I had an early flight out of Copenhagen back to Lagos, so I did the sensible thing and went out with the conference goers until the early hours. I had enough time to take an early morning walk, then pack up my kit and head for the airport. That meant I was working on about four hours sleep over two days, so I would sleep like a baby on the plane. When you do enough traveling, you learn what works best for you. On an ocean crossing, I want to be comatose for as much of the flight as possible.
The first leg of the trip took me to Brussels for a connection. I had never been in that airport, but my few hours there taught me why the EU is hopeless. For starters, I had to go through passport control, which makes no sense. Apparently, they cannot tell who is entering from an EU nation and who is not, so everyone is treated as a foreign nation entering the EU for the first time. It was not a long line and passport control is always the fastest part of the travel process, unless you have something to declare.
After a mile of walking I get to the gate and I have to present my passport and boarding pass again. Then I do this again. Then another time. Three times in the same line with three officials standing next to one another. Then I’m told I have to go to another person, who checks my passport and boarding pass. I’m up to four government officials within a ten foot square, who have demanded to see my papers. This happens four more times before I can get on the plane to Montreal.
Things did not get better once on the plane. I was in a window seat and my traveling partner was a particularly pungent African. Let’s call him Mr. Bongo. Now, Mr. Bongo smelled like a dumpster on a very hot day. Most likely, if he was outside, he would have had a swarm of circling around him. On the other hand, his funk was so powerful even flies would have to think twice before getting too close. The other people seated around us had something over their face in an effort to avoid the funk.
This is why I prefer to be comatose on these long flights over the ocean. It is a part of travel now, at least around the US. We have a lot of South Asians, who are not big on daily bathing. There’s usually one on the plane, so be prepared for it. On one trip, I saw one so ripe that the flight crew hung an air freshener on the seat backs. That trip was three hours of knowing what it was like to be around bears doing their business in a pine forest. Nowhere is diversity so personal as on an air plane.
At some point, Mr. Bongo started to have some sort of trouble with the seat in front of him or maybe it was the tray, I don’t know. That seemed to be the focus as they talked with him in French and he responded in some other language. He may not have been African, as it sounded like creole he was speaking, but I was still a little out of it, so I can’t be sure. That turned into a skirmish with the crew. They calmed him down and I went back to sleep, after getting a nose full of summer dumpster.
I’ve seen this before on these flights. Africans seem to struggle with flying. Last spring I saw an African flip out on the plane over his seat back tray. He started attacking the back of the chair, which had someone sitting in it, so it was quite a scene. In both cases, I was reminded of the fact that mentally disabled people will often throw tantrums when confused or frustrated. Taking Neolithic people and putting them into modern situations is a challenge under the best of conditions. Airplanes are not the best conditions.
Of course, living in Lagos, I’ve seen firsthand when first world infrastructure is handed off to primitive people. The same thing that happened in Africa after colonialism will start happening all over the West. Many of these people can serve in various roles in the system, but they have no idea why those roles exist. They lack the capacity to know and they lack the capacity to operate these items that have evolved in advanced western societies. From their perspective, this stuff is magic.
We see this in our daily lives. Some men can take over a division and run it well, but it takes special talent to build the division from the ground up. That solid manager is unable to develop the policies and procedures, but he can execute them. Someone with vision and talent had to create the rules and define the roles to match the available talent. That’s how societies work as well. Our institutions can be run by average men, but they always need talented men to step in when it is time to adapt.
Dozing in the miasma of Mr. Bongo’s personal funk, I started to think about those people living in the Roman Empire wondering why the water no longer comes from the big stone thingy anymore. Some may have remembered their ancestors working on them for some reason, but they no longer recall why. The people who knew how and why those aqueducts worked were long gone. No one was around who could figure out how to make them work again, because they lacked the capacity to do it.
I got into Montreal looking forward to some lunch. I had a good long nap and my olfactory receptors were cleansed of Mr. Bong’s stink, by the waves of perfume from the shopping area passengers are now forced to endure at airports. Everyone is forced through a shopping zone now, as they want to make sure you are always ready to consume next product. As a result, airports now smell like the dressing room of a strip club, but it beat the smell of Mr. Bongo, so I was thankful for that miracle.
Normally, when you connect on an international trip, you just walk to the next gate and maybe you have to go through passport control. In Montreal, I had to go through customs, then security and then passport control again. It was a slow mess, but my plane was delayed so it did not matter. Montreal airport is cleaner than Toronto, with no Sikhs. French Canadians have a chip on their shoulder about speaking French, but I find their obstinacy admirable. Good for them..
I finally made it back to Lagos with a collection of great memories of a wonderful time with friends in the European scene. Frodi is a great host and wonderful person. I’m thankful for having got to know him and now count him as a friend. The same is true of so many familiar faces I saw this time, people I have met at other events. To play a public role in dissident politics in this age means having readers and listeners all over the West, not just your home country. Special thanks to those I met this week.
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