I finally asked the UNHCR staff where the entrance was. She pointed at an unmarked door where everyone seemed to be going in and out. I thanked her and barged my way forward through the throng. Beyond the door was a narrow corridor full of people talking and smoking. At the end stood a dilapidated X-ray machine and the usual magic door that accompanies it. I am always ready for these, after years of fumbling in front of a queue of exasperated fellow passengers, trying to sort out all your change from every pocket. So I had all the money, coins and my pocket knife in one pocket. I unloaded onto the table and went through. The alarm bells rang but no one took any notice at all. I put everything back in my pocket and sheepishly walked on to pick up the computer out of the machine. I thought I was almost there, but a uniformed man stopped me and gave me a quick frisk, just for his own personal pleasure, and then I went through to the departure lounge.
Departure lounge is a rather glamorous name for the Spartan room I now entered. It contained several benches covered in plastic, but all these were taken. To the left, a rather dingy bar area was selling Coke, tea coffee, revolting cooked buns and little else, and there were two doors out onto the tarmac labelled optimistically “Gate 1” and “Gate 2”. Only Gate 1 seemed to be in use, as I could tell as most passengers were hovering at the exit (the width of a normal house front door).
I realised that we were not all waiting for the same flight, and looking at my boarding card, I couldn’t really work out what flight I was supposed to be on. I was still under the delusion that the UNHCR was taking me forward to Dar, but this boarding card was definitely of Air Tanzania, and it said I was on Flight Squiggle. So I decide to wait until Flight Squiggle was advertised.
No such luck there. There were no electronic display boards, and no-one was using the small chalk board in the corner for the purpose. But there were announcements. “Far de far for de for for far de far de far de far far”. So I did that, as Michael Flanders would have said. And they were saying that in Kiswahili and English, but I could not differentiate.
So, I just had to try and eye up someone who I thought was going to Dar and follow their reactions to the announcements. Flights were leaving for Entebbe, Tabora, Dodoma, Tanga and Nairobi, but nothing to Dar. Then I heard a stewardess mention Dar, but this was with Panther Airlines, no Air Tanzania, so you can see that I had several false starts. I looked around at the crew of fellow passengers; huge fat Muslims in one corner, supping beer. Several badly tanned whites, the cancers dripping off their mottled skin (southern Africans, Australians and a few E Africans among them). A dog-collared priest talking to a few starched nuns, who looked remarkably cool in their light blue habits. Several business men nursing their well-developed paunches while smoking hard, a few young college boys in their smart streetwise outfits; open necked shirts, perfectly creased slacks and sandals. And me, a bedraggled Brit clutching a computer and worrying that he is about to be stranded in Mwanza because he couldn’t hear the flight being announced.