So there was a massive snowstorm across Istanbul last week, which prompted our Turkish Airlines flight – and a bunch of other flights – to divert to Antalya instead of Istanbul, which should have worked out well for us since that was our final destination where we were going to attend the Samsung Forum which showcases their latest in innovation and techie things. (For cool Samsung thingi bobs, check out my Instagram and Facebook). We were flying Turkish Airlines…you know those chaps with decorative ads on CNN?
Things were going OK. Since flying back to Istanbul was out of the question we were sure some suit with a big title in Turkish aviation would say, “This is a special case, allow these chaps in. We are happy to have them here in Antalya, the home of 500 five-star hotels. Let them come experience our hospitality.”
That didn’t happen.
We landed at 11am and by 1pm over a dozen re-routed planes had arrived at this small airport, which meant more folk who had plans to be elsewhere suddenly found themselves stuck in Antalya. No matter, Turkish Airlines were kind enough to give us a complimentary lunch of burgers, pizzas and sodas for lunch. Then they told us “You have shibad, ama? Sawa, si you guys chill here as we sort your maneno chap chap! We won’t be long.” Two hours later there was no sign or word from them.
By this this time the terminal was building into a frenzy. People who had plans elsewhere in the world; Dinners in Berlin, breakfast in New York, dentist appointments in Dubai, doctor’s appointments in Milan, a dinner date with Svelt in Oslo. All that ruined! And they were angry because nobody was saying anything. The melee, as expected, soon began. People started shouting and screaming in all languages; Hindi, Dutch, Arab, German, Congolese, Kikuyu, Russian, French, “Wee want to see zee captain! What eees wrong wiz you peeepo!”
The problem is there are only about seven people who speak English in all of Turkey (not counting the Kikuyu guy who sells mementos on Bride Street), and so the airport officials were at a loss as to what to tell this agitated crowd. They spoke back in Turkish and everybody responded in their own languages, spitting with fluent rage. It quickly disintegrated into chaos.
Through the locked door of the room we were holed up, we could see the immigration counters, and a bunch of officials in a cluster with their foreheads touching, seriously deliberating. Then some Arab looking guy with a Yankee accent started rapping on the glass pane with his knuckles. Folk started shouting. The Turkish fuzz arrived; grim looking Turkish chaps with pistols strapped to their hips. Their boss, a chap with bad hair (Most Turks have bad hair) opened the door a crack and said something in heavy Turkish, which I imagined loosely translated to “Calm your tits down!” More officials arrived and words were exchanged and nobody understood anyone and people shouted some more and the cops kept saying, “Stiiiiiiiiiiip baaaak, stiiiiiiiip baaaaak!” but nobody was stiiiiiping baaak.
Finally somehow they succumbed to the pressure and started allowing people in, one by one. You showed your passport and visa and were allowed in. The first Somali chap who showed up was turned away. Then an Indian was turned away. Then a Pakistani. Then finally when our group had squeezed our way to the door, we were all turned away. “But we have a visa, look here, this is a visa and it’s not from River Road, this is our final stop!” But we were told, “Kenyans wiiiiii will explain!” Explain what? “Wiiiii will explain! Stay away, please! Stiiiiiiiip baaak!” Apparently, since our port of entry was supposed to be Istanbul, Antalya didn’t have any authority to let us into the country! But we couldn’t go back to Istanbul either because it was snowed over, so officially we were persona non grata.
One by one other nationalities started streaming in through this glass door, mostly Europeans and Americans and anyone who didn’t look like they came from a country that has slums. Finally they made a decision to allow everybody in, but once inside we were segregated; all the whites were allowed to go straight to the immigration counters and all Africans, Indians and some Pakistanis were held in a holding area cordoned off by a ring of airport officials. Nobody told us shit.
It was now around 6pm, the temperature is 8 degrees and dropping and we are standing in this big crowd, all of us, with this ring of guards, legs apart, hands behind backs, surrounding us. We stood there for close to two hours as people with the right passports were allowed through.
I mean, what would you think if you were us? Sure enough, one guy who looked like he came from Vietnam or Cambodia started really causing a real stink, asking if we weren’t “human enough” that it was very “unjust” to keep us there like “animals” as the rest passed through. Why you do this? Why you do this to us? Don’t touch me! Do. Not. Put. Your. Hand. In. me. (Haha, it’s “on me”, Kunthea!).
There was a dark short stocky chap from West Africa, given his accent, who we nicknamed Martin Luther and who walked through the crowd saying in that Armageddon voice, “This is exactly what it looks like, this is what it is, what you are seeing here is what is happening. We are being treated like this because of our colour!” Oh yes, it was getting interesting all right. The guards encircling us stared back with nonplussed faces. Meanwhile mothers shushed their crying kids. Outside, through the windows, the air was grey and unmoving, like a scene in the Walking Dead.
I assume the human ring around us was meant to prevent us from making a run for it, because Turkey is just the place we were dying to seek asylum in. We had all nursed a childhood dream to disappear into Turkey and this was our moment. This impasse held for a while. Some chaps with the right passports walking past us took a video with their phones, because that’s what you do at the zoo.
Meanwhile, Patricia from Samsung Kenya, completely upset, walked over to where I was standing and said, “Well, you look awfully calm, Biko!”
I was calm because I knew how this would end for us quarantined souls. A deal had been made long ago; we would all end up as slaves in Turkey. I knew it because that grim airport is the only international airport I have been to that doesn’t have a single open Wi-Fi. I think they shut it down to enable them to execute their barbaric human rights violations. We would be shipped to farms and estates to work for the hairy and wealthy Turkish elites. There would be a massive uproar of course. The world would cover its mouth in collective horror. Back at home there would be concerted efforts to release us – through hashtags of course. Obama, after much goading, would make a stern statement using phrases like “affront to the gains made by humans as a civilized race,” but he wouldn’t send the Black Hawks to rescue us. No – to use an overused American axiom – “Boots on the ground.”
This diplomatic standoff would continue for ages, meanwhile we would all end up working as slaves for different wealthy Turkish masters until all the twitter hangtags disappeared and we ended up forgotten.
The Nigerians would be sent to farms, naturally. The few Sudanese with us would be sent to factories. The Indians would be forced to work in carpet shops. Other Asians would be made to do jobs like walk the masters’ dogs, or clean the horses because they have brittle bones and kind faces that can’t upset pampered farm animals. The South Africans would get it the roughest because they would learn, after all this while, that they are, after all, Africans. Have you been to SA and asked one of them if they have been to Kenya and with a straight face they say, “No, I haven’t been to Africa?” Happened thrice in two different cities. And these are chaps with university degrees.
The Somalis would be sent off to the cold Mediterranean seas with their masters who own luxury yachts, as deckhands because even the Turkish watched Captain Phillip and they loved the part where that skinny Somali pirate tells the captain, “Hey, look at me, look at me, I am the captain now.”
I wasn’t too worried about ending up working in the farms, because amongst the Kenyans present, there were burly chaps who would do the farm work. Like Eugene from The Star newspaper and Martin of Techweez, large chaps with big hands. Straight to the farms. I would probably end up as a butler, opening doors, taking coats for the masters’ guests and kissing major Turkish ass. My slave name would be Pinto.
A cold wind blew through the lounge we were standing in. We clutched at our jackets. Hands shoved deep in pockets. The few Nigerians, donned in regal flowing traditional attire – because Nigerians hate looking at the BBC Weather to determine appropriate clothing – stoically stood there in their sandals, clucking under their breaths. We were upset and miserable. If you wanted to go to the loo, you were escorted by a guard.
Have you ever, as a Kenyan, been stuck in the airport of a godforsaken country because of some flight mishap, and gotten so lonely and miserable and a little scared and your phone is dead and you are the only black face and a black face is a rarity and people steal curious glances your way wondering if you own a pet leopard back in Africa, and you are cold and hungry because you only have Kenyan shillings in your wallet and you forgot to call your bank to enable your Visa, so you can’t swipe, and borrowing a phone to make contact is like trying to sell water to a drowning man and you just want to go back home to your mommy? But then suddenly you look out of the window and see a beautiful Kenya Airways plane nudging its way on the runway, with its snub-nose and gorgeous colours of our flag on its tail and you want to jump up and down with joy and chant “KQ! KQ!” like a child, and place a hand on your chest and sing the national anthem in trembly Swahili, and as you do, you suddenly see one of the KQ stewardesses walk briskly through the lounge – long-legged, thin smiled, straight backed and black as midnight, dragging a suitcase behind her and you run to her, hurl yourself at her feet and kiss it many times saying, “I’m sorry if I ever tweeted something bad about KQ, but please don’t leave me here. Please don’t leave me with these people. Please, take me home!” Then she pats your head reassuringly and you just start crying. Has that ever happened to you?
Well, that didn’t happen to us either. There was no KQ.
We were alone.
In bleeding Turkey.
With nobody to help us.
At some point before we were quarantined, there was an elderly British lady, completely red in the cheeks, who screamed in the face of one of the airport officials: GET. ANYONE. FROM. TURKISH. AIRLINES. DOWN. HERE. NOW. PLEASE! And she kept repeating it, accentuating her words, hoping he would understand. He didn’t. I loved how even in anger she kept adding, “please” at the end of her request. Quite Bri’ish, innit, luv?
Anyway, Turkish Airlines officials never showed up. After the burgers, they simply hurled us under the bus. Not a single official from the airline came to assure us that we wouldn’t end up as slaves. They were probably watching us all on their CCTVs and giggling like little girls at a rugby game. It’s surreal just how nonchalant they were.
This is the dhing. Often the way most airlines treat unhappy passengers is like how a man handles a displeased girlfriend. If your woman all of a sudden has taken to complaining, saying stuff like “You never make time for me, you are always hanging out with your boys. Am I in this relationship alone? Tell me, Mark, so that I know! I don’t want to feel like I’m forcing myself on you. I don’t want to feel like I’m the only one in this relationship but I’m starting to feel that I am. So tell me what the hell is wrong because you have changed, you are not the same Mark I started dating. In fact on my birthday you kept me waiting for two hours, you kept saying ‘I’m almost coming, I’m almost there!’ Then you show up and you come with this stupid bracelet as a gift! Mark, you have been with me for two years now, have you ever seen me wear a bracelet before? Eh? Stop touching me and answer me! Have you ever seen me wear a bracelet before? Exactly, I don’t wear bracelets because I don’t fucking like bracelets, haalllo! And yet you bring me bracelets on my 30th birthday?! [She actually said it was her 29th birthday but are you going to point that out now?). You are not serious, Mark, you are just not serious. You are not taking me seriously and you aren’t taking this relationship seriously and I’ve about had it up to my tits. Then this bad habit of you coming to my place drunk at 4am has to stop! You make me feel like a whore, getting drunk and coming to try and have your way with me, like I’m your plaything. Do I look like a plaything, Mark? Do you think I can’t go out and hang out with my girls until 4am? I can, Mark, but I choose not to because I’m mature! I’m a grown ass woman. But I hate it when you come over like that Mark, it makes me feel so damned cheap. Sniff. Why don’t you make time for me, Mark? Am I not important? Do I have to beg to spend some time with you? Wipe off that that sorry pussy face and answer me! What do you want, Mark?”
And it goes on and on as you stare at your shoes. What do you do gentlemen? When it’s at that point? I will tell you what Turkish Airlines would do if it they were Mark. Turkish Airlines would bury its head in the sand and pretend she isn’t mad. Hell Turkish Airlines would pretend she is invisible; that what he is hearing is coming from a hologram. Because if Turkish Airlines reached into all its pockets and emptied them out, you will not find one single fuck in there. And none to give.
I have very fond memories of Turkish Airlines. Of their bland sandwiches with cold cheese peeking out shyly from the sides praying you don’t actually eat it. I have fond memories of the pilot saying stuff in English that sounded like someone was reciting the lines of a dirge from the bottom of a well. I mostly remember the legroom in Economy, and how I tried to catch some ZZZs, but it was so cramped, I had to slide my long knees out in the aisle and a passing trolley almost took out my kneecap. I remember sitting next to Eugene, a big man no less, and trying to get into a comfortable position to sleep and fearing that I would end up with my head on Eugene’s large shoulders and people would think we are a couple. Not saying that Eugene wouldn’t make a nice girlfriend (albeit with big elbows), it’s just that we are both straight and wouldn’t want to give an impression but. Have you ever dozed off in a plane and woken up to find your head on the next guy’s shoulder? Do you know how awkward that is? Especially if you drooled on his shirt? And you have to wipe it off with a sheepish look? And you know he will NEVER wear that shirt again? Turkish Airlines might not read this, or even care but someone please tell them that they have earned a place in my top-5 list of Airlines not to transport my dog in.
Unfortunately, because I’m writing this, it’s obvious we didn’t end up in slavery. I’m not a doorman somewhere in Ankara. I’m not Pinto, but after that episode, God knows I could use a pint.
[Image Credit: Times Online]