On the Plane to Africa
Suddenly the man sat next to me in the back row moved back against the window. Like an English school master taken aback by some juvenileʼs jaw dropping revelation, he looked down his nose through his glasses at me in startled wonder. I only mentioned that I was a psychiatrist on my way to work at Pantang Hospital. I sensed already that we had some shared connection that would soon be confirmed; would he be my local supervisor?
Iʼd barely slept in recent days while caught up with the energy and urgency of preparing to leave home for 12 weeks. Although Iʼve had nine months to prepare, as ever, despite years of teenage practice packing for home in Florida after boarding school terms in England, it ends up being terribly rushed. Only the day before I was buying factor 50 sunscreen, alcohol hand gel and mosquito nets. Thereʼs still much outstanding paperwork and preparation to do before leaving my Brighton flat in Daveʼs care. Only on reaching the coach to Heathrow with a minute to spare could I begin to relax as the driver quipped had my alarm clock broke? I text more instructions for Dave, fire off a family email and speak to Wendy before reading a unread pre-election newspaper. Iʼm then stumbling with bags into the ultra post-modern experience that is Terminal 5.
Two hours before departure and Daliah from Challenges Worldwide phones to check Iʼm at least at an airport. Iʼve beaten the volcano and the next round of BA strikes, though both might ensure that even should I want to return in a month I probably couldnʼt. At the self check-in terminal, a BA worker strides past and asks if Iʼm Greg Neate which is both intriguing and unnerving. Sheʼs been looking for me as her colleague has my travel wallet with passport and US dollars! Reassured that my unknowingly lost vital items have been recovered, my passport face is matched and I thank them before shuffling towards baggage check-in.
After my stuffed, overweight bags are waived through and a text from Wendy, I empty my remaining bags of laptop and cameras for the X-ray scanner and pass the point of no return. I think whether to bring along news from the UK with me that may interest my hosts but already Iʼm weighed down with information – Iʼve even brought manilla envelopes stuffed with selected newspaper cuttings by my Dad that Iʼve not previously had time to read. Psychological profiling of our flawed, fallen leader, analysis of the future governmentʼs options or the Capello index about likely England players who will be ʻon the plane to South Africaʼ can wait. Iʼve a plane to catch and a country to discover myself without needing to take more with me. I do buy a digital recorder to use for the research I discussed with Norman last week and the model with the FM radio wins, in case Iʼll need my own access to the World Cup. Wendy calls as Iʼm on my way to buy to whiskey and calls again as Iʼm paying. Only the departure gate that says final boarding brings our goodbye to an end. I pick up several complementary newspapers on boarding the transit bus, then check the news on-line, text Wendy and switch off my phone at last.
Turns out that the man on the plane with the duty free is a retired forensic psychiatric nurse. Godfried previously worked as a forensic ward manager in London and continues to travel back and forth with two passports like me. He knows Pantang Hospital but has only driven past and never worked as a nurse in Ghana, saying rather disparagingly that there isnʼt a forensic psychiatry service. Sadly, this time heʼs returning for the funeral of his brother, whose body was being repatriated from America earlier that day. The funeral is next weekend and he invites me to come as heʼs lived for 30 years with guys like me! As the reported temperature on the backseat screen rises, he points out the lit up Tema township below. Akwaba!
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