I’m sitting in the waiting room at Wilson airport in Nairobi, daydreaming about all the beautiful birds I’d seen and photographed on the Chobe River in Botswana, when a loud voice commands my attention. I look for the source and see a tall, bald-headed white man addressing some people who are listening raptly.
Ah, I think. Group leader and his sheep about to go on safari.
I return to my daydreaming. I happen to be sitting with other sheep and my group leader, David Lloyd, and his assistant Delores. For the next seven and a half days, we will be under his guidance on a wildlife photo safari in Kenya’s famed Maasai Mara. Once we get on a plane and once that plane lands, that is. David, however, does not boom; he speaks softly and his sheep listen just as intently.
|Part of my group waiting at Wildon airport|
Wilson airport is where all the single and twin-engine fixed base operators are located. This is the step-off point for safaris, where the small planes fly groups to the various gravel airstrips in the Mara and elsewhere to access the camps.
Safari Link, the operator we will use to get to Entim Camp, has this thing figured out. Rather than expecting us to remember and pronounce the name of the airstrip that is our destination, they hand out reusable plastic “boarding passes” in colors appropriate to the destination.
|The color-coded boarding pass.|
|Destination tag on my camera bag.|
And then our color is called and we walk out into the tarmac to our plane. It’s more like a scrum than a line as we wait for our turn to board. The boarding agent stops me as I reach for the cable hand rail of the fold-down steps attached to the plane’s fuselage. “One person on the steps at a time,” she says.
|This photo was taken after we arrived at our airstrip, but it shows a bit of the airplane's steps.|
I smile and nod, step back, and watch the person on the steps. When he arrives at the top, I again reach for the cable handrail but two things stop me: an arm outstretched in front of me and a bump in the shoulder that effectively pushes me aside.
“Right this way, folks,” booms a voice. I look and the voice belongs to the loud guy from the terminal. He has moved up, bumped me away from the bottom of the steps with his knapsack, and blocked my boarding with his arm. His group proceeds to board in front of all the rest of us.
I am flabbergasted and true to form, I step back and let him get away with it. Inside, though, once I’ve determined that I am not at fault, I begin to seethe at his rudeness.
Finally, he boards. I glance at the boarding pass agent to see if it’s now okay for me to board. She is looking past me and I also look that way. Off to the side of the bottom step stands a little girl about six to eight years old. She is the epitome of a child nerd with her little blonde pigtails and pink-framed glasses. I can’t help but smile and recall my nerd days.
The agent asks her a question. The girl stands mute.
Another question. The girl stands mute.
Third try: “Where are you going?”
I look at the girl and wait. Finally, she opens her mouth and says, “Far.” I look at the agent and she and I try not to crack up. Were it not for my color-coded boarding pass, that’s probably the only answer I could have used, too.
|There is beauty even among thorns.|
At that moment, a guy sticks his head out of the plane’s cabin and says, “There you on. Come on.” The girl climbs up the stairs as people behind me mutter about parents not knowing where their child is.
And finally, I’m on board and we are off. I sit in my seat and stew. Normally, I would have let this incident go and not bothered with it again. But, months later, this incident has the power to raise my ire and to keep me awake at night. I try to change my thoughts to the memory of that cute girl with a bewildered look on her face saying “Far!”
Why, I ask myself, why didn’t I stand up for myself and tell the man, “Excuse me. I believe I was next.”
Now I hope that writing about it will allow me to let it go. But I know myself pretty well after all these years. I stand back and examine both sides of an issue and by the time that’s over, it’s too late to act.