Of Suitcases, Airports and Progress

During a recent weekend, I had a personal experience with these innocuous little things called suitcases. Out of the blues two friends were flying out. So we spent a portion of the weekend looking for a suitcase with one friend and packing it, while we spent a Saturday evening discussing the implications of another suitcase. This second suitcase belonged to an exceptional leader whose shoes will be hard to fill.

Whatever the case (no pun intended), that Sunday evening I and two other friends found ourselves at JKIA bidding a close friend farewell. His name is Benjamin and he is a veritable genius. We were classmates in high school and he appeared in the newspaper when KCSE results came out. I on the other hand… am happy to write about these things. But we digress.

Airports have always held a certain fascination for me. They have quite a sensory load, from the distant rumble of large planes preparing for take-off to the smart uniforms of pretty airline crew, to the wings and swagger of pilots which says, “This, right here is my territory bruh.” Let the reader understand.

Perhaps one of the draws of an airport is the emotional undercurrents at play. This being Africa, one is not exactly treated to the full-on displays of emotion. However strongly we may bear our feelings, we wear them under our sleeves, not on them. However, if you look closely enough, you will come across the following types of people.

You may come across a beautiful but disconsolate young lady, arms folded in front of her refusing to hear the assurances of her boyfriend to Skype every day and come back ASAP. Despite all her arguments about the alternatives, he has still decided to go. Accompanying us to see Ben off was a lady called Njambi whose boyfriend is currently studying in South Africa. She picked out this young lady first and totally identified with her.

You might also see an impressive young man in his early twenties alone, with nothing but a small bag in tow. He comes across as a one man army on a mission of world domination. His face is set in a disturbed yet determined frown as if he totally means to go, to see and to conquer. I wondered whether a son of mine could be like that, God-willing. And would his being alone be due to his own stoicism, boredom about airports or adolescent embarrassment about his parents? I had much rather the first.

When we joined the queue, there was an older couple ahead of us standing together quietly. In Ben’s words “words are superfluous” in that moment. Once upon a time, a lady friend called Rosslyn told me how her dad had been helping a friend of his campaign. He had therefore been away from home for a week. The relationship between Rosslyn’s dad and Rosslyn’s mum was so stellar that  at some point during the campaigns Rosslyn’s mum summoned Rosslyn’s dad home for the simple reason that she had missed him. For some strange reason, the older couple ahead of us on the queue reminded me of that story.

One of the unique things about our African airports is the clan send-off. This happens when an entire extended family goes to see off the person flying out. It can be a rather heart-warming sight. This particular one was complete with wide-eyed cousins, possessive matrons and an overbearing uncle zealously queuing the lad’s trolley straight into my calves. At some point before joining the queue there had been prayers for the lad. These prayers normally sound like this, “Lord we know that Timothy’s plane has been made and will be flown by human hands! We ask for your journey mercies Lord. Almighty God your Word tells us that wherever we set foot upon we shall possess! Lord we ask that Timothy may possess that which you have prepared for him where he is going.” Such prayers are good.

One of the saddest sights of an airport is that of a young couple with a weaning baby who instinctively understands what is happening and wants nothing to do with it. The poor little thing proceeds to express its disagreement at the top of its lungs, much to the dismay of other travellers and the consternation of its family.

It would be hard for the leaving parent to get the baby to understand that the leaving is just as difficult for the parent. But the leaving must be done anyway. Sometimes parents need to go to certain places and do certain things in order to come back bigger, better on behalf of the ones they love. One of the painful things to observe in life is that of a young adult coming to the troubling realisation that the cards which life has handed them were not exactly stellar. The extreme expression of this realisation occurs in the form of a child testing a parent’s authority. The underlying subtext to this rebelliousness is the question, “You surely could have set me up better, couldn’t you?” It is said that fatherhood is the greatest test of masculinity. It is likely that part of this test boils down to this particular question.

So to those of us who have to leave in order to come back, I say go. Go with the (tacit) blessing of your friends, your family and your community. Raise high the various flags which you represent. But do return and that right soon.

(This article was meant to be posted in November 2013.)

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