Wednesday 10 November 2021

Carry On Luggage


jet-setting cultural aficionado on the road again

Being a cultural aficionado, I’ve always loved jet-setting to different world locales, dropping into different countries, immersing myself into different communities with people of different ideas and aesthetics. 

Head in the clouds again...literally!

Though one constant within the global hopscotching is the monotony of airports. My standard routine for years has been arriving at departures lounges (huffing and puffing), searching for a baggage trolley (hopefully no ‘accidental’ elbowing involved), finding my airline check-in (of course on the opposite side of the airport), waiting in the passenger queue (always at least one baby practising for the opera), and then staving off boredom-induced vertical sleep because that’s what the impending horizontal flight is for.

A departure from the norm

A few years back, it was time to do it all over again as I headed from London to the Egyptian Red Sea coast for a writing hiatus. So I started packing my bags and bought my Turkish Airlines ticket. The flight wasn’t leaving as usual from Gatwick Airport south of London but from Heathrow to the west of the city. This had me grinning as the latter was more easily accessible by public transport. Though after exiting the tube and going through the standard departures routine, I was greeted by a check-in lady with short blond hair and a perpetually furrowed brow who apparently didn’t know what a smile was. I surmised she was a recent hire and still learning the ropes, hence the slightly stern look of concentration on her face that was to overspill into our interaction.

Check in chagrin

‘Good morning’ I said, which she labouredly reciprocated before adding, ‘Can I see your passport?’ I was in half a mind to say ‘Can I see YOUR passport?’ just to mess with her. But thinking airports these days were not the best arena to try out my comedic chops, I decided against it and produced the required document. The check-in lady flicked through with stern fingers before lifting her stern face and saying in a stern voice, ‘Where is your visa?’ ‘I don’t need one’ I replied. Still, considering the standard UK tourist visa to Egypt was 2 weeks, she was adamant to see permission for my 4-month stay. With an upturned smile to neutralise her downturned frown, I explained about getting a visa extension whilst in Egypt like I’d previous done and showed her the accompanying stamps in my passport. Ah, she had me worried for a moment as I was thinking 'they’re never this thorough at Gatwick! Now, I wish the flight was leaving from there after all!' But after some discussion with her supervisor, the newbie agreed I was good to go and we could continue checking-in. Phew!!

Passport piss take

I passed her my big suitcase to be weighed which was well within the allowance. However, she then eyed my slightly ‘bulky’ laptop bag and pointedly asked to weigh that too. Damn it, again the Gatwick crew weren't that observant!! It came up on the scales as 14kg, whereas the max carry-on weight was 8kg. Little Ms. Stern Face declared I'd have to lose the extra 6kg of weight from my carry-on luggage. My mind split into 2 tracks. In the background, I ruminated how Turkish Airlines seating was slightly wider than other carriers, meaning they didn’t mind the extra 6kg on my backside (Sir Mix-a-lot would be proud), but not when I was carrying that weight independently. In the foreground, I just gave the stern-faced newbie a blank stare as I contemplated throwing away some of my clothes in my big suitcase or my research documents in my laptop bag...and I needed both! Aagghhhhh!

Carrying excess baggage

On a side table I was thinking how to swing this? After opening up my luggage, inserting my papers and looking at my overspilling clothes, the answer came to me, I would wear them all at once! Right there in the departures lounge I did an inverse striptease (dress-tease?), buckling 2 belts around my waist and putting on 7 t-shirts as well as a cardigan! After that, I pulled some stretchy trousers over my jeans, and stuffed more jeans down the front (damn, it really pays to be a big lady sometimes!) Next was my smalls and I remembered the large coat pocket hole that I'd been planning to sew for weeks. Lucky I hadn't, because I stuffed at least 5 socks and 25 pants down there (damn, it really pays to have a large bomber jacket!) The last weight reduction tactic was to just carry my laptop by hand as I causally swaggered back to the check-in wearing half my wardrobe. As luck would have it, the stern-minator was nowhere to be seen, replaced instead by another check-in lady who was oblivious to my 'clothes change' and sudden bulkiness. So with the scales singing the right number of kilograms, she let me through. Hurray!

This lady stole my moves!

I confidently proceeded to the security checkpoints. However, my swagger slightly morphed into a stagger as I started roasting under the extra insulation. Now, sweaty and panting in wintertime is not the ideal persona to present to security. Regardless, I nonchalantly went through the body scanner, and some random buckle elicited a dreaded beep. A female security guard asked me to step aside and patted me down. She was clearly bemused feeling all my bouncy softness, as well as seeing how the excess padding further accented my killer curves. But as those in themselves weren’t weaponised, I then retrieved my laptop bag and headed to the my boarding gate. Passing through duty free, I always indulged in the free perfume samples. This time though, the spray had to penetrate through the additional layers, so I practically showered myself in flowery spritz. By that time, the oven vibes matched the desert heat of my destination. Still, I decided to keep my walking wardrobe status until safely on the plane. I cleared the final gate check-in and just ignored the curious side-eyes at the panting perfumery entering the jet bridge. Sorted!

Duty free = free perfume bath

After embarking and safely in the skies, I stood up and began doing my ‘undress-tease’. Off came my fragrant t-shirts one at a time. From my eye corners, I could see the acrobatic reactions on flight attendants and other passengers' faces, eyes fluctuating from wide to squinting to furrowed to ‘huh?!?’ When I did my final magic trick pulling 'nuff pants out of my coat, they were properly perplexed if not plain traumatised, LOL! Finally free of the superfluous fabric now stuffed in a duty free carrier bag, I settled into my seat before my amusement morphed into annoyance at the airport/airlines' money grubbing. Excess carry-on luggage really isn't an issue considering passengers can buy loads of heavy stuff in duty free like large bottles of booze and perfume JUST BEFORE boarding the plane. Those items bring your total hand luggage way above the allocated 8kg, so they are just screwing us over! Anywho, it was still a series of ‘carry on’ capers which the inflight entertainment had no match for.

'Undress-tease' as in-flight entertainment a.k.a. trauma...

And how was Egypt? Sunny!! It was lovely being back in the natural (vs insulation-induced) heat balanced out with breezy ventilation in my t-shirt and sandals. No more need for socks and heavy coats…until the return flight that was…

Sunday 7 November 2021

Signs of Diaspora

African Global Migration 

Embarking on studies and a career abroad was to expand my understanding of the world. But not everyone is able to fully appreciate African diversity.

With a sense of comforting calm, I got up from my seat in the staffroom, my teaching bag filled with lesson materials. Ever a diligent lecturer, I'd already come into college over the weekend to do the bulk of my prep for the week’s impending classes, making online quizzes, creating supplementary visuals, etc. All that remained that morning was the final pre-lesson prep of photocopying worksheets, cutting out pelmanism cards, and grabbing my small gift bag filled with reward sweets for extra plucky learners. (Hey, university students deserve chocolate too!) So I stepped out of my cubicle, waltzed into the corridor and entered my classroom, shoulders loose and ready to go. As usual, the well-prepared class was going well with the 20+ students at this all female college nicely engaged in the activities. The floor length windows bathing us in glowing sunlight undoubtedly added to the lucidity of the learning process as well as the positive vibes from the views of green foliage dotting the campus grounds outside. The icing on the top though was hearing the afternoon call to prayer from the nearby local mosque.

The Ahdan: a sign of serene rejuvenation.

Mosque with minarets calling people to prayer

As a pious person myself, I loved hearing the muadhan’s passion-filled voice inviting all to replenish their spiritual devotion, adjust their moral recalibration and encourage wisdom-filled reflection. Each day, I loved the variety of changing voices too; young, old, high, low, fast, slow. It was a diversity missing in church bells ringing on Sundays also inviting people to prayer; either in Nigeria where I started school or the UK where I continued my schooling. But my Emirati surroundings in the Arabian Gulf gave me more in that heavenly respect, as well as unrelenting sunshine. The latter therefore merited my Nigerian àǹkàrá work clothes being airy enough to let my skin breathe as required per the local desert-heat at the same time as covering my body as required per the local etiquette. Come the end of class, I was an island of bold colour prints, marine blue, bright orange, sunny yellow, regal purple in the sea of black habaya cloaks and shayla headscarves adorned by the youthful ladies filling the bright white corridor. Some had their own little splashes of colour with embroidery, sequences or beads popping on the black backdrop of their flowing fabric, showing a little diversity of style. I’d barely taken two steps towards the staffroom when quite suddenly a group of four unknown students stopped in front of me, smiling.

Wide, toothy grins: a sign of welcoming warmth.

Happy, smiley abaya ladies

I smiled back at these friendly students wanting to say ‘Hi’ to the teacher who I guessed they had heard gave out reward sweets during the start of week lesson games.
‘As-salamu alaykum teacher, how are you?’ said the student on the far left.
‘Wa ʿalaykumu s-salam, I’m fine, thank you,’ I responded, followed by…
‘How were your lessons today?’
‘Who was your teacher?’
‘What did you learn about?’
‘Do you now have another lesson?’

Whilst the far left student was the most vocally engaged, I still turned my head frequently to address my words to all of them. As I did this, I saw from the corner of my eye the girl standing second to the right beaming enthusiastically at me. I turned to meet her gaze when, saying nothing, she suddenly leaned back, raised both hands towards me with fingers slightly bent, index and thumb sticking out at right angles, all whilst keeping the same enthusiastic smile. The second time I panned over the group, she did it again when we made eye-contact…and yet again during my third sweep. She was just in her happy place, standing quietly throwing ‘cool’ Tupac Shakur-esque gestures my way as she was apparently ‘communicating in my language.’

Angular hand gestures: a sign of being ‘down’ and ‘with it’(?)

Tupaq & Snoop throwing up hand signs

And right there in the college corridor, I’d encountered yet another example of a phenomenon that had followed me throughout my life across the world. Whilst I was finishing my schooling in Japan as a 17-year-old Yorùbá-Nigerian exchange student, the Japanese secondary school students in the boys basketball team insisted on a ‘Black American slam dunk’ from me, even though I was shorter than them! Whilst finishing university in France as a 21-year-old Yorùbá-Nigerian language student, the Swedish language students insisted on dancing to ‘Black American songs’ with me. And now as a 30-something-year-old Yorùbá-Nigerian higher education lecturer, this Emirati foundation year student insisted on throwing up ‘Black American hand signs’ at me. Upon seeing my melanated face, she was unable to discern any form of distinct diversity like I’d done hearing the different mosque muadhans’ voices or even seeing the slight variations in black habaya designs. Yes, she and all the other people across the world I’d encountered seemingly had no substantive idea of the African diaspora.

Narrow understanding: a sign of limited world exposure.

Slamdunking Black Americans

Didn't 'too cool for school' corridor girl know that all of humanity originally emerged from East Africa, home to ethnic groups like the Sandawe and Hadza people (circa 200,000 years ago)? Hadn't she heard that from there began a natural/unforced migration across the continent, including to West Africa producing the Nok and then Yorùbá civilisations amongst many others (circa 70,000 years ago)? Was she unaware further migration occurred out of the continent with many passing through the Arabian Peninsula, where we were both standing, on their way to South Asia (circa 50,000 years ago)? Had she no idea some settled in the Andaman Islands, forming the Onge and Jarawa ethnic groups? Didn't she get others continued on their way to Southeast Asia like the Semang and Aeta people? Hadn't she learned some then headed off to Oceania like the iTaukei community, all still distinctively featuring the African phenotype in skin colour, hair texture and facial features? Was she uninformed others still branched off to East Asia to form the Jōmon, Ainu and Ryukyuan ethnic groups (circa 30,000 years ago)? All of these people and cultures are still thriving today…and would most probably look at corridor girl’s weird ‘sign language’ trying to work out what she was doing.

But then again, had she no inclination that there was also an unnatural/forced migration from the continent through mass abduction and human trafficking? Wasn't she clued up that their undesired destination again included our current location of the Arabian Gulf as well as South Asia over the course of 14 centuries (between the 500s-1900s) where a minimum of 28 million abducted Africans were trafficked? (Accounting for those who died on route, the actual number is estimated at higher than 140 million.) Couldn't she perceive that other undesired destinations included Western Europe and the Americas over the course of 4 centuries (between the 1400s-1800s). Didn't she comprehend that in total, around 11-13 million abducted Africans were trafficked to the Americas with 95% going to South and Central America/the Caribbean and only 5% to North America? Hadn't she clocked that, for this reason, after Nigeria, Portuguese-speaking Brazil is now the second most populous Black country in the world versus the comparatively much smaller number of Black people in English-speaking Canada and the USA? Regardless, couldn't she grasp that, riding atop the wave of neo-American imperialism, the fashion, music, dance and film culture of this relatively small group of people originating from the African continent is beamed throughout the world’s cinemas, televisions, radios and magazines…becoming the skewed ‘face’ of Blackness far and wide?

Overarching global recognition: a sign of cultural visibility.

iTaukei ladies in Fuji, Oceania

This is what had led over the course of my life to Japanese slam-dunking assumptions, Swedish dancing suppositions (okay, I'm not going to lie, that one's true!), and Emirati hand sign expectations…except I am a Yorùbá-Nigerian. I am melodic àmì ohùn words and poetic afiwe sentences. I am studious ọmọwe diligence and unwavering agbalágba respect. I am spicy òkèlè food and merry ẹmu drinks. I am exciting abula sports and cognitive àyò games. I am engaging ìpè atí ìdáhun interaction, joyous ówàmbẹ̀ music and expressive àlùjó & ijó-ìtàgé dances. I am winding irun bíba, dídì & kíkó hairstyles and cute ólékú fashions. What’s more, I am protruding etè gestures! Who needs hands anyway when you have plump, ample, luscious lips to point with? It’s very efficient for your lips to point as your mouth talks: instant visual indication accompanying audio explanation of your desired focus.

Beyond my Yorùbá sistren & brethren, melanated Africans are the most genetically and ethnically diverse and dispersed people on the planet. We are so very culturally rich on the continent, with many more cultural branches developed across the diaspora from natural and indeed forced migration. But for the ‘cool’ corridor girl, my Nigerian àǹkàrá stylings did not detract her engrained imagery of Blackness. I was a Black entity, which for her only embodied a young Black American persona. I mean seriously, with my visible whisps of grey hair, I was twice her age; why would I be throwing up youthful hand gestures? In a burst of celebration after completing my weekend lesson preparation?? Regardless, neither my mature years nor my academic position as a possible lecturer for one of her classes next term mattered, all obscured by my Blackness and related ‘coolness’ for this handsy student throwing up signs after getting all the wrong signals.

Youthful misconception: a sign of innocence vs ignorance(?)

Yorùbá ladies living it up!

In any case, it was a fleeting thought and I really had to start preparing for my next lesson. So I opened my gift bag of goodies and told the girls to help themselves. They all enthusiastically reached inside and even the gesturing girl stopped leaning back, instead leaning forward as her hands now having more important things to do like acquiring chocolate. It was the perfect way to close out our interaction before continuing to navigate through the ever-present habaya-cloaked crowd back to the staffroom. My thoughts then went to my Black American colleagues also on the teaching staff, wondering if they too had had random young ladies coming up to them smiling, throwing up hand signs, trying to get some ‘street cred’ right there in the college corridors. Either way, it was a clear indication that more education was/is needed worldwide in recognising signs of diaspora.

Forward Agenda

‘Ẹ káàrọ̀ everyone. Welcome to this presentation on the Benin Robots.’  Ọlánrewájú took a big breath as she centred herself on the podium s...