(This will be a series of stories about a recent travel experience outside Nigeria)
Sometime this year, my email was flooded. A company that had once contacted me in 2013 reopens negotiations, this time with what seems like a thrilling urgency and itinerary.
As in most of my personal decisions, I weighed the offer against the prospects of soaking new cultural experiences and forming new bonds of friendship. Everything else took secondary consideration. This tendency, admittedly, usually proves silly to close friends who I burden with the responsibility of dealing with the nitty-gritty of my contracts while I settle into obsessing over my next cultural immersion.
Speaking of friends, I knew I had to announce it to them in a way that will distract them from burdening me with ngbati-ngbati or mischievous questioning. I composed a text in form of a riddle: "Hey Dude (or Babe), read this message backward from the end - .later you to Talk .SMS this from figure can you think I that world the of region a in role Director's Creative a accepted I've .tomorrow next Naija of out I'm"
(There was no later. It was immediate. The calls rushed in. The bants from my friends should make a new post. One asked if I've impregnated a girl and I'm escaping. Another threatened not to let me go since "we are all in this Buhari economy together". Another wondered if I had given up on my business in pursuit of a fuzzy promise of adventure. Another kept reiterating - "Chris, just be careful. You may not get away with some thing as you do here". Another, the most annoying and the one that scared me said, in a face to face, that he vacations annually in Dubai with his wife and, after reviewing my contract, yelled, "Chris, you're going to be working and living in the most expensive place in Dubai! He mocked my contract. I dismissed his intrusion on my adventure).
The Middle East holds some fascination to me. A few books and documentaries had explored some of my questions about the region, its role in civilization, its endless tension, the Abrahamic connections, the Israel factor, and in the case of the UAE and Qatar, - a new cultural sophistication that borrows the best aspects of other cultures and integrates them into an Arabic canvas.
Dubai will be my new home.
I survived the typical skirmishes of the Nigerian immigration staff and hopped on a connecting flight to Ethiopia via Ethiopian airline. Just at the sight of the plane, I figured I had committed the biggest mistake of my flying career. Here's the thing - I do not fly without a pack of chewing gum! A few years back, on a flight to Europe, I figured I suffer from "barotrauma" (or its less traumatic other name - "barotitis media"), a condition marked by extreme pain in the ear and feeling stuffed-up, especially when a plane is ascending or descending. It has to do with atmospheric pressure. It was so painful I describe it to people as having needles drilled into someone's ears and turned over and over like a wheel. On another flight in which I forgot chewing gums - to Abuja, a nice hostess, after observing my discomfort, created a makeshift solution whose efficacy startled me. It involved two pet cups, a tissue dampen in hot water and stuffed inside the cups. I cupped the cup over my ears - a weird sight to other passengers, while I endured the hot embalming of my ears as the heat fought the pain from whatever it was from. A white guy consoled me and said he used to experience it too, that I should form saliva in my mouth and swallow it repeatedly. This swallow-swallow part is the function of the chewing gum and the masticating action activates the muscles in resistance to the airplane pressure. During flights, I become a ruminant animal.
I fucking forgot to carry chewing gums! I have ruined this flight by myself. Everything was now evocative of the Yoruba expression of self-pity and self-flagellation - I-have-used-my-own-hand-to-do-myself. As I made my way through the aisle, I observed a Nigerian couple pecking themselves for a selfie and I took offense that their fellow passenger was about to be in pain as they, awon oniranu meji, were pecking and selfieing.
The plane took off and I sensed Lagos thinning behind. I didn't get a window seat but I didn't mind since an impending pain occupied my mind. Everything took a surreal quality - the fate of leaving Africa in pain and landing in the Middle East in pain. My ears began to twitch. The atmospheric pressure mounted. Fuck it! I flung my phone and kindle behind the pouch in front of me. I swallowed gobs of saliva and wished for a miracle. As I've once learnt from a Google search, I held my nose tightly and forced air through my ears. My ears snapped and I was relieved. I was back to normal and in between eating, drinking, and ogling at beautiful Ethiopian hostesses, I launched my kindle and flipped through pages of Klosterman’s “Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs.”
We landed in Ethiopia and after about 45 minutes, we boarded the next flight to Dubai.
(Let me quickly go and write the next post. I’m using this to fight writer’s block.)