Lessons Learned The Hard Way – No. 5

10 11 2008

“Now, where’s my flashlight…”                      (Masai Mara, Kenya)

Don’t panic!


We had checked-in for our flight, cleared Kenyan Immigration and airport security and were resting in the Nairobi departure lounge awaiting our overnight flight to London. We had already done the circuit of souvenir and duty free shops and settled into two well-worn plastic chairs that faced the windows and the dark African evening beyond. It is always sad to bid farewell to a great adventure and we sat in contemplative silence sorry to be leaving but eager to get on our way, when we were suddenly paged.


The gate agent inspected our tickets and passports before handing us over to a sombre-faced security agent who muttered an ominous “Follow me” and led us through a key-pad controlled door.


I have often wondered what lies beyond those doors, but now that I was being led into the bowels of Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by a severe and unsmiling armed officer I dearly longed for the comfort and boredom of my chipped and cracked plastic bucket seat.


The officer led us down a corridor to another secure door. He again punched in an unseen combination and we found ourselves at the top of an exterior stairwell that led from the terminal building and down onto the tarmac. Leaving behind the tinned music and muffled loudspeaker of the lounge, our ears were assaulted by the din of generators and engines, the buzz of enormous arc lights, the hum of activity, the racket of transistor radios and the shouts of baggage handlers and mechanics. The night was sticky warm and I immediately felt perspiration beading on my neck and along my hairline – whether from the sudden heat or my fear of the unknown, I wasn’t sure. Carefully watching my feet on the metal stairs, I saw my long jagged shadow stagger before me and glanced upwards at the blinding light and the hundreds of giant moths swirling around it and the hungry bats pursuing them.


Having reached the tarmac, a new world opened up beneath the terminal: a cavernous oasis of artificial light and machinery with mountains of luggage and an army of men in coveralls working feverishly. We walked beneath the enormous nose of our aircraft and the network of cables and hoses which connected it to its life-support and I spied my bag sitting on a table against the wall guarded by another security officer.


“Would you mind opening it, Sir?” he asked politely, while the original officer stood silently behind us.


I fumbled for my keys and opened the miniature lock, my palms sweaty with apprehension and my mind running into overdrive. The officer reached inside purposefully and quickly emerged holding my enormous black metal flashlight.


“Ah” he smiled with understanding and perhaps a hint of relief, “A big torch.” He flicked it on and shone the bright beam at the ground. “It is bright too” he grinned.


I nodded enthusiastically and re-locked my bag. The first officer, now warm and friendly led us back up the staircase and to the departure lounge. All eyes turned to survey us as we returned from the netherworld beyond the security doors.


“Have a good flight” our new armed friend said, “and come back soon to Kenya” he added with a smile while I considered myself lucky that my mysterious long metal tube containing three large D-cell batteries hadn’t been subjected to a pre-emptive strike instead of a courteous inspection!


Photo and post by: Simon Vaughan




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