So you’ve eaten, tidied the house, and gotten to the airport early. Champ, oya, clap for yourself. The name on your boarding pass is spelled correctly and matches the name listed on your two forms of ID. Eagerly you move past the check-in counter and towards the security gate with plans to start that new Nollywood movie you downloaded for the flight. A slick advert for a popular coffee franchise catches your eye. You take note of which terminal to find it as a craving tickles your throat. “Oyinbo airports na wa o” you say in amazement. You join the line twisting around the security gate entrance and nudge your bag each time you inch forward. Luckily you wore a simple outfit and no jewelry so your scan should be easy breezy. Ah, but not so fast, African. It could all be so simple but you’re in North America where the airports have a subtle way of shading you. So before you go flying off into the sunset (or off your handle) read these 5 Signs You’re African In An Airport and shine your eyes well well.
1. TSA (a): Sure your name means “I bring my family peace and joy” in Swahili. But if it contains too many consonants, vowels, or is too “oh my that’s beautiful where are you from?” sounding just allow extra time for unexpected delays at the airport. Your African name will either imply criminality or ineptitude so getting through security checkpoints will surely humble you. Other people will bypass additional TSA scrutiny but not you. You’ll stand there barefoot in your dashiki wondering why your small carry-on got “randomly selected” for a hand search. TSA will erroneously say something appeared on the x-ray when all you packed is a change of clothes and one 3oz clear container of your handcrafted hair + body oil. You’ll watch them rummage through and rearrange your life, anyway. Everyone within gawking distance will know how many black socks you own and simultaneously feel safer, not from terrorism, but from anyone else who looks like you. You’ll dismiss this awful thought and bend down wearily to slide your shoes back on.
2. TSA (b): But stop! Two more TSA agents rush to your side and instruct you not to move. You’ll wonder what it is you’ve done to attract such spectacle. But don’t you curl your lips or suck those teeth, African. Remember, you’re dealing with Special Ops forces highly trained in confiscating your liquids. Don’t let them take your homemade hair + body oil. And don’t miss your flight. The TSA agent snaps her rubber gloves and says a hair search is necessary. At this very moment a blonde haired girl wearing the exact same signature top knot bun as you skips by. Ignoring the glaring contradiction, TSA will molest your coif until bundles of grenades and bricks of cocaine come tumbling out of it. Oh wait, no WMDs? No blow? Huh. You force a grin and thank them for their job well done. Next time you travel you’ll remember to wear your hair picked out in a full Afro hiding miscellaneous office supplies in it. It’s not fair that they came up empty handed after so thorough an inspection.
3. Customer Service: You’ve made it through TSA and entered the terminal of milk and honey. Feigning for that coffee you follow the sign that says your glossy cafe is conveniently located nearby. You find it and join the long line of customers already formed. Everyone is studying the menu but not you. You know exactly what you want and have exact change, including tip, to expedite the transaction. You reach the cashier and proudly deliver your order. But as soon as you finish he droops his shoulders and says he can’t understand you. “Understand me, ke? Ok o no wahala.” In your thick African accent you repeat your order, this time a bit louder so the cashier can hear. But he shakes his head again as if only one of you speaks English. The line of customers is growing impatient while you and the cashier hiss back and forth. You say it is he who has the accent and go on about your African country’s British colonial past making your English inherently superior to his. Still the cashier doesn’t understand you and reaches over the register to hand you a pen and blank piece of paper. You return the paper with your coffee order written on it and step aside to contemplate why this oyinbo airport won’t let you be great.
4. Delays: You have your coffee and only a few minutes left to find your gate when an announcement over speakerphone says your flight is held back due to weather. “Kilode,” you ask, “what else can disturb me today?” You find a seat at your gate and immediately call your host relative to apologize for the delay. You instruct him to monitor the flight’s progress on his smartphone and manage the time until your arrival. You’ll still call right before takeoff to confirm he’s seen the schedule updates and knows when you’ll land. Right after you hang up the phone a young American couple collapses onto the two unoccupied seats next to yours. They’re sweating like they ran here with their bloated backpacks all the way from Mali. One of them turns to ask in-between breathes if you’re also on their flight. You explain your shared flight has been weather delayed until further notice. The one whips back around to face the other and says exasperatingly “we ran all the way here from Timbuktu and our flight is on ‘African Time!'” You open your mouth to correct the redundancy but exhale instead and take the last long sip of your coffee. Out of the corner of your eye you see one of the Americans pass a small pouch of dried basil to the other and you frown thinking of the airplane food. Scanning the area you spot a trash bin and ask one of the Americans to watch your bag while you go stretch your legs.
5. Homeland Security: If you’re traveling out of the United States to an African country then expect a proper-proper sendoff. The airport won’t provide a marching band, per se, but there will be uniformed Homeland Security and canines to parade around your vicinity.You’ll think it’s all very astute but you mustn’t make eye contact or wave in their direction, African. Everyone confined to this pop-up occupation will be on edge, except you. For starters, you approve of your tax dollars being allocated to organize police dog meet-and-greets. This is way more austere and fiscally transparent than however your native country’s government is mismanaging its monies. Also, European and Christian colonizers have proven empirically that Africans favor a heavy hand over diplomacy; you don’t disagree. Setting lowered expectations for Africans means closer supervision which will deter criminal activity and only keep you safe. You’ve earned a nursing’s certificate and never miss a Sunday, Wednesday or Friday church revival; you’re not who they want. You ain’t got no worries.
From behind, a Homeland Security agent approaches your bench. Her dog seems interested in the three bags lodged next to you; one is yours and the others belong to the sweaty Americans. Your things have already been ransacked once so you shrug in compliance when the agent tells the three of you to open your carry-ons. She leads the dog to the Americans’ backpacks first and allows its wet snout to whiff inside. The couple seem more anxious than before but when she nods they rush to close their backpacks and pull them off to the side. The agent moves to yours and repeats the same procedure only this time observing the dog’s excitement. She asks if you’re traveling with any banned items; you answer no. The agent reaches underneath your change of clothes and wrangles out a round object wrapped in one of your black socks. She unfolds the sock to reveal the saran pouch filled with dried leaves you remember the Americans holding before. The agents eyes widen as she motions for her colleague. You’re asked to hand over your boarding pass and IDs to which they glance at the name and say “oh my that’s beautiful where are you from? Please come with us.”
Where is a place you often feel like an “other?” How often do you have to enter that space? Please share your experience with me in the comments section below.
#AfricansInAnAirportBeLike #Bish #TryMe