ShahidulNews

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We Would Have Had So Much Fun Shooting Them Down

Paris, Charles De Gaulle airport, 13th October 2001.

The documents were impressive. I had an official letter from Le
Directeur des Rencontres, Ministere de la Culture of Mali certifying
that a visa was awaiting me in Bamako, a certificate of accreditation
and an invitation letter from Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, a well-known
personality in France and the director of AFAA/French Ministry of
Foreign Affairs. Still, I left well in time, knowing there might be
problems. I was to do a report for the Prince Claus Foundation in the
Netherlands and was on my way to attend the Fourth African
Photography Encounter in Bamako. I also had my yellow fever
certificate.

None of what happened at the airport seemed sinister, until you
realised what it was leading to. The immigration in Hall B in
Terminal 2 at Charles de Gaulle is BEFORE the check-in desk. The
questions started well before then. Where was I going, what did I
have with me, why was I going. We went over and over the same things.
Lengthy manoeuvres that kept slowing me down. Still, there was almost
an hour to go to departure time when I reached the check in desk, and
immigration had already been done. I had a confirmed ticket, so I
wasn't worried. There were plenty of passengers at the check in desk,
but when it came to me, the officer calmly said, "Sorry sir, the
flight was closed at 10 o' clock." No degree of persuasion, or my
insistence that I had arrived at the designated place in the airport
well in time and that the delay was due to airport officials, seemed
to matter. The fact that immigration, security and airlines check-in
desks operate independently, made it easier for the check-in desk to
deny responsibility. I had one of these cheap tickets, non-
refundable, non-endorsable, so I was stuck. Eventually, when I
pointed out to the individuals who had delayed me, they did offer me
an alternative booking for the outgoing flight. I could leave on a
date FOLLOWING my date of return. No doubt they found it funny. I
offered to pay to get onto another flight, but that too couldn't
apparently be done. By then I had worked out what was going on, and
asked them to book me on the date they suggested, AFTER my due date
of return. This they did. I could see people were still checking-in,
and knew, if I could get through the blockade, I would get on the
flight.

So I took a flight out to the nearest airport from which I could get
a connecting flight. The idea being, that if I went through the check-
in procedure elsewhere, where such barricades might not be present,
they would no longer have grounds for refusing to let me fly. I left
early in the morning from my hotel in Strasbourg, taking the tram and
the bus through the fog at night to be the first person to arrive at
the check-in desk. The woman at the desk at this small airport was
extremely helpful. When I said I wanted to go to Bamako with a
connecting flight, she immediately took my ticket and issued me a
luggage tag to Bamako. Then of course she discovered I was not booked
on the flight. She made a tentative booking, issued me a `boarding
pass' without a seat number, and put in a note in the computer that I
was a passenger bound for Bamako. She even gave my luggage (now
tagged for Paris, in place of Bamako) a priority tag, so I would not
lose time changing planes.

The luggage arrived early as planned. I rushed across to terminal B,
arriving well in time to lay a claim to a seat. People were still
checking in. When I approached the officer in charge, she whipped the
temporary boarding pass from my hand, tore it to bits, and with a
dramatic gesture, let the flimsy flight coupon fall to my hand. "The
are no seats" was the terse reply.

This vulgar demonstration of power, reminded me of the article I had
been reading on the 13th, the day I was first refused onto the plane,
in the  Wall Street Journal Europe (October 12-13, 2001, Brussels,
page 3). [Lt. Ken, a 28 year old pilot from Washington state was
munching on Twizzlers candy at the controls of his jet when the 57-
millimeter artillery rounds started exploding below. "I've been
peppered before, hunting pheasant, but it doesn't really compare." He
said in Vinson's ready room.  Vinson's air wing is trying to put all
its pilots through combat flights – learning the tricks "before the
other guys get smart," as Capt. Wright puts it.

Capt. Wright saw two MIGs parked at the end of the runway. He fired a
laser-guided bomb at one; the pilot of another F-14 nearby hit the
second. "When they blew, they blew big – you could see they were full
of fuel and ammunition." But infrared images indicated that the MIG
engines were cold, which means that the jets weren't about to take
off – much to Capt. Wright's annoyance. "We would have had so much
fun shooting them down" he said. As Capt. Wright flew back to the
ship, chewing on a peanut-butter sandwich and sharing his post-battle
emotions with the flight officer sitting behind, they suddenly had to
dispense death to a different enemy: a cockroach had crawled up the
airman's legs. "We got a little bit of hilarity on that," he said.]

John Wayne might have died, but these Texan-led soldiers could well
have been riding into the prairie to `cut em off at the pass'. Five
hundred years later, they continue to find new `Indians' to `dispense
death to'.

As for the luxuriant growth of hair on my face. I've decided to let
it grow longer.
 
Shahidul Alam
Tue Oct 16, 2001

October 16, 2001 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

   

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