Tuesday, January 30, 2007

in an Airport


Try to write in an airport

About fruit? Exotic fruit?

Will my plantain chips do?

Whenever I get to an airport, or even from the moment I wake up on a morning when I’m traveling, I have secret rituals.

When I am traveling alone I am free to act out these rituals one by one until the plane arrives.

Any airport I arrive at, if there is a shop of any description – and at some of the airports I’ve been to in West Africa, they are of ANY DESCRIPTION! – I go into the shop and scour it’s shelves. I usually search first for something obscure – a trinket no one lese would choose, a gift that speaks to me, or a drink or food item that is bizarre and specific to the place I am in, so I can take it home and use it as a sensory description of where I’ve been.

The last time I was in Milan I spent over an hour in the main duty free shop trying to indulge these criteria. I was so pleased when I found the shelves of hot pepper chocolate. Not only was the box glossy and rich brown, but the shocking red thin red peppers on the front caught my eye and I felt giddy like a child. It was bizarre and made of authentic Italian chocolate, and no one would have ever heard of it, nor tasted it. I imagined all the reactions of each family member to it, and knew this was one I would share best with my sister. And we did…

From the obscure purchase, I move on to the necessity for a snack or meal or both. When traveling I lose the ability to decipher hunger from boredom, desire from curiousity. My limits become cloudy and undefined as if the anticipation of different time zones and no ground beneath my feet change the mundane rules and habits that define me at home. I almost always manage to find something. I will stand at the counter of the serve yourself restaurant or snack bar or vending machine for an extraordinary length of time, pondering the amount I should order, the number of items, whether the flavours of what I’ve decided on will match, how much it will all cost and whether it’s worth the money and how much it would come to in the currency of my home or the country I’m going to, or translated into dollars. Then I choose and move on to reading material if there is any. Magazines are always the first choice, then I look for a good novel or even brochures if there is nothing else. I may take a stroll back through the shop – anything to avoid sitting by the gate for any period longer than completely necessary.

Today is the Ghana airport with it’s never ending renovations, newly opened Duty Free shop and snack bar which moved from one end of the ill-defined main hall of the departure lounge to the other. The once lively far end of the building with a bar and lounge area next to small shops is all boarded up and abandoned. Flying out from Gate 1 (of the two Gates), it feels as if you’ve wandered into the wrong section of the renovations. But as with most things in Ghana, this is the temporary/permanence of the way things are and will be, and no one seems too bothered either way.

Today in my adventure through the shop, after sniffing each perfume and giving myself the inevitable scent headache, I glanced at the fancy alcohol bottles, (wishing some were plastic and weighed less), and actually ventured into the ‘Ghana’ section of the shop that sells highly over-priced, non-representative locally made items. I found some tiny soap stone picture frames, which are made in far off East Africa and hence are not remotely ‘local’ but were designed with the local kente patterns in atypical colour combinations. The perfect purchase. I bought two and wandered to the snack bar. I am always happy to find Diet Coke anywhere I go. It is rare in West Africa, and despite it’s reputation as a pathetic frivolous American iconic export, I just love it. Diet Coke is my innocent indulgence. There was a whole row of Diet Coke in the fridge and it was chilled! There were unpromising pastries in the fridge as well, (which would be microwaved into a frightening texture and temperature by the barmaid, so were therefore out of the question). I saw some plantain chips in a double wrapped clear plastic bag, which assured me they wouldn’t be stale or have absorbed the taste of the stale airport air. I bought the Coke and the chips and here I sit to write.

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