Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Africa For The Weekend - part one

My boss sent me to Africa for the weekend.

He called me one Wednesday and asked me to prepare to leave for the following day. As usual he was excited and irrational.

‘I believe I will need a business visa to go to Sierra Leone.’ I informed him.

‘Really?’ was his reply, ‘why?’

These conversations happen all the time.

It turned out that it would take at least a week to get everything in order. My common-law wife/roommate would not have to come home to a poorly written note saying that I was off to a recently war-torn country for the remainder of the week.

I can’t get into the reasons for such a hasty trip, because I still do not know why myself. I don’t think the boss has any idea either. It seems to make him feel very important.

However, an adventure is a precious thing, especially when someone else is paying the bills.

I needed shots, three or four of them. I think all four limbs got it. Boss man called ahead to arrange things and for some reason used his name. Apparently he was convinced that if I lied and said I was him I would get faster service. In fact it was slower service, until they discovered that I wasn’t who they thought I was. The nurses don’t actually like him, and his file was flagged.

Meanwhile, the Boss man seemed to think that everything was going perfectly to plan. I suppose when you are the only one making up the plan, which you share with no one, that could be considered true.

The plane to London was crowded and uneventful. I did not sit next to a celebrity or a model.

Heathrow-terminal 4 is not a fun place. It is a dull place with endless lineups for no reason. I thought it would be fun to look at all the strange people. It was, but you end up lined up with those people for a while and if you stare too long, you might look like a security risk.

Apparently the plane to Africa had a flat. It takes 3 hours to change a tire on a plane.

It turned out that I was on the second British Airways flight into Sierra Leone…ever. So the plane wasn’t all that full. It was decidedly less full on the return trip.

I arrived at 12:30pm. Customs was fun. Someone even offered me a job.

Freetown is on a peninsula. To get there from the airport, I had three choices:

1- Hired car - through bandit country.

2- Ferry/hovercraft – I never did figure out which one it was or if the ferry itself was a hovercraft. This sounded like fun. I’ve never been on a hovercraft before. But I had 800$ in my pockets, and didn’t really like being the only out of towner on a boat for an hour.

3- Helicopter – I have been in a helicopter before… a lot.

The helicopter was an aging, slightly rusty Russian thing with an equally aging and rusty Russian flight crew. I know some stuff about helicopters, and what I knew made me nervous.

All the baggage from the plane was thrown in. There was nothing holding it all down. It was just loose in the cabin. There were helpful signs telling me to please use the seatbelts that were not there.

The way I understand it, weight is a pretty important part of making a helicopter fly. The less you have, the better. Suddenly the contents of a sparsely filled jet liner were over filling a rusty machine with Russian safety pamphlets.

We traveled half way down the runway that the jet had landed on, just to get up into the air. I sat next to an open emergency exit, watching the black ocean.

It all worked out: the helicopter landed. The two guys who were supposed to meet me and take me to the hotel met me and took me to the hotel. Only one talked to me; the other one didn’t. He didn’t smile either. I got a room, It had teevee. I checked for bugs, lizards and snakes under the bed and in the toilet. I took a tiny little pill and went to sleep.