…in which we learn of Brian’s bogus journey, resulting in an insufferable evening of involuntary refuge on the hot plastic chairs of the international airport in Nairobi, Kenya. This, whilst being pricked and bled dry by malaria-ridden mosquitos, and falling into the temporary good graces of the VIP lounge caretakers, utilizing his last shred of charm, to allow use of their WIFI, thus constituting our intrepid traveler’s only bridge to the outside world during this time of egregious despair.
Everything about this virgin trek to the motherland kicked off well, not unlike a first-round of a classic-era Anderson Silva octagon scrap. In fact, ’twas almost too easy. Getting out of Rio was cinch; Air France exhibited tender loving care to all us passengers, introducing me to cheeses and breads I didn’t know even existed, chasing it with cheap box wine upgraded to a biodegradable plastic bottle, but wine none the less. Upon arrival in Paris, I found a Starbucks at Charles de Gaulle and sipped haughtily at my vice-inducing beverage, my piddly will wont to do in the French capital and feel, if only fleetingly, if not high-brow, then at least solid middle-brow culture.
But then the unraveling began. I boarded the great sleek steel bird that would yank me from Paris and launch me into the skies over Sicily, then Benghazi and the Sarhara (which I could see cloudlessly from the window), onward over the Sudan following a course down the Nile, eventually to Nairobi, Kenya. From which point I would disembark and hop the final flight to Kampala, Uganda. It is true that the signs and symbols of tragedy are oft inscribed with nuance upon the stars, in a manner no soothsayer would interpret as a negative tea leaf. For on the plane to Nairobi, I sat next to a morbidly obese French child, who grunted lustingly for ever-more food and guffawed at every stupid joke made in Pixar animated film Planes, which they showed 4 straight times in the sardine-like economy coach. And my ass began to hurt in no small measure, as by the time this flight was accomplished, I’d spent the better part of 21 full hours in the air in the preceding 24. And the kid took up a great deal of physical space, so large his fleshy bandwidth, so unappetizing the hot dog-like fat rolls on his neck. Though no theologian, this denial of my space for the flight’s duration put me in mind of Peter’s first denial of Christ, albeit I am reluctant to cast my struggle for armspace with tubby in epic religious terms.
We arrived in Nairobi with an overage of time to kill, but infelizmente the lackluster and uninspired agents of Kenyan Airways experienced a dickens of a time herding all of us off the plane, into the gate-hopping paddy wagon, and over to the proper terminal, at which point we were all forced to herd ourselves. It did not seem, on the surface, a task so difficult; but not having taken their Lean Six Sigma courses, the Kenyan airport authorities are none to skilled in the specializations required to run an efficient operation, or so became ruefully clear to me within seconds of hitting the tarmac. And this got ugly at the transfers desk, where I was trying to get my final boarding pass printed, gasping for the sole customer service agent assigned there to assist.
Now, let’s rewind slightly: why wasn’t the final boarding pass already printed in Rio? Very worthwhile query; let me assure you I also pondered thusly the same item. But in Rio they told me I could get it printed in Paris; in Paris they promised me it’d be taken care of in Nairobi upon arrival; and now at the Nairobi transfers desk, it became a real-time adaptation of kick-the-can but with considerably greater implications for yours truly. Namely, missing the flight and thereby spending the night in the airport. And the transfer desk agent’s response was literally: “You don’t exist in our system, so we’re not printing you a boarding pass.” This second denial inched me ever-closer to matrydom, and it started becoming hard not to pitch my battle to get to Uganda in epic religious terms.
Surely thou art merely cruelly joshing your Brianzinho, Kenyan amigos! My retort to the transfer desk official, a late-term pregnancy woman of no more than 22 whose name was ironically Charity, fell on deaf ears. I mention her name since, were I to be frank at this juncture in the retelling, I’d say Charity’s actions were falling well shallow of upholding her namesake, given the arc of her constantly rolling eyes, the dismissiveness of her voice, and her constant suggestion that I call my travel agency to “fix the problem”.
So I lose all sense of time, place, and context. I go straight to the bribe: what doth thou desire? What could put me in a plane tonight? I have now traveled three continents in 26 hours, 20 of those being physically on a plane, and not dissimilar to the protagonist in Edgar Allen Poe’s “El Dorado”, my mental and physical strength now failed me at length. Surely a woman in her stage of pregnancy might dine readily on chocolates tongith, hmmm? Might a 9-dollar bag of Hershey’s put my bald ass in a plane bound for Uganda this very eve, Charity? For I am American Diplomat in a state of Great Desperation, and I will do quite literally anything to ensure I am on the plane in 15 minutes when it leaves Kenyan air space. Kampala has now transformed to an oasis in my fatigue-besieged mind. And isn’t my President Obama a man with Kenyan roots, deep as the nutrient-rich Kenyan subsoil, after all one of you? And would not helping his lowly emissary, here to be found in such narrow straits, be to deny a long lost brother-done-good? None too givingly, Charity finally heard my petition and offered me the transfer desk’s cell phone to make some calls, since my own Blackberry was not functioning whatsoever.
I will add that as I provided these long-winded explanations, the other passengers, finding themselves in equally perplexing pickles, chuckled heartily and in unison. They, clearly far more experienced in the ways of the institutional culture of the Nairobi Transfer Desk, intuitively and experientially understood that I’d make no headway with any of this. And they found the fact that I would try naive, hilarious, and pathetic all swirled into the glaze of a single crap cake.
So I got the travel agency on the line. In Brazil. On a borrowed Kenyan cell phone in bad condition, with background ambient noise compliments of a) people laughing at me, and b) people verbally assaulting the transfer desk in hopeful remedy of their own situations, some of which sounded even worse than mine.
One would think that with the travel agency on the line, calm would quickly be restored, tempers sated, murders avoided. But that would be based on one’s unreasonable assumption that all emergency line travel agents are rational beings who, in fact, both desire to assist the wayward federal traveler stranded in his first hour on the African continent AND are technically savvy enough to do so. But no. It went something like this:
Me: “Hi, my name is Brian and I’m a government worker stationed in Rio de Janeiro. Your travel agency booked my ticket yesterday for a flight to Kampala, Uganda and I’m having some trouble, which is why I’m calling this emergency line after-hours. I am in Kenya right now (brief description of issue follows) and really need your help. What can we do?”
Her: “Ok, spell your last name for me.
Me: (Spelling my last name, each letter very deliberately)
Her: “Ok, let me repeat that to you… H… G… T… U… U… I… Z… R…”
Me: “No, NO! That’s NOT it. Ok, look, let me do this one more time, I’m going to yell it. I’m not yelling at you, so forgive me, This is just a very loud airport and a very useless phone.” (Commence repeat of last name spelling)
(Two more rounds of this and, miraculously, I believe she gets it right. Then…)
Her: “Sir, I don’t have your file here. Are you sure we booked your ticket? You don’t seem to exist.”
ME: “YES I’M F**KIN’ SURE!!! I GOT ALL THE WAY HERE FROM RIO DE JANEIRO ON THE TICKET YOU GUYS ISSUED TO ME, I’M LOOKING AT IT RIGHT NOW AND CALLED THE EMERGENCY NUMBER FOR HELP. I’M IN KENYA, AND I KNOW I DIDN’T TRAVEL OUT HERE ON AN IMAGINARY TICKET NOR DID I PAY THE $6,800 OUT-OF-POCKET JUST TO COME HERE AND PRANK CALL YOU ABOUT A PHANTOM FLIGHT AND WHY MY NAME OUGHT TO BE ON IT. So I need you to re-enter the spelling of my last name once more since I’m pretty sure you got it wrong and that’s why it’s not showing up. And by the way, can we do this quickly?The plane is leaving in 10 minutes.”
(We go through two more rounds of this. Finally, FINALLY, it’s ok and she locates my ticket.)
Her: “Oops, seems like we made a mistake. The very final portion of your flight, from Nairobi to Kampala, wasn’t officially released to the airline. Since it wasn’t released, it wasn’t issued. And since it wasn’t issued, you were not able to get a boarding pass, which is why you can’t travel right now. That’s all that happened.”
Me: “That’s ALL? Ok, look miss, I’ve already missed the flight. I don’t wanna spend the night in the airport sleeping on the chairs at the gate. There’s no a/c in here and the mosquitos are eating my bald ass alive. My mosquito repellant’s actually in my checked baggage, and I don’t know where that is at this point, either. When is the next flight to Uganda?”
Her: “Well which flight would you like to take? Any ideas?”
Me: “Sadly, no, I am bereft of ideas. Because, you see, YOU ARE THE FREAKIN’ TRAVEL AGENCY AND HAVE COMPUTERS WHICH, AS IF BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE, ARE SUPPOSED TO DISPLAY ALL THOSE THINGS, IMPORTANT STUFF LIKE FLIGHTS AND, YES, EVEN SCHEDULES. SO JUST TELL ME WHEN THE NEXT FLIGHT IS SO WE CAN GET ME ON IT AND FORGET THIS WHOLE THING EVER HAPPENED, can we please just do that, hmmmm can we?!”
It took an hour on the horn, plus the call dropping twice, to sort this out. But I am pleased to announce that now, at 3:15 AM on Saturday January 4, 2014, I have a boarding pass in hand and will proceed to Kampala, Uganda in a few hours. I can only hope, indeed pray, that I am not denied yet a third time. For how shall I rise after the metaphorical death a third denial would deal unto me?