Travelogue: Freetown-Beijing, via Paris
Travelling by air, many believe is the safest, most comfortable means but ironically the deadly or most devastating (in time of crash) means of transport. And when a person is faced with such fact, he or she may be tempted to develop fear of boarding a flight even in the extreme of medical or other emergencies. Comparatively, severe injuries may occur on surviving road accident victims, and for those that can swim well can survive boat, ferry or ship capsizes with the help of life-jackets. One may argue that planes too have seat belts etc to minimize fatalities during crash. But again, how many passengers may be knowledgeable about where they are located on the respective seats let alone how to use them.
Exactly those were some of my thoughts upon first receiving a call one night in last week of August, 2014 from a staff of the Chinese Embassy in Sierra Leone, informing about my successful admission into one of the Universities of the People’s Republic of China after I had previously applied for the Sierra Leone/China Scholarship Scheme through the Ministry of Education to read for my Masters in Public Administration. Mixed feelings started lingering my mind. It was an opportunity I have been praying for since graduating with a Division One (1) degree from the Faculty of Social Sciences, Fourah Bay College in 2012. So flight fear or not I must travel to China.
But guess what? Ebola was readily available to avert that.
The 3rd September 2014 finally came, an opportune for me to travel with other successful students using one of the Public Buses provided for us by Foreign Affairs to take us to Conakry, Guinea under police ambulance escort where we were to board Air-France for Paris, France on transit to Beijing, China. Arriving at the Conakry International Airport in the evening after almost a day’s journey, we were greeted with challenges right at the check-in hall. From the queue, we were all asked to be on one corner, and that the airline authorities in Conakry were battling it out with the French Government which had reportedly denied us transit on Paris soil for fear of stone ways and possibly Ebola. But for the timely intervention of Sierra Leone Embassy Staffs including the Foreign Affairs Minister back home, a sigh of relief was felt by us all. Thanks to especially our Foreign Minister. He was very exceptional, just as with our Education Minister.
I am sure it was a deliberate effort by the airline authorities to get us all seated within the same parameters of the plane. So it happened indeed. We all sat next to each other as students boarding Air-France for Paris. This meant that upon arrival in France after about eight (8) hours on board, we only needed to go through the screening processes and relax in the waiting hall for the next flight to Beijing.
My very first flight on earth was indeed terrifying. Off the Air-France plane I finally entered locating my seat number as indicated on the Boarding Pass. It was 41B for Paris. So I starting counting, 30, 35, bla bla bla until I finally located it, yes, 41B, a second window seat
So frightened but again anxious to see how it normally takes off, I started peeping through the window. Though it was about 9pm I was able to see with the help of the airport lights or bulbs. Passenger announcement was done both in French and English, welcoming all passengers on board and further requesting all to fasten the respective seat belts, which I hastily did. The plane taxied through the run way until it finally took off causing to get some instincts within me as if I was falling from a greatest height. I inevitably invited Jesus and God in the form of prayer for safe trip though they were nowhere to be physically seen, but by faith, I knew they were with me and us all as passengers.
The weather was so uncompromisingly cold that even blanket and nose mask including head phones supplied to me were insufficient to make me sweat. Asking me about the food, I reluctantly ate some whilst I enjoyed especially the soft rice plus pounded chicken-like, as meal. Well no much wind or bad weather as it is normally referred to. I had a cozy flight.
I have passed the taking-off including the on air exams. Landing was my next issue to think about. We arrived and landed at the Charlse De Gualle Airport at about 5:30 am where we waited until 1:05pm for the final 9hrs flight to Beijing, China. This one was a bit disturbing to me. Again close to one of the windows I sat. This time I believed what I had been told before. After normal height I saw nothing but cloud which resembles any sea. This means that the plane was between the cloud and sky.
Close to Beijing before landing, an unexpected announcement was made for each and every passenger to fasten his/her seat belt. Don’t ask why, as bad weather was the cause. The plane was shaking until it was restored once again to its normal condition. The names of Jesus, God, and Mohammad flowed among the three of us colleague students sitting on the same row. The host and hostesses of both flights were just too friendly and caring.
Upon landing, we were the first to disembark the plane as the Chinese Government Authorities were already waiting to escort us to be first screened in the Quarantine Department. Until I finally landed in Beijing, my trip was dedicated to Jesus and the Almighty God. This has been my experience so far- China here I come to learn and experience more till 2017.
Thanks to the Government of Sierra Leone and the Chinese Government for establishing ties over forty years which now is helping us a lot. Beijing I arrived and for three years, I shall be here reading. Thanks to our Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education for their relentless efforts in all of our endeavors.
Saidu Mohamed Sesay
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