutes was a single room structure with a few rows of well-used chairs bolted together. There was a small shop selling souvenirs to those who needed one last shot of Zanzibari retail therapy. There was a small counter offering basic drinks and snacks, a pay phone and a washroom. And that was it. Like all departure lounges, once in there was no way out except to board your aircraft…unless you wanted to raise great suspicion and invite interrogation.

 

We sat and gazed through the large windows at the airstrip beyond. Green grass spread to the scrub brush on the far side of the airfield beneath a flawless blue sky.

 

Although efficient, everything was laid-back and calm and consequently the temporary residents were suitably relaxed.

 

Until the music began.

 

I love music. I have rather eclectic taste that ranges from classical to jazz, golden era to classic rock, new wave and punk right up to the present day. When I travel I love the local sounds and invariably pick up a CD or two to play at home. I have an open mind and although I’m no expert, I know what I like…and what I didn’t like was what I was beginning to recognise.

 

The first few notes sounded disturbingly familiar. It certainly wasn’t African or even Arabic. It was western and…Celine Dion.

 

I should mention that I can not sing to save my life. In fact, the sound of my voice actually endangers my life and the lives of those within ear-shot. I can’t carry a tune if it has shoulder straps and is securely placed on my back. My attempt at whistling is unrecognisable and humming sounds like a poorly tuned lawn-mower at the bottom of a lake. Celine Dion has a magnificent voice and having attended one of her concerts in pennance for sins committed in a past life, I can honestly say that she puts on a good show and seems like a nice person. I just don’t particularly care for her music. I would even choose Kenny G ahead of her, and that says a lot.

 

The start of the next song sounded equally familiar…and it was again Dion. As was the third, fourth and fifth. Just as one’s heart can go on and on, so did the entire album.  I had no iPod or ear plugs and, being held captive, no reprieve from one of my worst nightmares.

 

I gazed longingly at my watch only to discover there was still more than an hour. I tried to read, to count the tiles on the floor, to stare at the blue sky beyond and find a happy place…but nothing worked. Eventually, the album came to an end. There was silence. My hair began to settle back down and my ramrod-straight back slowly eased. The sounds of spoons tinkling in cups at the snack bar, the buzz of the ceiling fan and the roar of aircraft engines were music to my ears. After a shortwhile, there was a gentle crackle from the speakers signalling something new. It couldn’t possibly be worse than the previous album, I mused.

 

The hiss eased across the room followed by the first notes. They again sounded familiar. Extremely familiar. It was the same album again…only louder. As the first tears started to well in the corners of my eyes I stared desperately at my watch. Still almost 30 minutes to go. I glanced at the plastic spoons at the snack bar and wondered how long it would take to cut off a limb with one.

 

 

Photo post by: Simon Vaughan

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