Every day is a journey
To commemorate being given Gold status for life on BA for the number of miles I’ve flown over a quarter of a century!
Another Adventure, My Saturday Trip from Washington to Abidjan:
5:30 PM: An hour away from getting on a plane again and I’m anxious. I’m always like that before I travel, anxious and trying to make sure that I don’t forget anything I need. As always, everything was packed from the night before. The same roller bag, the same brief case, and of course the same blazer because it holds up more than anything else I have. Today is a twenty hour plus journey and it makes it 501 times that I’ve crossed the Atlantic in 26 years. When I got to 500 I counted myself lucky, one engine fire, one in flight emergency declared, and I’m still here. So, I continue to keep count, but I’m not sure why. I’ve flown on everything at this point, the Concorde, a C130 when I was flown in with Dutch peace keepers to Bosnia after the Dayton accords were signed, basically everything.
The journey today takes me from Washington to Paris, then Paris to Abidjan. Total flying time about 15 hours, and door to door about 20 hours. So what did I forget? Damn it, I didn’t charge the noise cancelling headphones, and without them I get the same incredible headache that lasts for days from the buzzing noise of the engines.
6:20 PM: Dressed and showered, charged noise cancelling headphones in bag where they always are, world timer watch on and the taxi is early and blowing its horn. I wave to the driver from the window, same driver, same airport. Bags are ready, and as usual I’m fidgety. I look at the house one more time, lights off, water off, it will be two months before I‘m back. I check to see if I have my passports for the third time, national passport yes, United Nations passport yes, African Development Bank (AfDB) passport yes, vaccination card yes, diplomatic ID for Ivory Coast yes, and all evenly distributed in my right and left blazer pockets. Cell phone fully charged, and me already fully depleted.
6:30 PM: To Dulles airport we go for trip number 501. How many miles of flying would that be exactly? One time I tried to figure it out, and it came to about circling the globe 29 times. And, yes the world is a book, and those who don’t travel read only one page. Maybe for me, too many pages at this point, and where home is has become the next hotel. I convinced myself years ago that every day is a journey and the journey itself is home, but it sure never feels like it.
6:50 PM: I look at my watch, that timepiece and I have been together a long time and traveled many a journey. The driver who has driven me to the airport for years says “where to this time”, I tell him the Ivory Coast and being Ghanaian, he seems unimpressed. I look at him and think man he’s aged. Well, so have I. It crosses my mind that time has gone by so quickly, and boy did life turn out to be short. The older I get, the more I feel it and my jet lag always seems to get worse. No, I’ve never found the answer to overcoming jet lag, and I don’t know anyone that has. Drink water, lots of it, nope. Sleeping pills, nope. Hydration and sleeping pills together, nope. Some say alcohol, but that’s a vice I’ve decided against. The trick for sure is to travel well any way you can. For me, my trips, we call them missions, take me to places where I see what I see. At least tourists see what they’ve come to see, but I see what I see based on a calendar of meetings usually running from 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM and followed of course by a dinner of little consequence used mostly to reconnect with people across the globe that by now have become good friends, or good acquaintances.
7:30 PM: Arrived Dulles on schedule. The driver wishes me a safe journey for the nth time and with no bags to check, an electronic boarding pass, my preferred seats booked, I can go straight to security. The line is long, no, avoid the security check point with the woman with the baby in the stroller, computer out, toiletries in the plastic bag, nothing beeps. The rookie in front of me wasn’t as lucky, or well prepared. Amateur.
8:15 PM: Announcement made at the lounge it’s time to board. It’s one of two choices and you have to be time efficient. Be the first person to board, or be the last. I tend now to be the last. Waiting in the lounge through last call, and sitting in departures until the gate is about to close. I did it again this time, managing to finish my backlog of emails before I boarded.
9:00 PM: Pilot announces we’re ready to leave and the weather is good in Paris on landing. But, my app already told me all this so what’s being said is redundant. Next to me is a guy with a lot of gel in his hair. I figure that his plan is to not to get bed head since it’s an overnight flight. No, that won’t work if that’s what he’s after. The doors are now closed, and the passenger on my right, gel and all, tells the flight attendant he wants to move to a window seat. I would have gladly given him mine. I glimpse the business class cabin and it’s full, except for the window seat in front of me. Sitting there in the aisle seat, next to the available window seat, is a relatively attractive young lady, who unfortunately picked the seat right next to the bathroom. You don’t want to be in that seat on a flight lasting more than seven hours.
The stewardess accommodates gel man’s request and he’s off to the window seat in front of me. Good, an empty seat next to me making it easier to get in and out.
10:00 PM: We’re in the air, and a light meal is about to be served. Rookie mistake if you eat that late, and you won’t do well in heavy turbulence when you’re sleeping with a full stomach. I pass on the meal and turn to a beloved Kit Kat instead getting ready to sleep as much as I can. The noise cancelling headphones are on, but not connected to anything. They just keep the engine noise out. About forty five minutes later, the young lady in the aisle seat in front of me asks me if there is anyone sitting next to me. I say “no”. She sits next to me and says “thank you” with me not knowing what she is thanking me for. She goes on to explain that the guy who had moved next to her was talking up a storm and seemed to be a “real creep”. She makes sure he hears that remark. I put my headphones back on and push my seat back to sleep. I want nothing to do with this.
4:00 AM: The lights are back on and breakfast is being served. We’re an hour from landing in Paris. The young lady next to me seems relieved I made no attempt at conversation, but seems intent now on having one with me. “Where are you headed?” “Who do you work for?” “What do you do?” I answer the basics and not much else. She proceeds to tell me where she’s headed, who she works for, and what she does. I didn’t ask.
5:20 AM: We’ve landed. The young lady asks me if I’m going into town and maybe we could share a cab. But, no Paris stop over for me. I explain that on long haul flights I now find it easier to fly straight through. She seems disappointed, or at least I think so, or cabs are expensive and she now has to pay full fare. I’ll never know.
6:00 AM: In the Air France lounge now with two hours to go before my connecting flight to Abidjan. I can eat in this lounge, the food is decent enough, and they have Evian which is at least one mineral water my stomach can tolerate. After some breakfast, and the hot water and lemon recommended by a Doctor friend, I’m back on email. My iPad on, and 120 plus emails from overnight, common, really?
7:20 AM: Emails done, and now off to catch the connecting flight.
7:40 AM: I’ve boarded, late as usual, and the airplane doors close behind me. The pilot comes on and says its 5 hours or so to Bamako (Mali). Bamako, shoot, I thought this was a direct flight and now I’ve got an hour in Bamako of useless transit. No one is sitting next to me on this leg, and I try to sleep, but I’ve gotten the rest that I needed. OK, then, the iPad goes into airplane mode and I work away.
12:45 PM: We land in Bamako, everyone gets off except maybe 10 people. I’m pretty much now in the business class cabin all by myself. The ground crew is making a feeble attempt to clean the plane and this little girl is running back and forth in the aisle. I wish I had that much energy, but I’m done. I called the little girl over and asked her name, her mother peering from a distance. She said “Crystal”. I figure she was about 4 or 5. I asked her if she liked chocolate and she nodded as if to say yes. I gave her my back up Kit Kat and she gave me a big smile and ran to her mother. The mother looked at me and voiced a silent “merci” as she opened the wrapper for her daughter. Amazing how much a little chocolate lights up the face of a child.
I turn my phone on to check messages, and as soon as I do and get signal, my sister calls. She has taken over the job from my mother of making sure I’ve landed safely every time I get on a plane. I tell her I’m well and in Bamako, and she’s confused. I explain that Bamako is in Mali and realize that she is geographically unware, and her retort was simply “what are you doing in Mali, aren’t you in the wrong country”? Silly, isn’t she? I explain that there turned out to be a stop and Abidjan is next up. She closes with saying “OK, call me as soon as you get to Abidjan”. I answer to the affirmative, and she seems unconvinced that I will follow through.
1:30 PM: We’re now on our way to Abidjan. It’s another hour and forty five minutes. But, they’ll pass soon enough. Now, there’s nothing left to do. So, I read a newspaper. Donald is tweeting again, some crazies are saluting a Nazi flag somewhere in Virginia, North Korea has fired another missile, and have your pick of reading multiple articles on strife in the Middle East. On top of it all, baby powder causes cancer, Arsenal lost 4 -0 to somebody, and man my nephew must be pissed. The world has gone to hell.
2:45 PM: I arrive in Abidjan and as I disembark protocol is waiting. The protocol officer takes me to a lounge, asks for my AfDB passport and is relieved I have no check in luggage. Minutes later my passport is stamped and I am whisked away to a waiting car. Today being a Saturday, I get to go straight home. The driver knows that home for me is the Sofitel. Yes, I live in a hotel apartment and I eat at the same restaurant most nights I’m in town, me and the Economist magazine mostly. I’m a creature of habit, and these days, I’m never in a place long enough to have any form of permanency.
It’ll be soon enough before I’m off on my next trip, a conference in Paris next week, then back to the Ivory Coast, then to Egypt (really looking forward to this), then Paris again, followed by Washington, New York, Tunis and Ethiopia all before the end of the calendar year.
By year’s end, it’ll be 503 times crossing the Atlantic and everything will be de-ja-vu all over again. Off to another adventure that most times isn’t as adventurous as it once was. The life you’ve chosen eventually becomes all you know. And, I have to admit that when I’m in one place too long, when I hear a plane overhead, more often than not, I count lucky the person going to a foreign land, to a place they have never been before. Yes, it turns out that every day is a journey and the journey itself is home.