Airport illustration
Airport illustration
Ismail Lagardien

Ismail Lagardien on why he dons sunglasses on flights. (It’s because of ‘nice’ people)

I have flown into Africa’s remotest airports festooned with the wrecks of previous attempted landings and cows on the runway. I have bounced onto landing strips in Great Amazonia. Over Angola, our plane was fired at with SAM missiles. I passed out from fear and also when our small plane landed in the sea at Santos Dumont Airport while trying to take-off for New York City.

I hate flying. I have a problem being strapped down, sealed in a tin can and flung into the air. I’m not ready to die. I don’t want someone digging through the collection of dirty pictures on my computer storage drives.

I hate carrying heavy bags. I hate porters hovering for a tip after they have just crushed my books or my laptop or – God forbid – my cameras.

I hate sitting beside someone wearing a loud shirt tucked into jeans and a cell phone clipped to his belt showing me pictures of his life, wife and children.

On a flight from Reykjavik to Minneapolis, I was subjected to a travelling salesman’s “bonus” expectations. He was away from home “on average, I’d say, six days a week”, but had a week off “over fourth of July week and a week over Christmas”. His voice trailed off into the drone of jet engines.

I caught up again to hear the technical details of a new pressure hose he’d bought to clean his “deck and drive”… that he made “the best bulgogi in the world”… and something about “the good lord” and being ‘blessed”. He was a nice man. Nice people are why I wear dark glasses on long-distance flights.

Headphones and sunglasses are a must on a flight if you don’t want to listen to any boring life stories, which I don’t.

And oh, the tedium of the queues, captive and exposed as you shuffle this way and that. The man in front of you is wearing a Harley Davidson T-shirt with the words “the bitch fell off” on the back with running shoes and white socks. He too bends your ear, encouraged by the solidarity of standing in line. You pray you’re not sitting next to him on the flight.

At the front of the line the official takes your passport, looks at the picture, looks at you, then back at the picture, then stonily at you again. You swallow. You feel like the accused. At the very least, they’re going to charge you for excess baggage.

Did I mention I hate flying?

Ismail Lagardien
Ismail Lagardien has worked in Asia, Africa, the US, South America and Europe. Before becoming a journalist he toiled as a stevedore, carpenter, car washer, mine prospector and in a quarry. His words have appeared in newspapers, on radio and television, on walls and on paper scraps that have started fires. He has contributed to the speeches of two Nobel laureates – one for Peace, another for Economics. Lagardien is useful with a camera and has a doctorate in political economy.