He was speaking in Kikuyu*… Happy is the man who is able to discern the pitfalls in his path, for he can avoid them.
Happy is the traveller who is able to see the tree stumps in his way, for he can pull them up or walk around them so that they do not make him stumble.
The African writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who literally wrote masterpieces about Nairobi in his book Devil on the Cross.
*Kikuyu is a language of the Bantu family spoken primarily by the Kikuyu people of Kenya.
By SUAD NAUFAL – The gate of the flight had been changed again. Is it possible to change the gate, where the flight destination was set three times within an hour? .. I missed my flight from Istanbul to Skopje.
This was during my journey to Skopje Biennale in Macedonia in 2009, what happened there had never been taken into accounts especially at the International Airport of Ataturk in the Turksh Capital city of Istanbul. The pictures of their Elect President Recep Tayyeb Erdogan were spread all over the place-even in Macedonia itself.
Suddenly, the plane took off while I was waiting at gate No.304. In spite of asking the people – who were available at the airport –several questions, it appeared to me that they did not know anything about the gate change, except for a cute and beautiful policewoman, who told me that the gate number had been changed for the last time! I remember that I ran as quickly as I did at the Airport of Rome saying:
“It’s Alitalia Mistake”.
All the plane doors were closed. I felt that I had been through a catastrophe. At that time I could think of nothing. I started thinking of many questions, while I was shouting and reprimanding at the top of my voice saying:
“It is Turkish Airlines Mistake”.
All what I had already known, that it was the only flight to Skopje in that day. – that is OK. Some questions had haunted me back again. I started to ask myself : “Will there be any flights to Skopje tomorrow?” “Shall I be able to change my ticket again?” “Where shall I spend this night?” I could not find any answers to these questions. I started to run downstairs to the Turkish Airlines office.Then I was able to change my ticket for tomorrow and at the same time, I had to pay extra 100 dollars to the Turkish Airlines. There were 24 hours left for me to stay and wait at the airport transit. I did not know what to do during these waiting transit hours. No one had accommodated me at least with a room at the airport to spend that time in. I was implicitly mistaken and the one whom to blame was I, and not Turkish Airlines. Despite the fact that all the employees had unanimously agreed upon that.
I even did not know what was awaiting me there. All what I thought of, was taking a long tour around Istanbul… After that, A strong feeling came to me suddenly,it overwhelmed me and made me feel that my problem-with its consequences and details-was not that important or big. I had a choice to experience spending 24 hours at the airport, – If I had not missed my flight to Skopje, I would not have gone through this horrific experience one day – So I had to spend twenty-four transit waiting hours at Ataturk Airport.
Actually, I started spending this period of time by listening to a song performed by a singer called Zahra Hindi whom I loved. Her voice was heard all over Green Port Cafe.
That place was full of scenes, you can see a plane taking off, and a plane landing, as well as you can meet people who belong to the right wing and the left wing. You can see people running, walking around, a baby crying loudly, a man talking on his iphone for more than an hour. Besides, you can see a girl running quickly, as if she was trying to catch her flight, and a young man stroking his girlfriend’s hair, there seemed to be an intimate talk between them, The airport transit is an endless state of anticipation. Yet, what made a great influence on me, was those people whom I had met at the airport transit. Most of them had missed their flights. We consoled ourselves by sharing our concerns, distress, griefs and misfortunes.
I remember meeting some people from Morocco who joined us, and missed their flight to Casablanca at that day, There was another Syrian young man from Raqqa. He was studying medicine in Belarus. His flight which he missed was heading to Mackenzie. I also met a doctor from Iraq. He also missed his flight to Baghdad. Let me tell you something about an African woman called Aragoushi . She was from Ethiopia, and had missed her flight to Addis Abbaba. My experience with her cannot be neither narrated nor written at all, to the extent that I had not told this experience to anyone except a close friend of mine at that time. I felt I had to tell it to someone else, perhaps he or she might understand me one day. This woman was in her fifties. She was a brown lady. She tied her hair with a white swaddle, and put on a white scarf to cover all her head. She did not speak English, Arabic or any other language except her mother tongue. While I was sitting around, I saw her from a far distance, crossing the path towards the office of the Turkish Airlines Desk. She had a little talk with the employees at the counter, or rather she used signs to communicate with them. It seemed that she was trying to say something to them. It was very clear that nobody had understood her language, or the signs and gestures that she had made, in an effort to make them understand her. I was watching her from a distance. They signalled to her to have a seat with those who had already missed their flights. She then came towards me. We looked at one another. I spontaneously looked at her. I remember that I had not done anything except I gave her a smile, in spite of being nervous and tense. At that moment, my mother’s face came to my mind immediately. I felt that all the mixed emotions and feelings in the life that we knew and realized, had gathered together inside me at that moment. The seat which was beside me was occupied, she moved and sat on the edge of another seat on my right side. I found her after a short period of time moving towards me among those who were around me and she asked me:
I replied: “No”. It was evident that she had not understood my language. I signalled to her with my hands, to indicate that I replied with”no” answer. I thought that she at last understood what I said. Then, she went back to her seat on my right side with extreme silence that I had not witnessed before.
The girls from Morocco were able to untangle and solve the mystery of their problem, by changing their booking to Casablanca tomorrow at ten a.m.. I then met the young man who is from Syria – remained on his seat for more than two hours, and no one from the Turkish Airlines employees paid attention to him, or cared about him. This guy’s story was very funny. He was very exhausted, and he closed his eyes and slept, then he woke up finding that he had missed his flight to Mackenzei. He had a problem too. He was not able to talk or communicate in English. He only knew how to talk in Arabic and Russian. He asked me to talk with those Turkish people, and I did so. The irony was that the airport’s employees did not distinguish between the document of residence in Belarus, thinking that he had another passport other than his Syrian passport. His problem was that the first flight to Mackenzei would be tomorrow. He paid more than 200 dollars to the Turkish Airlines, in order to change the ticket. But it turned out that there were not any vacant seats. His name was written down in the waiting list hoping that he would travel tomorrow. Besides, the doctor from Iraq was able to change his ticket to Iraq. He at last found a flight heading directly to Baghdad, in the same day. His plane would take off at eleven p.m, I found myself obliged to spend the twenty – four-hour-period here, sitting on this seat, talking to people who had missed their flights, and guiding them, due to the experience I had, following the elapse of ten hours at the airport transit.
More than one hour went by, and the employees of The Turkish Airlines did not give a damn about this Ethiopian woman or care about her. They also did not care of talking with her to learn and know what her problem was. I made up my mind to talk with her. So I headed towards her, and asked her about the problem she had been through, by using the sign language of course. I took her ticket to know what the problem was. The ticket showed that her flight was at 7:00 p.m. And to my big surprise, it was 3:00 p.m at Istanbul local time. I then wondered and asked myself. “So what seems to be the problem?” I looked carefully into the ticket, and tried to discover by myself that her ticket was the same as the ticket which I changed a few hours ago, especially after I had missed my flight. So it was her second ticket. It seemed that this woman had missed her flight to Addis Ababa. It appeared that they changed her ticket with a new one for the following day, which means that she had also spent 24 hours or more at the airport! Since yesterday, she was wandering around the waiting halls for hours, hoping that someone would direct and tell her where her plane was, but all her efforts were in vain. Yet, she was unlucky, since no one could understand her. Besides, her ticket did not have the number of the gate where her flight would take off, which made it impossible to help her. Everyone knows that the number of the flight and the gate are given to the passengers, when the gate opens, this indicates that the plane will take off within two or three hours, if the number of the flights change constantly, people might go mad or even paranoid. I looked towards her, without knowing whether I was talking to her, or talking to the other passengers. I then shouted at the top of my voice saying:” Your flight will take off today, and it is still early, you have enough time to go”. She of course did not understand me. She looked at me and started crying, I could see her tears falling down her cheeks. I could hardly ever express how I was shaken by these falling tears. The scene of defeat overwhelmed me, which made me unable to express my feelings. At that moment, I wished to vanish and disappear for ever. Then I looked towards her, my tears started falling down my cheeks, she then started muttering and murmuring some words that could not be understood. I signalled and pointed to her to indicate that she would go home. She spoke some words in her native language including “beit”. It seems that there is a similarity between languages in terms of home. I nodded to her saying “Don’t worry, you are going there.. Yes, Go beit.. Go beit”-which means Go home.. I recall that I ran towards the bathroom and cried loudly, yes, I cried in that horrendous bathroom, when I gave the cleaner some dollars in order to smoke one cigarrette only! There is no somking zone at Istambul’s Airport. I wiped my tears, and put a handkerchief in my pocket to hand it over to her. I then gave it to her, she suddenly smiled, muttered some words and then kissed me. I literally asked her to stay beside me till they announce the time when the plane takes off, I –of course- communicated with her using the sign language which I had already mastered.
For a while, I forgot my trivial problem in comparison with hers. I found all my thinking was going around this poor woman and her misfortune. I had already forgotten my misfortune. So spending a night at the airport was not that noisy and disturbing in terms of me. So some thoughts suddenly came into my mind, and I started wondering what such a woman from Africa –who was in her fifties- was doing here in Istanbul alone. The first thing which I thought about that she had a son or a daughter who was living here. I used the sign language again and asked her why she was here in Istambul, but she muttered and mumured some incomprehensible words and phrases. I asked her about her name, I then learnt that her name is Aragoushi. Then she handed me her passport, to my big surprise, her passport did not have any visa or stamp related to Istambul. This meant that she was not a resident of Istambul. Istumbul for her was just a transit. I turned over her passport again, and came across the Schengen Visa for Czech. I was amazed again wondering what such an African woman was doing in Czech. It seemed that she stayed there for a month. I took a pen and a piece of paper, asking her to write her phone number to me, she pointed to her suitcase showing that her full address and phone number were written there. I then wrote it and kept it. I did not forget to take her a photo.
Her face looked very sad, she was looking at me sympathetically from time to time, and to the extent I could not tolerate it. Soon I made her feel secure and safe, by patting on her shoulder and saying:
“Go beit, go beit”, and pointing to a plane flying high in the sky. At 5:30, the gate of the flight heading to Addis Ababa was opened. I grabbed her by hand, and we headed towards the Turkish Airlines office. I asked them about her luggage, whether it was charged aboard the plane heading to Addis Ababa or not. I did not forget to find a pretext to blame and reprimand them again for their negligence, but they stood still and did not care about that poor woman, they only asked her to sit on that seat for hours.
We headed towards Gate 222. It was upstairs, turning to the right and then taking the right turning down the path which led to the gate. It was still early, and the gate was still shut.I looked to the left of the gate and saw two young people and a girl sitting on the waiting seats. They looked Ethiopians, we then walked towards them, and asked the girl:
“Do you speak English?”
When she replied “yes”. I was very happy. I then asked her whether she was going to Addis Ababa, she replied back saying: “yes”, she soon talked with the lady in an incomprehensible language, and of course, it was their mother tongue. I asked them whether they could take care of this woman-who was travelling at the same flight to Addis Ababa- they welcomed that, and the girl also thanked me on their behalf for helping this woman. They were very kind to me.
I returned to the waiting and transit seat from where I came. It was a long transit. I had enough time to find other people who had lost their flights. Another African woman who was standing behind the counter, but she was a good speaker of English. Another man reprimanding and cursing at the top of his voice…etc. In terms of Aragoushi- that African woman who hugged me warmly and strongly when she saw me off at the last time. She pointed to me with her finger saying:” Mother Teresa, Mother Teresa”. I smiled, and I did not think of Mother Teresa at that harsh and severe time at all. (Mother Teresa is a Noble Laureate, she died and buried in India). I was not amazed, because Mother Teresa went to Ethiopia to help those who were afflicted with disasters, as well as to aid and relieve the hungry and homeless people.
On my arrival to the Capital city of Skopje, a big surprise was awaiting me; I then learnt that there was a Memorial House of mother Teresa in Macedonia! (Since, Macedonia was her birthplace; she was of a religious family from Albanian origins, who had worked in agriculture and immigrated to Yugoslavia). Apparently, Mother Teresa insisted on chasing and haunting me! I remembered Aragoushi. Yes. It’s about the African woman.