The overhead screen flips down, up, down and then back up again. Finally it settles to reveal the route we’ll be flying from Entebbe, Uganda, to Istanbul, over two countries that have been in the news non-stop since my last flight overhead: South Sudan (and North of course) and Egypt. There are a number of routes to Uganda from London, but this route has become my favourite.
I’m flying Turkish Airlines for the first time and so far I’m loving it. 40kg baggage is very good for the cheapest flight I could find online, and despite the warning to take only one piece of hand baggage, I arrive with a rucksack, a laptop and a large framed mirror – but no questions asked.
The seating is spacious and comfy. It looks like I may – luxury of luxuries! – have a row of three seats to sleep on (it is 2 a.m. after all).
I’d hoped for some shut-eye at Entebbe and headed for the least congested area of the departure lounge. The metal bench seating was uncomfortable but I was ready to sleep anywhere. Another lady had the same idea: she threw herself violently onto the seating, almost catapulting me off and then proceeded to fidget with each of her bags in turn, throwing herself back hard againist the shared bench every couple of minutes. No chance of sleeping til take-off then.
Damn it. Fat ignorant man arrives to congest the aisle, chuck unwanted blankets and pillows at me, clipping the newspaper I’m reading (no sign of a sorry) and shout loudly to his friend across the aisle from him. Immediate dislike registered!
We settle down. Just after take-off, I make to go to the toilets. I stand up, look around, make the obvious ‘can I get past?’ signs and he eventually looks up and makes a really big deal out of letting me pass. He takes his belt off, but doesn’t get up; he just moves slightly to one side. Just as I try to push past (bum in face? or crotch in face?) the seat in front of him suddenly drops back and I almost sit on him. It’s that woman again! My rowmate mumbles something under his breath.
As I wait my turn for the toilet, I hear sneeze after sneeze coming from the little cabin. Yuck. No way I’m locking myself in there with all those germs.
Back in my seat, there’s turbulence as we fly over South Sudan. It’s not a lot more stable on the ground. News coming out of the country is not good; newspapers report that as much as 10% of the land has been sold, at ridiculously low prices, to foreign interests. In Uganda, everyone’s talking about the opportunities there, but of what benefit to the local people?
I settle – only to smell something nasty… hmm, yes I blame him. I insert the Turkish Airlines-supplied earplugs (where are the noseplugs?) My companion puts his headphones on and starts shouting to his friend above the music.
Thirsty, I yank my bottle of water out of the seat pocket in front of me. With it comes a gooey string of chewing gum thoughtfully rammed inside the pocket by a previous passenger. I try and untangle it. Great.
Sleep quickly draws me in. I wake with a start, as my travelling companion bellows at me and the hostess thrusts a plastic meal tray at me. Behold – metal cutlery! What a pleasant surprise to have the real thing, not plastic. I wolf the food down, eager to get back to sleep.
Then there’s that smell again …
Six hours after leaving Uganda, we touch down in Turkey, en route for the UK and a three week holiday with my nearest and dearest.
Istanbul airport is fabulous: clean, very modern, well signposted and incredibly efficient. As I rifle through my bag looking for my wallet, the clerk orders me to move out of the way and barks at me “Madam you are not ready!”
My passport quivers in anticipation of a new country stamp! I realise, to my chagrin, that I don’t even know whether Turkey is in the EU yet … (quiz me about East Africa and I may have an answer for you, but Europe? Frankly, I’m out of touch).
Selfishly, I’m delighted that Turkey hasn’t joined the EU yet – I get my stamp – it’s worth the £10 and the rudeness of the clerk. (Yes mate, that’s all you are, for all your jumped-up attitude).