Sunday, October 4, 2009

murtala muhammad airport (3)

murtala muhammad airport
september 4, 1981,
ikeja nigeria

i am stiff with apprehension. how different four
interminable days ago when apprehensive amble
now was gallivanting gait; giant steps naive &
exuberant. today i wary walk through this echoing
corridor, my eyes scouting ahead, my stomach
writhing with warning. so much noise; so many people.
immigrations, like four stations of the cross, is besieged
by arriving passengers; a mob of pressed pushing flesh
with a thousand arms, waving in the air like reeds in
the wind, waving passports & papers, beckoning,
beseeching the harried, but unhurried officers who
randomly select documents to process. no line, no
pretense of order, i stand rearward of the mob &
prepare for a long wait.
suddenly, i see my name flash, misspelled, on a makeshift
sign held by a plump, deferential black man. i wave to
him. he comes forward, introduces himself as o–-;
says everything is arranged. he takes my passport
& papers & melts into the mob. sudden anxiety
inflates a balloon in my chest when he disappears;
expands to panic in the passing moments. despairing,
desperate, i search for him among the faces clustered
near, berating myself for again being so gullible; a
stranger's affliction. but, as i mind-made-up move
to report my loss, he reappears like a sorcerer, with
an apprentice, & writing magical runes in the steaming
air, points me & the boy to the baggage claim.the balloon
in my chest deflates with a whoosh; my head swoons with
relief & i deliriously divulge to my new & trusted friend
the number of bags i have; my experience in liberia; my
apprehension of customs. he nods gravely, looks concerned,
& says nothing, except a few harsh barks in yoruba to send
the boy to get the luggage trolley and my bags.we wait for
him to return in silence. i stay the again mounting anxiety
by turning my attention to the airport throng ...

focus on that blur of chocolate & caramel faces,
with a white one or two or three marbling the mixture;
focus on the parade of lace, dutchwax & hollandaise.
the melodious strains of yoruba swell & cascade around
me in tones derivative of or acting upon a loud, lusty life incomprehensible english breaks in the air & is
hastily put back together again in a tonal mosaic. there
is urgency here...can be heard in the swish of expensive
cloth; in frantic calls for stewards; in the rush of shabbily
clad porters chasing down tips.there is convergence here...
people greeting each other caricature their joy in seeing
one another. some fall to the ground in abrupt, ritual
respect. dark seeming sullen faces nova into dazzling
smiles when recognized; high pitched ejaculations of
laughter waft above anonymous noise. there is sensuality
here... in the long graceful necks of slim yellow-brown girls;
in plump purple-black matrons whose george-cloth bottoms
rise & fall to prurient polyrhythms; in the eyes of comely
women of all shades of black who with a glance can assess,
entice or dismiss. & there is wealth & power... subtle
in the confident clusters of white folk, cardin casual,
smelling of st laurent & lanvin; ostentatious in the floppy
or conical-capped, gown-garbed black men with bulging
attaches,who are surrounded by sycophantic attendants
who fawn,who flutter, who fuss. i am swept up in the
fast-changing scene...

the boy returns with the baggage trolley. as he loads the
four suitcases & the large 3x5 foot locker, i tightly grip my
camera bag; can no longer contain my anxiety. it oozes
out of my pores with sweat. luggage loaded, we follow, o–-
& i, that trolley to the customs checkpoint; to the waiting
inquisition. there is no line. the boy pushes the trolley past
the customs station. i almost call out to him, but am silenced
by a throat-throttling glance from o–-. the customs man on
duty turns to speak to a policeman standing by; doesn't
acknowledge our infraction or our presence. shocked, i
looked to o–- for an explanation. he only smiles & winks.
outside, in the airport foyer, he magnanimously tips the boy
ten naira, in two five naira bills; one, he says, is for
the boy, the other is for the... mosquitoes... & he laughs
a loud belly-shaking laugh. welcome to nigeria, he says!

© Joseph McNair; 1984-2009


  1. I am left with a burgage of feeling after reading these two stories. On the one hand I have a fear for traveling to places like this because of the corruption. On the other hand I am excited as have always want to travel to the mother land and see how African live. As I know that the author of this story is well and had many wonderful adventures in many forgein lands I have a deep sence of respect for him. It takes a lot to leave your confort zone and exsplore the scary unfamilar world. Bravery is a wonderful trait to have and builds moral character. Would I have been brave enough to argue with customs over the outragous fee? Would I have paniced when a total stranger took my passport on the pretence of helping me through customs? I am not sure of either of these answers but I would like to think that I would take a leap on faith and do whatever I could to get what I wanted. The author oviously wanted to travel the country no matter what and would not be detered. I enjoyed both poems imensely as they maked me hunger for an African adventure.

  2. This poem is soething that most of us experience when we travel to other countries. the anxiety one feels when questions begin to flood you mind as to wether or not you have all your documents in ordere when its time to pass through customs. i personally get frantic at the faint possibility of being left behind because the customs agent didint like the way i looked at him/her or maybe the way I handed my papers over. and then in that state of panic its as though my senses become more keen and i hear all the noise around me more clearly and i feel that everyone in the airport is touching me. i can definetly relate to the feeling of panic that he discribes here. its a relief to have someone with you that knows what they are doing.

  3. this seems to me the whole part about being nervous is because you are in a new land and the customs are totally different, from the way i guess you can say customer service is. In the United States we are more accostumed to the customer being acknowledged and in nigeria they seem to be much more rougher, they donnot explain what they are doing leaving the you to be apprehensive and nervous, which also can be seen as guilt.

  4. Being in a whole new country and not knowing who to trust can be a very scary thing. I enjoyed this poem because every little situation is described and it allows me to feel the tension and nervousness of what he was going through. They are corrupt and feel as if they could get away with anything due to the fact that people are too scared to stand up for themselves. It took alot of courage to do what you did.

  5. This poem is an example of how different the world is around us. When one travel outside their comfort zone, for example,if one live in Florida and they decided to go to New York City is still can be a strange place for them because they are surrounded by many new things that are unfamiliar to them. I believe it can be a scary experience when travel to a new country, seeing new faces and most of the time the people that you are surrounded by does not understand you and your culture.

  6. After reading the two stories i look back and think of my travels to different places. It leads me to realize that people do these types of things in countries all over the world. I've had the opportunity to vist Jamaica, Haiti, the dominican Republic and the Bahamas, and in doing so, I've come across the corruption that tends to take place in the airports. If the residents of the country feel that you are a foreigner or tourist they will gladly take advantage of that and try to use that to the best of their will. They scam and plot which is exactly what happened to the character in the story. until it was realized that he may have something more than they, the customs agent would have let him through, but upon noticing the three hundred dollar bills, this captured their attention and also turned on their greed and dishonesty. they tried to hold him under false pretenses. This has happened so many times and i begin to think that this will continue to happen because people always have eyes for what is not theirs. It is not until they see that you are no foreigner to their country or that you have family there who would vouch for you and make sure that you dont get scammed by these perpertrators of law enforcement for their country. Butgiven the current state of the global economy and the poverty in the world to a certain extent they cant be blamed even though the crimes they commit to the visitors are at times heinious. I mean, if there was a way to always prevent these things from happening Im sure there would've been books written about it already. Although, my mom seems to think that by not dressing up and looking simple compared to being flashy than normal tehy wouldnt target you. But honestly I think that people dhave caught on to that trick a long tim eago. overall the story relates to real life so therefore it was a good one.