Whew! I made it to Africa! Traveling overseas has long been on my bucket list of adventures, and now I can cross that off and move on to more important things on the list (like deep-sea fishing). Over the next few days I will try to keep an account of each day of my journey. I tried to write each summary while it was still fresh in my head so you get my opinion before the passage of time corrupts and warps my memory. Enjoy the read!
Can we say travel? I have become convinced of two things today. (1) Airplanes were designed by midgets and (2) there should be a body odor screening before being allowed to board a vehicle in which you will be wedged next to somebody for 6 hours without olfactory protection. For all the bad hype TSA gets, I couldn’t really complain. I was in and out of security in less than 30 minutes at every airport (we’ll see if I fare so well on my return journey) and there was no groping, strip searches or bad attitudes that I could see.
What I truly found ironic is that it was easier to find my way around Paris’ Charles DeGaulle airport than it was New York’s JFK. I disembarked from my flight in NYC to find no computer screens with my connecting flight on it, no signs directing to any terminal other than the one I was in and approximately 6,000 people just as confused and lost as I was. I finally located a screen that had my next flight listed, but of course it was in another terminal. I asked for directions, walked through a construction zone, met some more TSA agents and made my way to gate 10 in Terminal One where I discovered why they call it a terminal: it is where time goes to die. I was only there for an hour, but it seemed like three. The temperature was at least 80 degrees so everyone had a fresh sheen of sweat on their face (let the body odor begin!) There was nowhere to sit and still have your carry on bag with you, which the overly-friendly voice on the speaker will tell you is an unforgivable sin, and there is no one at the gate desk to inquire about front row seating, which is a must for a guy my size. Welcome to New York.
We board the plane (finally) and there is no one willing to trade their comfy, roomy front row seat with me. I fight the urge to stare with contempt at the 5’3″ 130 pound Frenchman in the front row when I pass him. I find my seat, 33F, and wedge myself between Frank and Marie from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ and a pot-bellied guy dressed in a T-shirt and gym-shorts of a length that was popular in the early ’80s. Frank and Marie are arguing over why he didn’t purchase window seats and how she could go sit on the other side of the window. Fortunately, there were window seats open so everybody’s favorite married couple got to move which gave me and gym shorts guy some much needed elbow room.
6 hours later I unfold myself and discover that my knees may be permanently locked in the bent position. As we disembark I find my next gate with surprising ease. The flight from Paris to Tunis was uneventful, not that I would know if it was because as soon as I got my front row seat I went comatose for two hours until the Flight attendant is waking me to prepare to land.
I get off the plane and step on my third continent in 24 hours and encounter an introvert’s worse nightmare- lost luggage in a foreign country where you don’t know the language. I go to the lost luggage counter where I find airline employees punching keys on the same computers I played ‘Oregon Trail’ on when I was in 4th grade. With the aid of an interpreter (another passenger whose luggage disappeared) I am told that the computers are down and they are waiting for the Arabic equivalent of an IT guy to come and fix it. 15 minutes later the computer ‘expert’ shows up and flips on a power strip. Voila! The system is up and running. My baggage will come on a later flight and all is right with the world.
I finally get to exit the baggage claim and meet my sister who has been patiently waiting on the other side of the doors. This is when I get to experience culture-shock in its rawest form. Taxi cab drivers appear from multiple angles to haggle over the price to take us from the airport to wherever we want to go. They see two gullible Americans. What they don’t know is my sister has lived here for three years and knows how much it should cost. We leave two drivers shoving each other to jump into an empty cab and that’s where the real excitement begins. In America, the lines on the road carry purpose and meaning, but not so in North Africa. Lanes are suggestions only, as are road signs. The horn also takes on a special meaning. Rather than a warning it becomes the voice of the driver. It’s as if each driver believes the road is personally theirs and the horn cries out with shrill, indignant fervor, “This is my road! Beware all who step in my path!” Right of way is literally a foreign concept and dented fenders are as common on a car as the windshield. You add some fist-shaking, hand gestures and what I am sure are Arabic curse words and you get the full experience. This would be my first of 6 cab rides today as we went and ate and visited people, and I lived to tell the tale.
That’s it for day one, jet-lag fogs up too many other important details. What will day 2 bring? Tune in tomorrow to find out!