Saturday, May 20, 2006

In the Frankfurt Airport

Frankfurt: 8:40am
CST: 1:40am

Ok, it’s probably a very good thing that I am getting a little bit away from the internet this summer. In the two weeks since I’ve started this blog, it’s become obsessive—what is this uncontrollable urge to inscribe one’s being-in-the-world in this way? I’ve always had to write down what I’m thinking—in a private diary or in letters or emails. And the urge waxes and wanes, but this is a strange sort of thing—this writing for oneself with the knowledge that other people are listening in. Quite relevant to my recent thoughts on the public and private sphere. In this realm, what is public? What is private? I grow anxious about what I write. First, is it a revelation of the inconsequential quotidian boringness of my life? Secondly, is it quite “couth” to write about packing one’s underwear. This has been worrying me since I wrote that crazy nightlong log in the interstices of the night before I left. This is something one would write in a diary, perhaps, but on the web? When I decide to go back and edit, I again decide to leave it. Everyone, after all, packs underwear for a journey. At least, they should….

So, I sit here in Frankfurt writing in MS word, planning to sign onto the wireless for 15 minutes to post this and check my email. I sit here, watching all the Americans in ill-fitting sweat pants, torn-up jeans and ratty t-shirts inscribed with corporate sponsors walk by. What kind of arrogance or just plain I-don’t-care-ness is it that makes Americans abroad (and at home…) assume such a general slovenly appearance. Of course, I am stereotyping. There might be other undercover Americans lurking about. I always hope that I pass for “something” else. Was delighted in Amsterdam last year when someone stopped me and started talking in Dutch. And that’s, of course, maybe a little pretentious. Pretentious like having a blog, maybe. Pretentious like softening my American accent into an un-placeable blur, a faint British clip to the syllables, when I’m in these in-between places. But it happens automatically—when I’ve been in a place long enough, it happens unconsciously.

I, despite my American-radar, inadvertently sat down at a table with a couple of Americans contractors coming back from Iraq where they’ve been living on an American base and setting up telecommunications networks. They’ve been there for two years and now they’re catching the “Freedom Bird” back to the U.S. I try to be friendly. They are nice men. One of the guys lists all the presents he’s gotten for his family in the U.S. in the duty free bag. I too have visited the duty-free. Little perfumes for gifts. I’ve never bought something so expensive in the airport before, usually just chocolate to use up extra currency. It makes me feel a bit posh to buy perfume in the duty-free…

So, I emerged into a Frankfurt, and as I got off the plane, someone gave me a rose. How lovely. It’s wilting a bit now and drips a little water out of it’s rubber tube when I accidentally hold it upside down, but it makes me happy. My summer haircut that I nearly cried over on Wednesday—the front too short—now makes me happy. My self-designed dress made from the Indonesian print that was so popular in Nigeria a few years ago makes me happy—as will my favourite green wrapper outfit with the ruffle at the bottom that I shall don in an hour or two for the sake of customs in Abuja. Being here in Frankfurt, on my way from somewhere, to somewhere, being in between makes me content, though this time on the plane I didn’t feel as much of that travel daze—a lot of thinking, looking back. Sleeping too. On this flight, maybe I’ll look forward.

Airports—these liminal spaces. The signboard clicks through city names, falling into place with a sound like a typewriter—the same sound as at Grand Central Station: London, St. Petersburg, Stockhom, Tel Aviv, New York, Accra-Lagos, Boston, Zurich, and mine Port-Harcourt-Abuja. This is the portal, where you are uncertain of what to say when you accidentally bump into someone—the only German I know is danke and bitte. I’ve never flown Luftansa before. And, “sorry,” it ends up is probably just fine. I wandered into a book shop expecting to see the DaVinci Code in German, but all I could find were English books. I finally found an “international” section in a corner somewhere, where it looked like there was French and Italian, and then there was another small German section. But mostly in English.

It’s a strange—belonging to the dominant global language—of being able to assume when you ask someone a question in an airport that they will automatically understand you. It makes me feel a little colonialist. The global language may be our native language, but we miss a lot of nuance. I wish I had paid more attention to my Spanish in high school and college. I wish I remembered more of my French. I’m so glad I will be speaking Hausa this whole summer—cementing it in my head.

Strange there is a man kneeling on the ground and shaking, clinging to the railing. He looks like he’s having some kind of attack? I’m trying not to stare. I hope he’s ok. The American contractor coming from Iraq, where he’s been on a base for the past two years, went to tell someone. I look at the man again, who shakes and looks around. He catches my eye, shaking, clinging to the railing. I smile weakly, not sure what to do.

The man gets up and walks away normally. Maybe it was Turets. Five minutes later, no medical officer has shown up.

Whoa!!! A man just came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder and it was Terry and Sue Hammock from Jos! I knew I would run into someone I knew in the airport. Always happens. So, now there’s only 30 minutes to boarding, so I better sign onto the internet and send this off.

Yay! It will good to be home.

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