They always walk the same way-one foot slowly in front of the other, tentatively testing the stability of the marble floor as if it might give way beneath their feet at any moment. Their eyes wide like an owl, seemingly on the lookout for predators, sensing the danger lurking behind every corner…
But I suppose I should not say anything, I was there myself not to long ago-grasping tight to my children’s outstretched hands, warily eyeing everyone who came within ten feet of my family, distrusting anything that moved…
Yet, having had my fresh-off-the-plane experience already, and later pushed it back into the recesses of my memory, filed under the title “Forget This Ever Happened” along with other events like the time I jumped in the pool at summer camp and my swim suit surfaced before I did, or when as new parents Jessie and I took our son on a train ride and forgot to bring any diapers and had to wrap his smelly body in toilet paper. I now get a good bit of twisted pleasure from my trips to the airport here in Ethiopia.
Now that I am able to stand safely out of harms way as I wait for others to arrive, I get to gawk as the newbies stumble through the big wide double doors and out into the often unfamiliar new world that is Africa.
My latest trip to the airport, while picking up friends who are in-town for the week, was particularly interesting.
I always stand at the back of the crowd, just enough taller than the average Ethiopian I can usually peek over the tops of their heads to get a view of the hapless newcomers who are loading their luggage onto the x-ray machines. Unbeknownst to them they are in the middle of a game that is a lot like Russian Roulette, regardless of where you came from or what you might be transporting in your luggage, the select-few are randomly pulled aside and asked to pay import taxes on the items that they wish to “import” with them in their baggage. Most however make it through without incident. Today it appears from my view above the sea of heads stretching out before me that most are moving through with ease.
I hope quietly to my self that the items that my guests brought for me are not flagged.
There are two directions that one can choose from once they exit through these doors, my vantage point allows me to see some but not all of those who come through and so I decide to wander around to the back of the room and find a place where I can lean against the back wall, I always seem to get a better view of both exits from here.
Having been through this drill many times, I have figured out the best way to make the most of my time. Not only am I able to get a good view of the exits from here, but this is the best people watching seat in the house.
It’s from this place that I notice them, two couples at either end of the large space in front of me, both appear to be separately going through the same frustrating situation; their expected rides are not here to get them.
I feel for them, but at the same time am more than a bit amused at the different ways they are handling this unexpected turn of events.
Couple #1 to my left are starting to raise their voices at each other in frustration, I can’t quite make out what they are saying, but clearly they are not happy. Meanwhile Couple #2 to my right is starting to break down as well, they are frantically looking for something, I assume it’s a phone number so they can call to whoever it was that was supposed to be here to pick them up.
You have to picture this with me, on the one end of the room the new people are pouring in, most of whom bear the same befuddled looks on their faces, wondering just how it is that they are going to cope with this new world that they have just entered, and on the other ends are these two couples who look like they just landed on the moon with no idea of what to do next.
I am enjoying all of this far more than I should be, but I can not help but continue to watch…
As I start to consider if I should help, couple #1 decides that it is best to split up, the husband stands with his hands clasped around their luggage, warily eyeing all who dare walk to close to him, and his wife begins fast-walking around the room with a paper sign that says “Mike and Kelly”. She is doing her best to ensure that every person in the room gets a good look at her sign, and is getting faster and more agitated with every subtle shake of the head that greets her.
On the right side couple #2 has now opened up every piece of luggage that they brought and the pile around their feet is starting to grow. The wife has decided that she is going to get out of her husbands way and is instead standing a few feet behind him and has her hands clasped tightly around her forehead. It looks as though she might start crying.
I finally can not take it any longer and approach couple #2 to see if there is some way I can help, at the very least I have a phone that works here that I will let them use.
“Hello” I say as I near them, trying to make my voice sound as reassuring as I can.
“Do you guys need any help?”
“No thank you” The man says, as his hand jets out my direction, gesturing for me to stay away from the now mountainous pile of belongings that he is desperately searching through.
“Ok” I say, fully understanding his feeling of vulnerability and I decide that I might have better luck with couple #1. I turn to make my way to the other side of the room where they are and just as I get to where they are I can see the woman returning to her husband with an Ethiopian man in tow. She proudly smiles as she says something to her husband in German.
I turn and head back before saying anything, and decide that I should stay put and continue waiting for my guests to arrive, and if I am lucky I might just catch a few more minutes of the “Just Arrived Show”.
I only hope that someone else took this much pleasure in “people watching” my family as we deplaned into this strange land for the first time at 2:30 in the morning more than two years ago. I am sure we made for a gut buster of an episode.