I know it is daft to post this over a week after the event, but as I wrote the wordz, they may as well be public…
There is always an excitement and nervous anticipation about setting off on a new adventure but for me it never seems fully real until I’m ready for take-off. Until that point it’s just a hassle to organise everything, pack, say farewell and get to the airport on time. When I get offered that Business Class glass of champagne, scan the in-flight movie schedule, and settle in for the flight, then it becomes real. Thoughts of what might be ahead and all the unanswered questions now have time to surface…if I don’t distract myself with movies!
I’m excited about this adventure into Africa. Liberia will probably confront me with poverty, cultural differences, and the lingering effects of a civil war that I don’t understand; but it is infinitely preferable to Sudan or Dafur for me in my first time in Africa. (With apologies to my friends who are working there now!)
9 hours into the journey and I’m glad to be in Singapore Airport. It was a pretty average flight for Singapore Airlines – no sky-bed, a limited movie selection, and no toiletries bag! At least my luggage is checked through to Monrovia and they’ve only charged me excess baggage fees once on the 49 kilos I’m taking. $24/kg is fairly steep fee to discourage going overweight! However, I did enjoy flying over Australia and snapping a few shots – what a vast and varied land! This is only a 30 min pit-stop in the Business Lounge and now I’m about to find out what Jet Airways India amounts to…
15 hours into the journey and I’m in Mumbai Airport’s stuffy, over-crowded ‘Executive Lounge’ where strangers are forced to sit closer to each other than they want. I think what defines this area as Executive Class as we don’t have any families squatting on the floor! This is where my patience fades a little, faced with 4 hours of this with only a cup of tea to sustain me. Hmmm I don’t see a toilet anywhere and if I move from here I’ll never get a seat again! I hate this bladder dilemma!
Jet Airways has turned out to be quite agreeable. New planes decked out with flash seating areas that isolate you completely from your neighbour. Stewards come and give you your own sleepwear and set up your bed with extra covering to make the completely flat beds extra comfy. And to my surprise, Jet Airways is code-share with QANTAS so I even got some frequent flyer points to retain my Gold card for another year!
29 hours into the journey and I’ve settled comfortably in Brussels Airways Executive Lounge, a pleasant contrast to Mumbai. It’s as quiet as a library, peaceful and calm, and people keep their own space and stare at their laptops. I feel much more refreshed after a much-needed shower and now a bit to eat while I pass the 3 hours before I board the plane for Monrovia. The sky-beds were so comfortable that on the leg from Mumbai to Brussels I actually slept for about 5 hours.
It’s funny how the ‘conveyor-belt’ requirements of flying somehow numb the brain. I do want to start thinking about Liberia, planning my approach, thinking about the work, people and issues there, but all I focus on is whether to watch another movie or have another cup of tea. I know that I should be feeling something, but it is elusive and there doesn’t seem to be anything to say. I guess all the feelings and thoughts will come when I land.
41 hours into the journey and I’m milling around inside the plane while it refuels at Abidjan Airport (Ivory Coast). Apparently Brussels Airlines only flies direct to Monrovia on Sundays and Wednesdays. This has been the longest part of the journey…8 hours+ to get from Europe to Western Africa and I only sleep a little even though I’m so tired. This will be the quickest way to get to Europe from here as they have a flight every day to brussels. Not far to go now!
43 hours since I left Adelaide Airport and I’m finally on African soil…but the Customs official doesn’t want to let me in without a certain Travel Authorisation form that NY conveniently did not send me! Oh well, a few smiles and apologies and I’m ‘in’. Surprisingly my luggage is on the belt waiting for me. Whew! Out of the airport into the humid evening heat and my friend Alexandra (ex-UNMIK) bundles me into a dusty mini-van for a slow bumpy drive to Monrovia – the airport is 58 km from the city. I’m beat!! Happily there’s a UN holiday on Tuesday and I get to sleep in!