Fear grips you, especially if you are just about to embark on a flight to Somalia. Although Simon, the Venezuelan pilot of African Express, is capable of landing the aircraft as the writer continues to write smoothly, one always remembers that unexpected snags are the order of the day.
Last week in Dadaab camp, in the northern part of Kenya we witnessed a plane being unable to take off due to the presence of a donkey in the middle of the runway. This might be the typical case in this airstrip. Bru Rovira, in his book Africas, tells of a similar experience when he visited the refugee camp in 1992; “The men with the green flags started insulting the animal’s owner who in turn ran like he was crazy insulting the donkey”.
Today’s flight leaves Nairobi for Hargeisa, there would be nothing to fear if it didn’t have to make a stopover in Mogadishu. In addition to the fact that is is disputing for the title of the most dangerous city in the world, the capital of Somalia is known for having inspired films such as Black Hawk Down and for being the headquarters of al-Shabaab, a jihadist group that among other things will shoot at aeroplanes and use rocket propelled grenades against targets as if it were a hobby.
Just before take-off Borja gives us a summary of the best Mayday incidents, from the Titanic in the Sky to the strange case of an air hostess who was ejected outside the plane after she opened up a hole in the passenger cabin. There is no better way to make one jittery the nerves only 48 hours after an aircraft had to make an emergency landing in this same airport after an explosion inside.
“For your security we recommend you to keep your safety belt fastened. Thank you and have a good flight”, the airhostess ends her instructions almost at the same time as our colleague finishes his rundown of air catastrophes. We tighten our seatbelts to the point of cutting off circulation in our legs and we hold fast to the armrest as the plane picks up speed on the runway. Suddenly a hysterical voice is heard from the back of the plane, “stop, stop, stop!!.”.
There is an emergency. The aircraft brakes and before the crew can react a woman springs up and asks why the hell they are stopping. Her indignation reveals that the situation is familiar; a passenger needs to go to the bathroom. Our laughter manages to get from her an expression of resignation, “welcome to Somalia”, she blurts.