So, after I arrived in Brazzaville and got to the waiting area for my last flight, along with our dearest family friend Emile, we realized our plane had been canceled.
The Congolese Government had requisitioned our noon plane and we ended up waiting from 10:30 AM to 6:30 PM for the plane to return. Omar Bongo, the longtime leader of Gabon died last week, and the funerals were on Thursday, so the plane was needed to transport Congolese dignitaries to the event.
This is a sign you live south of the Equator: government has a very real impact on your daily life.
Another sign is the type of waiting that you do: in the north, you may wait a long time but you always have an ETA, and you always know what you’re waiting for. Take the DMV for example. The DMV is commonly everyone’s nightmare waiting experience. Of course, you can bypass it completely by making a telephone automated appointment, but if you show up there on an unfailingly crowded day, you’re going to wait. Sure, waiting at the DMV is a pain in the neck, but you know what you’re waiting for, and you know you’ll eventually be seen. You also get a handy little ticket that tells you what number you are, and often, you’re told how long you’re going to wait.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that even in the most negative of waiting scenarios in the USA, you still start out with an end in sight. In the south, you’ll wait and wait and wait, with no information, no explanations, and no guarantee what you are waiting for will happen.
Waiting in the southern hemisphere requires resignation, humility, resilience, a sense of humor, and a certain amount of unshakeable faith. We waited for eight hours with no complimentary drinks, no information, no communication and no apology from the airplane company. We just sat there like cattle waiting for the abattoir, in the stuffy, uncomfortable waiting room, with no air circulation, no food and no functional toilets.
You should have seen our crowded boarding area. At least 150 of us, and a good 50 kids under the age of 6. Not a single child, in the ten hours they were cooped up, threw a tantrum. Some danced at the prompting of their mom who was keeping rythm, some obediently napped, most just sat there, and were quiet. No toys, no videos, no games, no handheld consoles, no books, no food, no water, no conversation, no rowdiness, no crying, no whining, no tantrums, just quiet patient well-behaved, resigned kids. I cannot even say how much I’ve missed that.
Some of them were so cute! This little girl ran around giving HUGE hugs to every serious man in a business suit she could find, getting them all to burst into laughter and hug her back. She would run and squeeze herself against them and talk to them very animatedly, and her mother would just shake her head and smile. She would run back and stand in front of her mom, jumping up and down and shaking her little butt to a song she invented, clapping, and yelling random lyrics. She called me “yaya” (big sister) all afternoon. We played together with her little plastic turtle (she was the only kid with a toy, and no one tried to take it from her), I clapped my hands and had her dance to a little French rhyme.
When I moved and sat down next to another young mom, her kid came up. A four-year old boy, with the shiniest face, the most beautiful radiant ebony black skin you’ve ever seen, shiny whip-smart black eyes, perfectly groomed hair and fingernails. He was dressed…get this… in a three-piece black suit with thin white pinstripes. A three-piece suit! Complete with a little button down blazer. His long-sleeve shirt was a light buttery yellow, matching his ankle socks and he was wearing Italian leather loafers. But he was a regular little four-year old.
And he was snuggling against his mom who took pity on him, and after she finished peanuts, she took the plastic bag and shook it out, then blew into it, and tied a knot around it and launched it in the air, tapping the makeshift balloon up higher, as the eyes of her little boy just lit up and a big smile spread on his gorgeous little face. All of a sudden, he and a cousin started playing with the balloon, making all the adults in the room smile, and having his dad join in the playing. They amused themselves for a good hour with the crappy homemade balloon.
We boarded our plane at 6:30 PM with no ceremony, no excuses, and got exactly one-half cup of warm soda in a small plastic cup on the flight to Pointe-Noire. Mom, dad and Nic were waiting outside the airport, and were already laughing. I got to them, silently shaking my head…but ended up laughing too. Hey…it’s Congo. You don’t change the places you love. Good lesson for relationships.