The Back of the Plane

I’m now just a little over 24 hours into this trip, not even in Zanzibar yet, and I’ve already met a handful of incredibly interesting people, the majority of which I am very sad to only have been able to know for such a short period of time, but isn’t that just the best and the worst part of traveling? I’ve also already had a few unexpected, and not particularly welcome, experiences that I feel warrant a blog post (and, after all, I did promise to blog more!). It all started just moments after boarding my 13 hour flight from Canada to Ethiopia.

It was a relatively small plane for an international flight, 3 rows with 3 seats in each, and I was seated by a window in the back. Sitting to the left of me was a Nigerian woman, currently studying chemical engineering in Newfoundland, and, sitting in front of me, a white Congolese man in his 40s who had been living in Toronto since he left the country immediately after the Rwandan civil war in 1991. We spent the first couple hours of the flight sharing stories, cheers’ing with the complimentary red wine, and debating whether Toronto’s infamous old mayor, Rob Ford, was up there with Trump in the list of politicians who give no fucks. There was also an absolutely adorable little boy around the age of 5 (maybe from Nigeria?) who brightened the red-eye flight for everyone around with his hilarious antics. Now, at this point in the story, I could start hinting that something was slightly different about the Congolese man and that my Nigerian friend and I should have noticed the signs and probably slowed down the drinking. But we didn’t notice anything, or just shrugged off certain behavior as eccentricities, and we had a great first few hours of flying, that is, until we were ready to sleep and he wasn’t. After patiently rejecting pressure to keep drinking, I finally dozed off, only later to learn that he had continued drinking heavily in the back of the plane. I had probably only been out for an hour when he returned to wake us, either to try to get us to drink more or just to talk, that I can’t remember, but it was not a welcome surprise and he was clearly much more drunk than before. Furthermore, he now seemed genuinely angry with us when we asked to be left alone and refuse to continue partying. He grew louder and more impatient and it was all we could do to keep him quiet so people could sleep and not bother the woman sitting next to him. I could easily fill a post just talking about this man, but I’m struggling enough already to remember him in a positive light and I’d much rather spend this time thinking about the amazing people I met at around 3AM while “somewhere over Africa” (if you don’t know where that quote’s from, consider that a good thing) in the back of the plane after I was forced to leave my seat to avoid being fucked with and called an “asshole American.” Okay, so a large portion of this post has been about the Congolese man and it has been mostly negative, but just know that he was a wonderful person, albeit probably suffering from some emotional instability and alcoholism, and so were the people I met in the back of the plane.

By back of the plane, I mean that tiny area where the plane staff store all of the food and duty free stuff and I thought was restricted from passengers until this flight. So there I was, standing between a row of trollies, each the exact width of the aisle, and a 7′ tall, Burundi man on his way to visit family in Nairobi. He worked for Fidelity in mutual funds, lives in Toronto, and is extremely knowledgeable about pretty much all things politics and economics, but specifically East African politics, Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan, and the tech startup boom in Silicon Valley. We had a great time talking about these things and much more and he helped me to kill a full 2 hours of the flight. Next, I met the woman sitting behind me on the plane (who happened to overhear the whole ordeal between me and the Congolese man) and another Torontonian man. Neither of them could sleep and had decided to stretch their legs, eventually making it to my hideout. Somehow we got on the topic of stretching on a plane and sore muscles, which led to talking about yoga, and, before long, we had turned the 4′ x 8′ closet space into a yoga studio until the flight staff had had enough and told us we could stay but we had to take up a little less space. And then it was 5AM and we decided to try to return to our seats, but were met with a surprise as we found our Congolese travel buddy passed out across our entire row. It was a hell of a way to start a trip.


But now I’m here!