Not everything was peaches and cream- I have scars all over my feet and ankles from the omnipresent mosquitos and flies, and there were days when I got tired of being watched all the time. Being near a market in Niamey meant getting swarmed by kids begging or trying to sell me something because “anasaras are rich,” and these kids could pester with a tenacity that was both amazing and infuriating. At times I got tired of having to struggle so hard to communicate with people and I just wanted to curl up in a nice cool place and be alone. Constantly bartering for every purchase grew old, too, even though it wasn’t me doing the talking.
The most frustrating part of my trip was the logistics of the actual travel. I was bumped off my flight from Paris to Niamey (which only flies once a week) because Air France overbooked it. Luckily I got onto a flight to Ouagadougou (wah-gah-DOO-goo) which I found out a few days later is in Burkina Faso. I was pretty stressed out at that point. The flight change ticket she gave me didn’t have much information on it- I knew I was going to “Oua” (the woman was saying the name with a French accent, and after a few attempts I stopped trying to hear the name and I just said “I have no idea what you’re saying, but if it’ll get me to Niamey, just point me toward my gate…”)
I didn’t know where I was going, how long that flight would be, how long my layover there would be, when the flight to Niamey would leave, or how long *that* flight would last. And I was sure I did not have a visa for the mystery country to which I was flying. Ouagadougou airport was horrible. No one spoke English, nothing was labelled, there were no signs or arrows and the power kept going on and off… and the whole place was run by soldiers with rifles. They stopped me and (I think) asked about my lack of visa, and I just kept saying “Je vais a Niamey…?” hoping that they would get tired of me. The man holding the giant gun in one hand and my passport in the other eventually flicked it back into my chest (the passport, not the gun) and let me through with an irritated wave. Somehow I managed to make it onto the right flight (there weren’t very many departures anyway) and arrived in Niamey about 6 hours behind schedule, with my luggage nowhere to be found. I got the last bag a week before I left Niger.
The return flights were even worse. It started with a pretty cruel send-off compliments of the military airport in Niamey. Eric and I were separated right after we walked into the airport as I tried to check in and get my boarding pass. We both thought he’d be able to help me check in since I couldn’t speak Zarma and my French is weak at best, but as I was passing my luggage through the x-ray machine the soldiers escorted Eric through the door and said he’d have to wait outside.
There were problems with my tickets (of course!) which were amplified by the language barrier and by the porteurs who were quietly demanding money from me the whole time. Finally a nice guy who spoke a little English helped me through and filled out some papers for me, and things seemed to be getting better… right up until the point when Eric and I found ourselves on opposite sides of a sound-proof glass wall. The soldier at the door said it was impossible for Eric to come in and impossible for me to go out and then walked away. It was a pretty horrible experience.
Everyone in the airport was staring at us anyway because we were just about the only anasaras there, we weren’t going to see each other for at least another year, and there we were trying to say goodbye without even hearing the other’s voice. It was such a romance novel cliche’: standing there with our hands against the glass, me crying, both of us scribbling notes on scrap paper and holding them against the glass until the pilot came out and said “We’re waiting for only you.” So I turned around and walked out.
When I got to Paris to check in for my flight to Pittsburgh, the guy typed my name into the computer, shook his head, squinted at the screen, typed some more, his brow furrowed… and I just sighed and put my head in my hands. “I’m sorry, you’re not listed on the flight to Pittsburgh. Looks like you’ll be going to Philadelphia, with a final destination of… let’s see… Orlando, right?” (Shannon laughs.)
He found a flight from Philly to Chicago (my original final destination) so I flew to Philadelphia without a clue that the Midwest was in the middle of a terrible winter storm. My Chicago flight was cancelled, I rebooked to Detroit (closer to home anyway), Detroit was cancelled, rebooked for the next morning to Chicago. USAir paid for a really nice hotel and gave everyone meal vouchers and transportation to the hotel. The next morning the Chicago flight was cancelled so I ended up flying to Cleveland instead, which was delayed a few hours… since my parents had already started driving to Chicago to get me, though, it all worked out. My luggage made it to Toledo about a week later, the day after I’d left for school.
Overall, though, I have to say I like USAir. Even though things got messed up, they fixed the mess-ups pretty well and were generally pretty friendly in the midst of crazed passengers and stressed-out business travelers.