Friday, February 19, 2016

Day 3: 650 Miles and Worlds Apart

When it was time to board the plane I just happened to be fortunate as I was enquiring as to what gate the plane would be departing from and at that very moment they called for boarding. At this airport there was no zone, or priority, but rather an open rush to get on the plane. As I exited the building and walked the tarmac there were two acute aromas in the air. The first was the smell of something burning; if you go to Africa, or at least where I’ve been in my life in Kenya and Madagascar it’s hard to shake the smell. Often times it’s burning garbage and at first it’s repulsive, but then it becomes part of the landscape itself and is as distinguishable as the other aroma I smelled and that was the sweet aroma of an incoming African rainstorm.

            I got on the plane before the bottom fell out from the sky and I took my seat which wasn’t a window which was disappointing, but after a slight delay for unknown reasons we took to the skies and it wasn’t long before I had a meal in front of me. I’m not sure what it was, perhaps tuna, but whatever it was I don’t do meat that’s cold so it just sat there, sadly, but it was hard to imagine a US carrier offering a free meal to all on board as well as any drink a person would want at no extra charge. Hard to imagine, right?

            The series of misfortunes continued for me, thankfully this time it was much more mild than the previous two days, but as the meal cart was coming back the other way the driver, ahem, flight attendant had a mishap and the sharp corner of the cart was driven right into the soft spot of my shoulder. I was already hungry to the point that I no longer felt hungry which meant my emotions were even more swingy than normal but I maintained composure and ignored it. The attendant spoke French and it was, “monsieur” this and, “apologies” that but I said I’m fine with a reassuring grimace.

            We landed and it was shades of my trip back from Tokyo as we had some sort of medical issue on board. This was unbeknownst to us passengers and I was third in line to exit the plane when an announcement was made in French, or at least that’s what I think it was, and the person in front of me did a 180 and looked at me and I looked at him and slyly held up my US passport which indicated that I had no idea what was going on and he said, “back to your seat, there’s a report of a potential Ebola case on board.

            I then did a 180 and the person behind her did and slowly all returned to their seats. This was much more orderly than the experience I had in Detroit on the flight back from Tokyo and then there was an announcement in English explaining the situation and that all needed to take their seats, stay there, and await further commands. There were no complaints, and little protest outside one man that had a tight connection but he was assured the other flight would wait so long as we didn’t end up in quarantine. “Quarantine” is always a word that conveys confidence in a situation, don’t you think?

            Oddly I had no anxiety over the situation as I did in Detroit. Maybe it’s because I knew this would be a false alarm as the amount of paperwork one has to fill out to enter a country on their state of health shows that they mean business on trying to curb and eliminate the spread of that heinous virus and with that comes a forced reaction to every severe cough, rash, and fever so I noticed from those around me that this was just “life as usual” in the African continent.

            The delay was 15 minutes and all aboard the plane were calm, relaxed, and there was no single person constantly trying to leave the plane like there was on my earlier trip. I keep stating this because the order and obedience from the directive of the crew held so much more respect that what I witnessed by many Americans in Detroit. Once Ebola was ruled out the crew thanked us for our patience and we were free to go and immediately I knew I wasn’t in Madagascar any more.

            The main airport here in Mauritius is new and modern and could fill in for any city in the US. Parked at one gate was an Emirates Airline A380 which the A380 is the largest passenger craft in the world as of now. The airport also had a smell to it; a smell of success is the only way I could put it.

            I passed a couple of officials and English was not spoken so I was worried about what the passport control aspect was going to be like. Landing in Madagascar the previous night, as I wrote, is a process and I don’t think I stressed enough how strict security is on leaving the country. Now don’t get me wrong, I think security is of the utmost importance when dealing with large aircraft and hundreds of people, and Madagascar takes this to heart as you’ll have your passport checked at the ticket gate, then a precheck before security, then a person to double check the precheck, then before you get to security, then when you pass security and if you’re lucky like I was you’ll have your bag opened which then I learned, once you unzip the bag, don’t try and open it or you’ll risk a slap on the hand (literally) as I did. The woman that did this I think realized I wasn’t accustomed to the ways and somewhat apologized, but then a precise search of everything in my bad happened with extra attention given to the books I brought should I read and the power converter I brought so I’ll have electricity. After 5 minutes my bag was clear and I was free to go.

            If security was like that at a large country like Madagascar, large size wise (compare the two and you’ll see what I mean) then what will it be like on a little island Republic like Mauritius? I was the first to the passport control section and I was about to find out.

            My anxieties, as so often proven in my life, were all for naught. The official that handled my passport was professional and even stated that, “We don’t get that many Americans here” and from there I went to the health station and after that it was to the baggage section which the baggage claim had to be the cleanest, best looking baggage claim I have ever seen. I compared LAX six years ago to a prison (it’s since gotten a bit better) but few airports in the US have anything on this place.

            I had another anxiety; how many “helpers” would be descending upon me when I left? To prepare I got local currency and thankfully the exchange place asked if I had a single large bill be it US or Euro to break into small bills. Why yes, yes I did! However, the anxiety was needlessly felt once again as when I rounded the corner to the exit the only people there were taxi cab drivers in what appeared to be very official gear and hotel vans with signs. I didn’t see the Holiday Inn sign so I walked out the door to my right and finally something went my way as the van had just loaded up two passengers and was about to disembark but I was able to get on and immediately, as we got on the road, I thought I was going to die because we were driving on the wrong side of the road! Granted, I was exhausted and took no notice that the driver was sitting on the right hand side and this, many years ago, was part of the UK in a way (it’s now part of the commonwealth of nations, I believe) and took their driving habits that will scare any person in the world that drives on the right side of the road and isn’t prepared for it.          

            It was a short drive and I was now concerned about tips. Would the same game be played? I tried to get my bag and not have the bellman get it because I don’t know how much is proper, or if it is even proper here (remember, it is offensive in Japan to offer a tip) so I had a bit of anxiety again. The driver quickly left once the bags were on the cart which meant there wasn’t even time to offer a tip and when the bellman took me to my room he explained the features of my room and then dropped my bags off as I was getting out the Rupee coins I had which was, I thought, implying I was getting a tip ready but he departed without a second thought of awaiting a reward and my door was closed and for the first time in 48 hours I could simply be without regret, fear, or wondering what was next.

            I’m only 650 miles from the events of yesterday (and this morning) and I am utterly astounded by the contrast and I’m trying to rationalize the difference. It’s difficult being an American in that it is hard to understand the contrast in the world. This wasn’t like traveling 650 miles and going from, say, Kansas City to Denver, but rather this was like traversing to a whole different world. I go back to my words I ended the previous chapter with in that, “the world works” and I do believe it does so but what is this driving force that makes it work considering the country I’m in now is much more modern, clean, and there are kids hanging off the back of a van bus to travel? This force, I think, is the ability to adapt. Maybe this is the hidden theme of the book I didn’t even know was there. I’ve been to several incredible places and at each place the residents there live different lives compared to the other places I’ve been but people, somehow, make it work. Do others have it better than others? Oh yes, most certainly, I’m not going to deny that in the slightest, and yet when you ride down the streets in Antananarivo and the poverty there isn’t this look of downtrodden or defeat but kids are playing, women are selling trinkets, some men will have a small meat shack selling food, but there’s a desire to make the most of it and to try and exceed what is given of them. However, I must ask, isn’t that what we all do no matter the situation?

            Today was a rare day and a day that fully tests one’s ability to comprehend the world. If I were uncaring I wouldn’t have noticed the difference nor would I have felt any emotions towards it, but I am affected by it. I do wonder what could be done where I came from to make it more like here, but is that possible, or is societies, much like Asperger’s, stuck in their ways and making changes, even for the better, are difficult because if things become status quo people within that environment become accustomed to it and what is simply is and that’s that. Maybe it’s because I’m ambitious and that I refused to accept status quo in my life after accepting it for so long that I wonder what could be done to see a change in the world, but then again if it works… But what is the definition of working? Is working one’s tail off and playing some not fair games to make a wage right? Or what about here in Mauritius where wages aren’t all that high per what the all knowing internet has to say but the people here don’t wait for a tip. But then again let’s go back to Tokyo and the overall conformity I witnessed. Is conformity right if it removes any sense of individuality? Obviously the answers to each of these questions can only be answered by each individual on this planet and so too is what having Asperger’s is like. What is the right way to live with it? There is no one answer because we are all so unique and as my third night comes to a close I’m starting to realize every person is different. That’s a profound statement because I’ve always seen it as an, “I vs. It” concept meaning everyone else is equal and if I say something to person A and they approve person B will find it just as funny, or interesting, or astoundingly amazing as person A. It’s an all or nothing mentality and all others are a constant which leads to so many social difficulties because no two people are alike much like no two countries or cultures are alike and tomorrow, well tomorrow I get to experience yet another place with its intricate cultures, ways, and tipping system.

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