(Or “Is it because we are blacks?”)
We Nigerians are a very assertive lot, even in another man’s land. We don’t think ourselves disadvantaged because we are born hustlers. Ask the next Nigerian you see riding the tube in London or that brother on a queue in any international airport or a cabbie who hails you in a distinct Naija accent at any American city…no matter the condition, we struggle through it all and excel, many times than not.
The other day on our way from a trip aboard, in Istanbul, Turkey…the Turks…chai, they are better at 419 than we are.
Here’s what happened.
So we came from London and we were to take a connecting flight from Istanbul to Lagos. By the way, many of us London- Istanbul passengers were Nigerians, say about 50 or may be more.
We were ushered into a shuttle bus as soon as we disembarked from the plane then we streamed from the bus into the arrival hall and right into the arms of a Turkish Airport official who was busy calling out, ‘Lahgus hia! Lahgus. Parsinjars to Larghus follow me!’
When he was satisfied that we were enough…though another shuttle bus was still bringing more passengers from the aircraft, our airport marshal marched us forward, ‘follow, follow…’ he called out to us. Like obedient children, we followed, hurrying to keep up with the rest of the passengers. After a while, he asked us to assemble by Gate 704 . Many of us with shorter legs and some with kids were struggling to catch our breaths.
‘Stay hia!’ was the order and we stayed put.
Anyway, we stayed there and waited. But lo, some 15 -20 minutes later, curious Nigerians that we were, we began to look around at the destination screens spread all over the hall; the screens informing passengers of the location of their gates, time of flight, destination et al, so really, one doesn’t need anybody to tell you where to catch your flight…except they decide to change the gate-abi?
Why did we begin to query this sudden move? Our boarding passes said we were to board at Gate 302. Our flight was boarding at that gate as we all sat watching with disbelieving eyes… and yet because we were asked to wait by an airport official, we figured we ought to.
Then Nigerians, I love who we are sometimes, smelt a rat, a fat rotten one.
‘They deceived us, our flight is boarding, let’s go there!’
Na so, o. katakata, kitikiti, we rushed to gather our wits and luggage about us and began to hurry to Gate 302. A few stayed behind, though. As we hurried toward the general direction of the said gate, directional signs informed us of the time it would take to get there, 30 minutes…and there was no shuttle.
We hurried on, we ran, we dashed between passengers, many times knocking over a few, we kept checking the screens along the way to our gate then we saw it flashing-Final Call…
Lo ba tan!
However, me with my church mind, I couldn’t believe we were deceived, why? To what purpose? It didn’t make sense. Will they leave behind all the other passengers who were still waiting at Gate 704? Ok, so what happens if we are told to go back to 704? Who will waka that walk?
I didn’t like such unnecessary exercise, so I complained.
‘Haba,’ I told my partner. ‘Nigerians sef! Why would they deceive us?’
I mean, yeah, our boarding passes say we board at Gate 302 but maybe they changed the gates…for whatever reason and they forgot to change it on the general computer… Partner said, ‘PJ, hurry!’
We got there, panting and sweating profusely in the air conditioned hall…it had closed, our plane was about to take off!
The airport official at the gate was hostile, told us we came late, said we should proceed to ticket transfer for another flight tomorrow. (interpretation- go and pay some $200 more on your ticket for tomorrow, get visa on arrival, find and pay for hotel accommodation for one night then come catch the flight tomorrow).
At this time there were about eight of us Nigerians who arrived the closed gate at the same time. We broke into the loudest noises of hysteria!
-You deceived us, one of your officials asked us to stay at Gate 704, why are you doing this to us?
-No, you must give us another ticket, you must do this, you must do that!
Then I began to hear a refrain I never thought possible with us Nigerians-
-Is it because we are blacks? (huh?)
-Is it because we are Nigerians that you are treating us like this? (well yes, they treat us shabbily at other airports too, thanks to the bad apples amongst us)
-Is it because…
Hey, really, me thinks the Turks we met this period were just the nasty bunch! They were nasty to a Bulgarian who was asked to return to Morocco because of an error on their computer; they were nasty to an Armenian family who kept explaining in awful English that he didn’t understand why they couldn’t fly, they were nasty to some Arabs, too who were speaking rapidly over some confusion on their tickets…they were just…nasty!
True, I am black and aware that because of the colour of my skin, certain assumptions are made; in Turkey, we were the minority for miles and yet, I do not think the airport incident was because of the colour of our skin.
They obviously overbooked and the plane was full at the time we landed, so they needed a ploy to make us take the fall for their deceit and we fell for it.
Eventually, though, after we raised the roof with our Naija kind of aggression, they renewed our tickets at no cost but we had to get accommodation for the night by ourselves…that too turned out to be another story for another day.
These Turks, ehn!