Now I’m going to present to you what I call the “case studies” of the top 3 places of no return that I have experienced. My original intention was to lay all three out in this one post, along with my thoughts and analysis of them, but after writing out the story of the first one I decided to just leave this post as the story alone, and do the same for the others. At the end of them I will give my discussion on what went on and what I did that was useful and what I could have done better.
Case study #1: Older Korean businessman on Air Madagascar flight from Johannesburg to Antananarivo, December 2003
On my first visit ever to Madagascar I travelled Air Madagascar from Johannesburg to the capital, Tana (short for Antananarivo). It was an interesting experience, watching how long it took the cabin crew to do their manual safety procedure demonstration in three languages – the exact same demonstration repeated in French, Malagasy, and English; or for that matter, how long it took for any announcement to be made. Another point of interest was how much free alcohol was being served with the lunch. Instead of an accompanying little foil-covered pottle of water or apple juice with our meal, we were given a half-sized bottle of red wine each. What’s more, we would get an instant, service-with-a-smile replacement of another half-bottle of red wine once we had finished the one we had been drinking. I didn’t finish my first half-bottle. The fifty-something man seated beside me made it up to four. Most other people consumed two.
The flight continued and at some point later on I started to get curious about the mumbling this man beside me was making, it was in some Asian language I couldn’t quite catch and I thought that if it was Japanese maybe I’d be able to talk to him a bit and see if he was alright. He appeared to speak neither French, Malagasy or English.
“Excuse me, where are you from?” I asked, turning around to face him.
“…….(indeterminate sounds)………Japan, I from Japan.”
Hmmm, I thought to myself, not saying anything more for a bit. I sat and considered this, and then heard him talking to himself again in his language. It was definitely not Japanese.
“But that’s not Japanese, that language is Korean! Are you Korean?”
“No, no, Japanese. I Japanese. You like?”
“No you’re not. I can see that you’re Korean and you’re speaking Korean.”
“Yes, yes, from Korea. You know Korea? ………… Japan or Korea, anything you like…….. You like?”
“Err, I’m sorry but I don’t know what to say, I don’t really understand you and I don’t speak Korean.” This was actually true. I couldn’t understand him because he was ridiculously slurry and barely spoke English anyway, and because I didn’t understand what he meant by “anything you like…… You like?” All I had asked him was where he was from so I didn’t know why was he was being so obtuse and turning it around to make it about me. I chalked it up to ill-considered drunk speech and thought nothing more of it for the rest of the flight.
The plane landed, and as we taxied toward our gate the Korean man started anew. He asked me a question, “How much?” I was taken by surprise and not entirely understanding his meaning so I said “Excuse me, what did you say?” And he repeated it, leaning in closer and giving me a look with his eyes like he was trying to slide the sleaze right out of the sides of them on into the sides of mine. “How much?”
At this point I realised that that was well and truly the end of the conversation for me and declared “That’s it. I’m not talking to you anymore,” before turning my head away and ignoring him as coldly as possible. He tried engaging me a few more times but got nothing aside from my silent willing of the cabin crew to just let us off the plane already.
I don’t know how it was achieved but I managed to get off the plane without him near me. I reached immigration control and stood in the queue until it was my turn to go up to the counter to present my passport.
I had just handed over my passport when a stocky, blurry figure came charging out from the middle of the queue heading straight for me. I don’t understand how it happened so quickly, possibly because it was such a surprise, but suddenly he was next to me, pushing his weight against me and wrapping both arms tightly around my right arm. He slurred out a seemingly endless stream of insistent phrases, all the while not only keeping hold of me but keeping himself pressed very strongly against me. He was using force.
I started shouting at him, telling him to get off me and to go away, to just go away. I turned to the immigration control officer sitting at the counter right in front of us both and told her in a panicked tone in French that I didn’t know him, that we were not together and that he was just grabbing me. She said nothing, gave a slight shrug of the shoulders and kept flipping through my passport with a small smile on her face. At this point I was both really angry and scared. I started crying as I continued shouting at him, trying my best to detach him from me but just could not budge him. I looked at the queue waiting behind us. No one about to jump in, no one ready to say anything, no one looking concerned. They were interested in what was happening but they weren’t interested in my welfare. Piled up in a long line they stood there dumb and useless, like computer generated extras in a movie scene.
Now here comes the unsatisfying part. I can’t tell you how it ended because I can’t remember how it ended. I know I got my passport back (which I was able to take back with my left arm) and that the immigration woman then asked the Korean man for his passport. Which he couldn’t produce because he couldn’t let go of my arm. Immigration would not let him through without the passport, it didn’t really matter what he was doing to me but they needed the passport. Somehow he was finally detached from my arm, I can’t remember if this was of his own volition or if someone else came along and distracted him with their officialness. At any rate as soon as I got free I ran off out of there and spent the rest of my time in the airport looking over my shoulder, genuinely afraid he would come back.
About half an hour later, after I had changed some money in the general public front area of the airport, I spotted him in the distance being taken out of the airport by 5 policemen. It didn’t look serious, the guys taking him away all looked like they thought it was a bit of a laugh. Although I was about to leave the airport at that stage anyway, it was a relief to know that he was definitely going to be somewhere away from me.
But how would things have unfolded if he had have given them the passport when they first asked for it?