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Fear of flying
And people wonder why I fear flying?
Flying. If God really wanted us to fly he would have created us with wings. Instead he gave us legs to walk with. Good strong legs. Legs that can walk long distances. But, we like to travel, go to far off places, and we like to do this in the shortest time possible. Hence the invention and development of flying machines. I hate flying. I love traveling, seeing new places, exploring the world, but I hate flying. I always think, it's a helluva long way to fall. If something goes wrong with the plane, I ain't going to survive. I have a fear of flying. I'm not scared of dying, it's the way I might die that scares me. Imagine the terror that you feel as that plane starts to crash, and when they show the photos of plane crash victims, it's not a pretty sight. Those people suffered. And, that's what frightens me.
When I was a child, I can remember one of my first plane rides was to visit my Dad in Bloemfontein. I was returning to my home in Cape Town, and the pilot misjudged his landing, overshot the runway, the plane seemed to bounce twice and then we took off again doing what felt like a vertical climb upwards, with my brain and stomach feeling like they got dislodged and moved to the back of me. That was the start of my freaky flights. It's like, God said, "This person can handle freaky flights, so let's bless her with a whole lot of them throughout her life." And that's what He did, because He can.
And then there was the flight from Angola to Windhoek on TAG Airlines. Waiting at the airport for my flight, I was apprehended by two soldiers dressed in black with AK47's. We used to call them Ninjas. They virtually frog-marched me to a small office where a huge man dressed in black was sitting. He did look rather a lot like Jabba the Hutt. His English was almost non-existent. "You go Windhoek?" I nodded my head in agreement, too terrified to speak. "Here take. Count." I opened the envelope he passed me, and there was $5000 inside it. I wondered if it was a gift for me because I was brave enough to live in Angola during a civil war. "Give my girl. Airport." I nodded again and took the envelope, wondering if it was a trap of some kind. The maximum one was allowed to take out the country was $2000. Anything over that and you'd be arrested and the money confiscated. But when I looked behind me and saw two men standing pointing AK47's at me, I thought it best to nod my head and take the money. He then took my passport and made a photocopy of it.
Things didn't improve on the plane. My seatbelt was broken, there were rips in the upholstery of the chairs. That should have been an indication that it was not one of the world's best airlines. The plane stank of human sweat. It was a little gross. And as the plane taxied down the runway, I looked out the window and saw two suitcases left behind on the runway. At that time, all the hold luggage was always placed next to the plane. You had to point to your bag and only then would they load it on the plane. Some poor buggers obviously didn't know that and hadn't pointed out their luggage. So we took off, leaving behind the two lonely suitcases on the runway. The flight wasn't too bad although many things in the plane were loose and rattled a lot. The daughter was there too meet me, I gave her the money, nobody arrested me, so it was all good. When I left to retrun to Luanda in Angola, from Windhoek, the flight back was far more freaky, far more hair-raising. In fact, I seriously thought we were going to die. From the screams and the crying on the plane, I was not alone in that thought. Just near the Namibian border with Angola, we flew into an electric storm. The pilot appeared to lose control of the plane and it would start heading downwards, our stomachs and hearts detatched from our bodies and stuck to the ceilings. Figuratively, not literally. That's what it felt like. Then he'd regain control of the plane, and then lose control again. This happened about four times, and then the plane was struck by lightning. We flew into this big flash, everything vibrated, and there was a strange noise, and then the pilot announced that we would have to make an emergency landing at an abandoned airport in Southern Angola. In enemy territory. In the middle of their 30 year civil war. Lovely. Enchanting. I was speechless. The man next to me got down on his knees and started praying.
We landed quite smoothly for a broken plane, and were then herded into the abandoned airport building by soldiers with guns. Inside the airport, everything had been vandalised. The seats were only frames, all the cushions had been removed. It was hot as Hades and I could feel myself physically start to melt, but there was no air-conditioning, not even a fan. Just the heat. We were not allowed to leave the airport building to get some fresh air. Those that tried were prodded with guns and herded back inside. We waited for three hours while they repaired the plane. Bush-mechanicked it into working order. Nothing to do, nowhere to sit and definitely no duty-free shops to browse in. When the plane was repaired, the soldiers escorted us back to the plane and the rest of the flight to Luanada was uneventful. Everybody cheered and started singing when the plane landed safely.
Then of course, there was the time I wanted to smuggle $7000 out of Luanda. I was returning home to Cape Town for the Christmas Holidays. The school then, paid us in cash. And, we all hoarded the money and tried to find ingenious ways to smuggle it out, remembering that we had a $2000 maximum we were allowed to take out. I made my plans carefully. I bought a pack of maternity size sanitary towels. I carefully slit open one, removed some of the stuffing, and slid my $7000 inside. When it was time to check in, I went to the bathroom, put on the bulky sanitary towel, and went through immigration and customs feeling like I was wearing a surfboard. They strip-searched both the man in front of me, and the man behind me, but left me alone, just gave me a cursary pat down. I had made it! The last of the big smugglers! But, the story doesn't end there. At Johannesburg International Airport, I slipped into the bathroom, removed the sanitary towel and the money, and queued up at the currency exchange to change the dollars into South African rands. Although the exchange rate was not too bad, the fee they charged was horrendous. In front of me, was a large lady wanting to buy dollars. She guffawed loudly and proclaimed it was daylight robbery when she heard the exchange fee. I followed her as she left the queue, and tapped her on her shoulder. "I have dollars to change for rands," I said. She got all excited and wanted me to follow her to the parking area where her men in their township mini-bus taxis had the money. I laughed. No way was I going to carry my $7000 into the dark parking lot where her gang had the money. I managed to borrow the back office of a car rental agency so we could carry out our transaction, borrowed their money checking machine. The woman called her men on her mobile phone, and they arrived carrying cardboard boxes filled with R50 notes. After the transaction, I was nervous as hell as I suspected that what we had done might have been a little illegal. I was also terrified as I had to go to a hotel for the night as my flight to Cape Town was only leaving the next morning, and Johannesburg and crime are synonymous. I managed to get to the hotel and back to the airport the next day, without being mugged, even though my bag was bulging so it was obvious that I had something interesting in it. But the story still doesn't end there.
I caught the flight on the cheap budget domestic airline that I think has since become bankrupt. The plane never seemed to get to the proper height, and the intercom system wasn't working properly. All of a sudden, the captain's voice came booming inside the cabin, obviously not intentionally, "O vok, wat gaan nou aan?" Which is Afrikaans for, "Oh fuck, what is happening now?" When you hear a pilot say that you know that there is a possibility that you could be in deep shit. When you are clutching over R56 000 in R50 rand notes you start to hyperventilate with panic. The next thing, there was a ping noise and the oxygen masks dropped down from above. Without exception, everybody on the plane sat mesmerized, staring at the oxygen masks dangling in front of them. It was only when the flight attendant with an oxygen tank strapped onto her back came racing down the aisle shouting, "Hurry up! You only have 20 seconds left!" That we realised that this was a serious situation. The pilot managed to turn around the plane, and low fly at reduced speed back to Johannesburg. I sat too terrified to move, clutching my bag of money and trying to control my breathing with the oxygen mask. I then spent five hours wandering around Johannesburg domestic terminal, clutching my bag of money, while I waited for them to replace the pressure valve on the plane.
Air India was another airline which was not the most pleasant. Despite being a very bumpy flight, it was the delays which got us. Sitting three hours on a plane with no air-conditioning as you wait on the runway, then having the plane delayed in Mumbai, and nobody tells you anything, and you go from queue to queue and then find out the plane is delayed 8 hours. At that time, they were remodelling the airport so there were no shops, no duty-free, just chairs and blank grey walls. It felt like I stayed in a grey box for 8 hours.
Air Emirates serves the best food and is really good, although I suppose that we can't really blame the pilot when he decided to fly through a typhoon when other planes decided to rather cancel flights and be grounded. He had a schedule that he wanted to keep to. The fact we all thought we were going to die as the plane was thrown around in the air, just added to the excitement of flying, and my fear. I do believe that I have reason to fear flying.
China Eastern Airlines have the crappiest airline food, people who sit next to you and messily slurp their noodles. All around, you hear people hoiking loudly and spitting into their air bags. Not my cup of tea, but they are cheap if you are flying in Asia. Last weekend, I flew Ethiopian Airlines. At first I was apprehensive as I thought, 20 years ago Bob Geldorf did the whole Live Aid thing to save a starving nation, so how did they train to become pilots with no food. But you know, I was pleasantly surprised. From Kilimanjaro to Mombasa, on to Addis Ababa then to Mumbai and back, it was the smoothest flights I've ever had. The food was good, flight attendants friendly and helpful. All round excellent service and quite cheap as well.
I realise, that for me to travel to the places I want to see I have to fly. There is no way I can walk there. Ships take too long. Flying is the answer and I pray that my era of freaky flights is over!
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