Celebrating East African Writing!
The twin-deck Airbus A380 SuperJumbo banked to the left and the city skyline was visible under the few wisps of cloud left. It was a clear sunny day and Gilobu Tirota was ecstatic. He was on the upper deck on the huge jetliner, seat upright and safety belt buckled, but he felt like he could snap right through the fuselage and land faster than the jetliner since he was in a hurry to get home.
A member of the so-called Aynek Diaspora, Tirota had been working and living in North America for the past fifteen years without setting foot home. He had left at the height of the peasant revolution, among other citizens with predictions of bloodshed all over. It had been an unprecedented uprising that had pitted the dirt poor peasants and urban slum dwellers against an increasingly oppressive government. The then popularly elected government had gone ahead and marginalized the majority poor, looted government coffers with abandon, engaged in ridiculous money spending sprees on a bloated cabinet, expanded parliament and an inefficient and lethargic civil service. Corruption was rife in the public sector with few piecemeal prosecutions from the anti-corruption watchdog.
It was against this backdrop that the downtrodden had revolted and the ensuing upheaval defied all uprisings in history. It had been a spectacular culmination of careful underground planning and a determination to change things. It had been feared that the well trained and highly disciplined military would take over, but to everyone’s surprise, they had remained in the barracks and watched the revolution closely. From the underground, with support and funding from the Aynek Diaspora around the world, the revolution had defied all odds to topple the popularly elected government by making the country, to simply put it, ungovernable. The police, lower cadres of the civil service, military and everyone else except the fat cats in parliament and senior government officers, had been pro-revolution.
All these images flashed through Tirota’s mind as the plane banked once more and angled for the runway. From the distance he could see the cluster of the newly constructed terminal buildings and the spire atop the new communications tower flashed repeatedly. The newly rebuilt Iborian International Airport was like nothing Tirota had expected. It was like a small city from what he could see.
Luckily the revolution had been bloodless and no civil war had broken out as predicted by the selfish politicians. The people’s quarrel had been with the leadership. Many of the then ruling regime members had overnight become fire-breathing revolutionaries, but the people had rejected their newly found patriotism and revolutionary spirit with the contempt it deserved. Yesterday’s oppressors had wanted to become today’s liberators.
Tirota’s thoughts were lost in those heady days of the revolution, now fifteen years in the past, and snapped out of his reverie when the spanking new terminal building came into focus through his window. He had not noticed the smooth touch down, primarily due the smooth new runway devoid of any potholes, and expert piloting. The new aircraft, part of the growing fleet of Aynek Airways, the national flag carrier, was being piloted by some of the best pilots on the planet, young Aynekan ladies. It was not amazing that Aynekan women had emerged right up there on equal footing with the men and helped steer the country to prosperity. The onboard communications system crackled and the dreamy voice of the young lady pilot filtered through from the flight deck, thanking them for flying Aynek Airways, and hoping the next flight each of them took would be with the airline. Tirota nodded silently. Of course everyone flew Aynek Airways nowadays, since it was one of the leading global carriers. His had been a direct flight from Miami in the US.
The airline having broken ranks with foreign shareholding was now majority owned by the proud people of Aynek through a publicly listed company. The stock of the airline was traded in Aynek, across the regional bourses, and was also cross listed in Europe and the Middle East. All this was amazingly unbelievable but showed what real people power properly exercised meant.
Tirota unbuckled his safety belt and bowed to say a silent prayer. He stood from his First Class seat and stretched. He was already getting impatient and wanted to get out and kiss the soil of his motherland. Since he was one among over five hundred other passengers, it would take some time to do that. Luckily for him, he had flown First Class, and had the privilege of deplaning first. Ironically, in view of the past regimes in Aynek, three cabinet ministers were in Economy Class, locally referred to as wananchi class and would be among the last to deplane. This was normal since public servants did not fly any other class, except the president who flew First Class. The presidential jet from the former regime had been sold after the revolution. Tirota flew First Class because he could afford it, and the cabinet ministers were free to fly any other class at their personal expense. Things had really changed, for better, Tirota mused.
The shiny new Karibu access way was festooned with photographs from the verdant countryside scenery, the pristine clean beaches and the snow cap on Mount Aynek. Glossy advertisements everywhere beckoned the tourists to come and visit Aynek, the new must-go tourist destination tucked in Eastern Africa. Tirota eyes watered at this sight. It was beautiful. There were five star beach and city hotels, tented camps and game resorts jostling for supremacy on the walls, all promising heaven on earth, indeed whatever creature comforts you could dream of. Tourism was booming in Aynek, and over four hundred of his fellow passengers were regular tourists from North America.
The mobile walk ways effortlessly glided taking Tirota and the other passengers towards passport control. The airport was so large and ultra modern that Tirota could only compare it to the top airports in North America and Europe. Having hurriedly left the country through the cramped Unit 1, Tirota had no idea where that particular section of the airport now was, but it must have been remodeled to fit into the new bigger airport plan. To his left he saw the glass doors that led to one of the two five star airport hotels, another landmark development. It was amazing what a liberated well run economy could do to attract foreign and local investment.
The big passport control hall was packed, but Tirota was again privileged to breeze through being a First Class passenger with preferential handling, at a small extra fee which he had not minded paying when he bought his ticket. He went through the First Class passenger’s corridor to the immigration officer, a middle aged lady who carefully studied his two passports glued back to back. The one he had left the country with had expired after ten years and he had been issued with a new one.
The lady finally found the “Exit” stamp on his older passport, looked up at Tirota with a warm smile. She then pecked a few keys on her keyboard to confirm some details. She looked up at Tirota again and broke out with a big toothy smile. Actually Tirota had left Aynek exactly fifteen years to the date, and his return to land home on this date was by design on his part.
“Fifteen years! You must have left when the revolution started,” she enthused.
“Yes madam. It’s been a long time, but I am delighted to be back”, Tirota replied calmly.
The passport control clerk positioned one page of his new passport under some electronic gadget that had replaced the rubber stamp, and Tirota officially entered Aynek, at least electronically. The page on the passport had an “Entry” imprint complete with the date and a security mark, something Tirota did not think he would find at his home airport. Only very few of the leading industrialized nations had adopted this new passport control system. He was getting more and more amazed.
“Karibu sana nyumbani ndugu”, she welcomed him while handing over his passports.
“Ahsante sana madam”, Tirota replied bowing a little. She flashed him one last smile, hit a button to unlock the turnstile which revolved and he was on his way to claim his baggage.
Past baggage claim was the arrivals hall. On one side was the area reserved for hotel and tour operators’ staff coming to meet their guests. He saw his name emblazoned under the logo and name of the five star city hotel he was booked in. The smiling young lady holding aloft the small white board locked her sights on him as he approached her.
“I am Gilobu Tirota just arrived from Miami on flight AX 1015”, he said handing her his hotel booking card issued by his travel agent in Miami.
“Welcome to Iborian sir. My name is Maua, from Mawingu Towers Resort, your home away from home while in our beautiful capital city”, she gushed. Tirota blinked repeatedly. A yellow jacketed luggage attendant, a young man this time, materialized from nowhere and took over his trolley. Amazing.
Outside the arrivals terminal, Tirota was stunned. There was so much activity around him. Cars revving all over, yellow airport taxis lined up waiting for their fares, airport shuttles at the bus stand to his extreme left and to his extreme right the sign above the staircase leading down the tunnel to the city subway. It was amazing. When he had left, he had travelled to the airport by bus, almost missing his flight due to traffic congestion. Now there was a subway to the city center from where you could connect to any of the city suburbs, or to the rest of country by train. All these developments were truly amazing. Fifteen years was a lot of time when you came to think of it. Reading about all these developments on the internet and watching it on television plus some photographs sent by friends and family was not enough to prepare him for the real thing.
His luggage was wheeled out by the yellow jacketed young man, and he stood as if rooted to the ground when he saw the vehicle they had sent to pick him. It was a stretch Lincoln Continental limousine, popular among the rich in the US but now a common sight in Iborian the capital city of Aynek.
“Your preferred car awaits, sir,” Maua cooed beside him, palm outstretched towards the rear left door held open by another young lady in uniform. Amazing.
The luggage had since been stowed into the cavernous trunk, and a five star ride awaited him. He lowered himself into the rear seat of the limousine and closed his eyes and said another silent prayer. This was too much. When he had asked for airport transfer, he did not expect a limo, but then he was a first class passenger and the limousine came as standard, he remembered being told. The rear left door was silently shut by the other lady, all smiles of course. She went round the rear of the limousine and hopped on to the driver’s seat. Maua slid on to the passenger seat up front, promptly turned round and introduced the smiling chauffer as Tabasamu. She enquired if Tirota was comfortable. Of course he was, this was a stretch limo. Tirota just nodded as if in a trance and managed to flash back a smile. She gave him a quick tutorial on operating the gadgetry around him, wished him a pleasant ride, and flashed him a bigger smile. The dark dividing window slid up leaving Tirota dreaming in his own world. Another all lady crew, amazing.
The chauffer released the parking brake, and the purring limo glided smoothly onto the exit road towards the multilane highway headed for the city. Tirota was in for a ride of his lifetime. Iborian city beckoned from the distance. He couldn’t wait.