The Journey to Banjul, Gambia: full of drama and smelly socks!

To be honest, this journey was full of drama. I even contemplated visiting a fortune teller before returning back home. To check if my flight back to Swaziland would be safe you know…

My Journey began with a last minute ticket that arrived on the 20th October 2018. Strangely, i have become used to last minute air tickets, so i wasn’t panicky about this particular e-ticket late arrival. The email confirming my flight came during a very  promising night in the company of a lovely dark shaven head beautiful species from down south in Swaziland.  She looked very “manicured” and when she smiled, I could hear my heart pounding. Email  made it clear that  i was flying out the next morning and had to cut my night short. As per the dating manual, i promised to call  and threw the “lets do coffee next week goodbye talk”.

As usual, last minute packing, stepping on clothes, sitting on top of an overloaded suitcases, checking if you haven’t forgotten anything and guaranteed i always forgetting something. Get on the airport shuttle, descend upon the always deserted looking airport terminals at King Mswati III International Airport. According to my flight ticket, i had to start at OR Tambo International in Johannesburg, followed by Jomo Kenyatta International in Kenya, then its the Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in Ivory Coast, followed by Blaise Diagne International airport in Senegal before Banjul. For someone who has traveled a bit, i was naive to believe i could cover this journey with a white shirt, wearing the same socks for 2 days.

The flight was set to leave at 12.05 am but by 1 am we were still waiting to board the plane at OR Tambo International. Kenyan Airways did communicate about the delay but you couldn’t get a sense of what was actually going on. The official who did the explaining about the flight delay flatly refused to give us a time scale of the delay. The plane was an Airbus A350 and it looked magnificent from the outside. For me, the appearance is important and im just not eager on the mechanical and engineering parts of planes.

Fast track to Nairobi inside the Jomo Kenyatta International, its around 6.15 am and i decided to spill coffee on the white crispy shirt, i had planned to wear for the duration of the journey. Fortunately enough, I had 2 spare t shirts in my back pack,just in case a beautiful lady was faced with a crises and my spare T shirt could save the day. My next flight was to Ivory Coast and I met 5 old Swazi women going on the same flight.This was at the Jomo Kenyatta gates where we were waiting to board the plane. They were not attending a meeting or conference but were on a religious pilgrimage. We met by coincidence largely due to the fact that i was carrying a Swazi passport. They saw my Swazi passport and decided to strike a conversation. Quite odd i know. Swazis are know for their love of travelling but its mainly limited to Mozambique, South Africa and Dubai. West Africa is quite the odd choice for a Swazi to go to. 2 out of the 5 old women approached me and introduced themselves. They told me they were from Manzini and indicated i was from Mbabane. The conversation started very well but quickly spun out of control within a minute or so. The conversation moved from a meet and greet to my final destination, the Gambia. The 2 ladies made it clear they did not approve of the Gambia. The place was laden with SIN and prostitution.

Even today as i write this blog, i still question how the conversation turned from a meet and greet to sins committed in the Gambia especially the high levels of prostitution by both sexes. The ladies went as far as quoting me bible verses and that was my cue to butt out of the conversation. I decided to excuse myself and pretended to be headed for the gents. To avoid awkward conversations, i prefer the answering phone tactic and it works all the time. On my return to the Gate where we were waiting to board the plane, one of the old lady returned and asked me about my christian denomination and i told her i am Agnostic. She wanted me to explain what that meant and i used the answering phone tactic this time around. It worked. I was not going to entertain these ladies anymore.  Answering phone tactic is a guaranteed last bullet for avoiding awkward tacky conversations and it never misses.

As soon as it was announced that the plane was ready for boarding, i was happy. This had been a very dramatic start for my flight to Félix-Houphouët-Boigny International Airport. I avoided the ladies like a plague afterwards. Saw them once during the flight and i faked a small grin when one of them waved at me. God damn narcissists. The story of socks. So, after surviving the ladies, i encountered another scene. 45 minutes into the flight to Abidjan, i went to the loo to take stock of my socks. Check how bad the smell was. It was not bad considering that it was then Monday late afternoon and i was still wearing the same socks.

When i returned to my seat, the guy occupying the window seat had decided to remove his shoes and the fumes were less than amusing. I thought the guy was inconsiderate considering the amount of effort i  had put just to check my socks. The other passengers were less than amused judging by the comments that followed through. I resorted to frowning when ever he looked at my direction. I deemed this punishment sufficient for the crimes committed. By the time they served us food on the plane, i had been very concerned about the taste of the food versus the smell of stinking socks. The stinking socks won and i settled for water. The smell was similar to that of the liquid sprayed by Skunk. In my continued silent protest against the stinking socks, i added a new flight regulation in my head: Passengers are not allowed to remove their socks unless permission has been granted by an Air Hostess. Landed safely in Ivory Coast and took off for Senegal now.

10 hours later, we landed in Blaise Diagne International and i was exhausted from flying. I was a walking zombie. Fortunately enough, the flight from Senegal to Banjul is 25 minutes or so. Before we even boarded Brussels Airlines, another incident occurred. For some strange reason, i decided to trip and fall. Walking absent minded will do that to you. My dignity, pride and confidence all took a bashing at once. Hundreds off people saw me trip and fall from grace. Anyways, we boarded the plane and i decided to keep my head bowed down and tried to avoid eye contact with anyone while looking for seat 33F after the incident. Even though i had fell, my excitement levels had shot up due to the fact that the journey was coming to an end.

My excitement was shot lived. After taking my seat, a very courageous warrior decided to approach me and politely asked if was OK. Why? Because he had seen me fall and thought i might have hurt myself. He was a doctor and was offering a helping hand.  Truth was i had fallen pretty badly. Inside my head, i was screaming, go away devil. In that moment when the doctor was interrogating me, I wanted the plane to swallow me and make me invisible. So we taxied, got cleared and off we went to the Gambia. Views of Gambia from the plane were less than exciting. Just shanty towns and huge river meanders. When you are about to land and you see skyscrapers, it always reassures you that there is civilization in that country.  You are guaranteed of warm food, hot shower and decent hotel facilities. Thats my opinion anyways.

I had never even bothered to read about Gambia and the state of affairs. Upon landing, the state of dilapidation of the airport just told me all i needed to know about the country. Normally, countries spend a lot of money in ensuring that their airports terminals are glossy and shiny buildings with nice tarred roads to reach the nearest towns. Its like warm welcome to deceive you into thinking that you made the right choice in visiting that country. Not in Gambia though. We landed safely and it was a very quiet flight with no recorded incidents.

We disembarked from the plane and it was VISA and yellow fever certificate time. Of course nothing could go wrong. Get a visa and head to the hotel. As usual ECOWAS counter there, returning citizens there and other African nationals counter there. I headed for the other African nationals counter and security official looked at my passport and told me to go another office. He just pointed in a certain direction and a security wearing a brown uniform took my passport and dissapeared into thin air. i hadn’t seen the direction said official took.  It took a few minutes to locate the said office as there is no signage to guide you. The offices had no markings on the door, so after knocking on 2 doors, finally found it. Its strange to knock on offices at an airport. You feel guilty. Maybe its because i have watched many movies and concluded that anytime you are asked into an office on TV, rest assured you have done something wrong. Either you will be butt searched, stripped, scanned and or grilled.

Normally Swazis dont need a VISA to the Gambia but i got told that i will need a VISA. I tried to explain as best as possible that i dont need a VISA but they insisted i needed one. Language was a huge barrier during the discussions and i dont speak WOLOF or French for that matter. It would have been easier to explain myself. After getting my passport stamped with the illegal VISA, it was time to locate the exit and head for Paradise Suites Hotel. On our way to the hotel, the driver of the shuttle stopped in a random street to buy food. The driver of the shuttle didn’t even announce the stop, we just heard the shuttle stop, saw driver crossing the road, buy food along the road and come back to the shuttle and drive off.  It was around 10 pm when i checked in at the hotel after leaving Swaziland a day before at 8 am.

Footnote: My English is not perfect but i hope you can look beyond the grammar and enjoy my narration of the journey…

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