Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Paying it forward

I am in Frankfurt airport on my way to Chicago but have to transit through Paris. I check my boarding pass and see my flight boards at 6:50 and because I didn't take time to check the local time I assume that it's in the evening. Of course I know my flight Into Chicago arrives at 10:00am central time. My quick math tells me my Frankfurt to Paris flight must be in the morning (airlines usually use 24 hour times to indicate departure time but who is thinking that hard after an eight hour flight from Nairobi?). Luckily I find a clock and I see local time in Frankfurt is 5:30am. I have an hour and twenty minutes to find Gate A40. I walk at a good pace aware I might have to go through security check, which tend to take a while. As I am minding my business walking to my gate I hear a voice behind me calling "excuse, excuse....where can I find my flight to Hamburg?" 

I stop to see a man followed by a woman who I assume is his wife. She is dressed in a multicolored dress that betrays an African origin. I am thinking maybe DRC. He is dressed in a dress shirt and trousers. My groggy head tells me to tell him, "your gate should be indicated on your boarding pass." Unfortunately my thoughts become verbalized and I tell the man, "it's indicated on your boarding pass!" I say it in a matter-of-fact tone that is almost rude. Then he hands me his boarding pass and realize he needs more than what I was giving. I read his boarding pass and see he is boarding at Gate A16. Now the good Mwenda takes over and I explain to him how the signage works and then show them the arrows to Gate A. They head towards the direction of the Gate, I pass them on my way to find my own gate. As I step onto the escalator I turn to see if they are navigating it well. I see them at the bottom of the escalator (blocking other passengers) looking at me expectantly and then they ask, "should we follow you, sir?" 

I say yes come with me. And right there I become their airport guide. I slow down and start walking with them. I ask where they are flying from and they say they have just come from Abuja, Nigeria. I learn that this is their first time out of their home and on an international flight. I have flashbacks of my own experience in August 1992 traveling to the US for graduate school. That is another story all together but needless to say I was helped by many people along the way to navigate airports and travel. 

The couple from Abuja is going to Hamburg to visit their son. They say their flight is at 7:30. We go through security and get to the immigration check and they are asked the usual questions-where are you going to be staying, when do you leave Germany and then the officer says "do you have a return ticket to Lagos or Abuja?" They look at each and start to fumble with their carry-on bags. I have overstayed my time at my booth and I tell the officer serving me that I was assisting them navigate the airport. He nods and tells me to edit for them ahead so he can serve other travelers. I start to worry about them. The officer serving them says, "I need to see a return ticket to Abuja otherwise I will not let you in." Turns out they don't.At this point I realize that my temporary guide services have come to a halt. I exit and decide to just wait for them in case they make it through. I decide to give them till 6:30. 

At about 6:20 I see them emerge from the "holding area" and breathe a sigh of relief. They too are happy to see my face. I tell them, "it seems like you survived," to which they chuckle and say yes. The man tells me, "they had to call my son." That phone call to their don sealed the deal and they are free to proceed to their destination. I resume my guide services and walk them to their gate only to find that there is no one at the gate and no posting of the flight that will depart from that gate. If a flight is leaving at 7:30 and we are at the gate at 6:30 we should see some indication of life at the gate. I walk over to the staffer at the Lufthansa desk next to the gate. I now have their tickets with me (that's part of my job as a guide, you know) and tell her they are meant to depart from Gate A16 but there was no indication it was the right gate. I wanted her to check if there was a gate change. She said the flight was scheduled for 8:30 and that the staff would show up an hour before. They were to just sit tight and wait.  Finally, the long trip had ended well. I told them I would now go and find my own gate. They said thank you as I wished them well and walked away. Then the man asked me, "how do we meet again?" I said, "just be good to someone else." "Thank you very much, God bless you!", he said. That made my day. 

The captain says it's time to depart for Paris. It's 7:20am on Saturday July 15. I will be in Chicago at 10:00am on Saturday July 15. Thank you to time difference.