Not so good, not so bad: Maiduguri"s homegirl's first flying experience

By Blogger-in-Chief

Dateline was Wednesday, 25th April 2019. I was booked for a trip to attend a review meeting on gender-based reporting by young journalists organized by Paged Initiative, a local NGO in Abuja.

With about two decades in journalism, I'm obviously not a young journalist. My role in the meeting was that of a mentor. The young journalists our mentee.

My flight was booked from Maiduguri by Paged Initiative. And at about 1.30pm, I headed for the airport.

But no sooner had I arrived than I realized that I wasn't the only one going for the meeting in that Azman Airplane. Eight other persons were also attending the same meeting.

Our tickets were jointly booked.

At the airport, I met seven mentees; Usman, Kaumi, Junaid, Fatima, Aisha, Hajara and Abbakaka, alongside Ummi, the CEO of Paged Initiative and her hands-on staff, Zanna.

It was indeed a wow crowd. Pleasantries were exchanged with lots of longtime-no see catch-up chats.  Most of us usually meet only at work sites where Paged Initiative screens a filmed documentary telling the stories of survivors of Boko Haram insurgency for selected IDP communities and camps.

The idea of the film was to encourage other IDPs who watched the documentary to also tell their stories of survival to the mentee journalists and the mentors as well so that they publish their stories as well.

Back to the airport.
Among the seven mentees, two are under my mentorship - Fatima Kambar of Dandal Kura radio and Usman Mohammed of Yerwa Express online newspaper.

Fatima, a chocolate skinned, tall Kanuri lady, who usually looks quiet and shyly, but not an introvert when she gets closer.

She is a bit naive but very honest with her self. She does not pretend to be what she isn't.

Fatima amused many on the first day when Paged Initiative had a joint training session for mentors and mentees in Maiduguri.

Asked to talk about herself as a young journalist, she said "I really don't like journalism. I'm just doing it."

She said she has no much passion driving her in the job.
Everyone laughed but she was serious. However, with the months of experience gathered working with the mentoring group since November last year, Fatima says she is now a better and passionate reporter.

By 2.30pm, our plane arrived and it was time we board.
Coincidentally, I sat on the same row with Fatima and Abbakaka. I was close to the window and she was in the middle.

She looked calm and confident. Nothing betrays the fact that I was sitting with a lady who is flying for the first time in her life.

She buckled her seat belt as others did, and when it was time to put off phones, Fatima told me "I'll rather put it on flight mode". Did I ask why? She said "I'll love to use it during the flight.

I said "okay."

When the plane was taxying, Fatima was still calm with a permanent smile on her face. Her bulgy dark eyes were glowing with some kind of unexplained excitement. Still, I didn't decode the lady beside me was bottling up her fears - that anxiety of a first timer.
At some point when the aircraft had stabilized, I noticed some uneasiness in her even though her face looked calm.

Then I asked: "what segment of flying do you fear most?"
She said, "this is my first time."

I said "wow. No wonder."
She then said, " that's why I want to be taking photo shots of every aspect of the flight so that I can be sending updates to my friends at home."

I smiled.

She then begged me to help her take videos and photo shots of the plane's wing and the horizon since I was the one sitting next to the window. I agreed and it became my job throughout the journey.

While we were doing all sorts of camera works, including a selfie with other Paged Mentees, who accidentally were on the same row across the aisle, Fatima asked all questions a first timer would ask.

About 50 minutes later I told her the pilot would soon announce the commencement of descending into Abuja airport. She took a very deep breath. and said: "I'm a bit scared now."

We all laughed and again encourage her that it was nothing to worry about.
She actually was not the only first-timer amongst us...some of the male mentees were, also.

The aircraft took a bit longer time to commence the landing process and she asked, with a smile, that why is he (pilot) not going down. And I jokingly told her maybe it cannot land.
Her eyes widened." Are you serious??!"

I said to her, with some air of seriousness "it happens sometimes when the weather is not good or if the runway is not free."

She said: "God let him land us I beg."

About ten minutes later, the Pilot, Captain Joshua Jonathan announced that "ladies and gentlemen, we are about to commence our descend into Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, but that will not be immediate because there is an ongoing special operation on the runway and the runway is closed till the operation is completed. So we are going to continuing hovering until we receive clearance to land. But I cannot say exactly the estimated time for landing."

Everyone murmured with displeasure. 

Fatima asked, "what did he say?"

I said, "the plane cannot land now due to a busy runway."
I was quick to understand that the runway was closed because President Muhammadu Buhari was returning to Abuja from Lagos where he went for an official working visit.

In times like this, the Runway is shut down and all inbound and outbound planes are barred from using the runway until the president leaves.

I asked Fatima if is she enjoying the free hovering and the entire flight from Maiduguri. Her response was: "I was able to manage my fears but now I'm no longer finding it funny."

We all laughed.

I think she was able to manage her fears because we all took the whole thing not too serious.

After about 20 minutes of hovering around the cloud, the Captain prompted the cabin crew to prepare for landing. Everyone heaved a sigh. And Fatima said, "Thank God!"

But the plane still didn't show any sign of lowering its height.
S"I thought you said it won't take long; so why is he delaying us?" She asked.

Before I could respond, the Pilot announced that we have to be more patient because the runway is still not cleared. He then added that "we are the number 5  plane on queue for landing."

I explained to her that planes take turns to use the runway for taking off and for landing.
But after about 10 minutes again we noticed that the plane had stopped hovering in circles and its speed increased. Before Fatima could ask the next obvious question, Captain Jonathan's voice came loud over the microphone telling us that we were on our way to Aminu Kano International airport, 

Kano because we did not have enough fuel to keep hovering and waiting for the runway to be cleared for us.

"So our estimated arrival at Kano is 5.05pm where we shall refuel and return to Abuja with the hope that the runway will be cleared before our arrival, " said the pilot.

Fatima's heart sank. Her beautiful smile, with which she used to veil her fears, suddenly disappeared. What remains was some dry smile that didn't look real.

I said to her "don't worry. The pilot's decision is good for us."
She asked when are we arriving, Kano? 

I said in about 20 minutes. It was then her face wore backs its vanished calm.

So I opened the camera of her phone and held it on selfie video mode towards her face.
I said "Miss Fatima, how are you enjoying the flight?"
She laughed and said, "not so good not so bad".

"From Maiduguri, it was all good but now it is bad for me. This is my first air travel and this is happening. I can't wait to get off the plane when we get to Kano."

We laughed and I told her that won't be possible.

"You won't be allowed to get down. We will all remain onboard while the plane refuels, " I told her.
In Kano, the plane landed and the refueling was done in 20 minutes or thereabout.  And after that, there was some delay.

We took off for Abuja at about 6 pm and landed safely in Abuja at 6.34pm.

It was a journey of an hour that lasted four hours.
Sadly, during this delays everyone got tired and the children were all wailing as their mothers battle to hush them. The Azman Air crew did not give further refreshment or even water for the extra three hours we had onboard.
What a shame.

Captain Joshua Jonathan was, of course, an excellent pilot with a clear sense of judgment. Kudos to him.
We went through this stress simply because the President was using the runway. This comes to me as a lesson that our leaders and their security officials should always have it in mind that whenever they are exercising their officialdom, they should always know that lives are also put at risk somewhere in the clouds.

For Fatima, her first trip from Maiduguri to Abuja was "not so good, not so bad". But it was was a plus for her because she had a double package in a single trip.

She was lucky to have two takeoffs and two landing experience in her first ever travel by plane.

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