Ongala Maurice

To Inspire is to Empower


The Luggage or The Flight?

Doubtless, you need both. In fact, both seem equal in significance. The one literally takes you to your destination and the other sorts you out while you’re venturing on escapades away from home. If you’re a frequent traveler, was there one instance when you were compelled to consciously choose between your luggage and the flight? When you just couldn’t have your cake and eat it, like we do many times and take it for granted? What was your choice? Come with me.

December 2009, good year of the Lord. A young Kenyan student in his early twenties is making his second grand trip out of the country! He’s thrilled and intrigued. Thrilled as a student of Anthropology because he can’t wait to meet and greet the people of West Africa, experience their culture and contrast their diversity; and intrigued because he has to go down south to Jo’burg before he proceeds up west to Dakar. What a journey! But for some reason he loves it. Back then, take off and landing were bitter-sweet experiences which he clearly didn’t mind.

So on the material day, journey begins at JKIA. All luggage intentionally checked in for Jozi just so he could go trace the damn baggage carousel in the massive Oliver Tambo International Airport, check it in again for Dakar and feel nice! That was part of the adventure, how could he miss that? 

But immediately after check in at JKIA, kaboom! Something not so normal happens. One of the counter attendants for South African Airways announces with the eerie Southern African accent that has exerggerated r’s and d’s – you’d imagine her teeth are crushing pebbles instead of nuts, “Sorry your flight is delayed by at least 7 hours… The airport runway lights failed last night so the aircraft didn’t land… Some flights were deflected to Mombasa and others to Julius Nyerere…” By the way, you should’ve heard her pronounce “land” as “leeend”. I can’t.

As you’d expect, one or two white dudes start cursing vehemently, fisting up and throwing hands in the air. Americans are easy to tell, my brother, they rule the world! To this, another SAA lady, stout, short and light skinned with tiny eyes and chubby face, comes forward and barks in a coarse diction, “The mistake was not ours, please blame the airport management, not us…” 

Meanwhile, this young student chuckles. That “Please blame” line sounds to him really amusing but now is not the time to laugh. He is disgruntled in the queue. He’s thinking about his connecting flight at Jozi and how he’s gonna spend these 7 or so hours at JKIA. He remembers a close friend, Donna, who works close to the airport, calls her up. She comes just in good time. They talk time away, sip vanilla shakes and crush some nuts (not pebbles). Time is eaten like pounded yam, the bliss of friendship. Soon they part ways with a warm hug and a “take care, safe travels” line. 

Time to board, time to fly and four hours fifteen minutes later, time to land! But fresh trouble begins right after disembarking the bird at O.R Tambo. First step into the airport, still at the immigration and police checks, this young man hear his name on all the loud speakers. It’s a boarding call, only unique and scary because they’re only calling his name. Each time they call they say it’s his very last chance to board. His eyes pop. His anxiety heightens. His fingers are sweaty and clumsy. He answers the police with repeated nods, grabs his passport and yellow fever certificate and dashes to nowhere! Then he stumbles on a man in uniform and asks where his boarding gate is. He gazes at his boarding pass then roars,

“Hey, are you the one they are calling? They have been calling for too long, use the escalator then go downstairs and you will see your gate!”

“But what about my luggage, sir?” He asks

“Did you check it in for Jo’burg?”

“Y-yess sir”

“My friend, choose one”

“I don’t understand”

“The luggage or the flight”

Tough choice there. The seven hours he thought he had in O.R Tambo were spent in advance at JKIA. But why do people refer to you as their friend when they’re only meeting you for the first, and probably last time? He wondered. Anyway, the uniformed man advises him to take the flight and leave the luggage as it would be impossible to get a seat in subsequent SAA flights since it’s December, a peak season. He further instructs him on how to use his baggage claim pass to trace his luggage once he lands at Léopold Sédar Sénghor. He assures him that he would have his luggage delivered to his hotel in a day’s. 

So he thanks the man and off he dashes with a whizz, albeit half-heartedly. As he boards the Airbus, it is clear that the whole crew has been waiting for him and it is such a relief to them that he came! He feels like the man of the moment – he is. Nine and half hours above the clouds, no sleep in his eyes. The poor boy is thinking of his luggage that he left in SA and wondering they’ll ever be united. To him, it’s more like a break up between two love birds who just don’t seem to get over each other but neither has the humility to make the first move in making up…

Two days later, SAA delivered my luggage right to my hotel room! 

But come to consider it, life is a constant choice between the luggage and the flight. In this choice, passion, appetite, dazzling allurements, and company are no safe guides. In this choice, we are called upon to be radical and consciously abandon the luggage and baggage that deter us from flying. 

Like in my case 7 years ago, baggage always seem very important and greatly to be missed if lost but the truth is, it’s not! At least not as much as the flight. Life calls us to strive with our very blood to excel, tread wisely and leave our footprints as landmarks on the sands of time for our posterity’s sake.

We struggle daily to impress, under self-instigated duress, people and things who probably care nothing about those impressions. Yeah, the pressures of life are enormous and compelling but some times it makes sense to abandon all the craze, take a respite and re-evaluate the worth of these struggles, then with rejuvenated resolve, give it a fresh shot.

Will you choose the flight of the luggage?




Going Down Below

Soon after she rudely told me they had no vegetarian plate (the woes of flying economy), I threw my sight balls out the window to deal with the anger and the hunger, and behold, spectacular clouds! Then I started typing…

There are times when you will be cruising above the clouds where only extraordinary lives – like the Eagles – thrive. You will feel the pride but fail to see the privilege. You will forget that below those same clouds are other human beings just like you except that they are crawling with the turtles. You will forget that before you got up above, you were down below, and whether it is hard work or connections that got you above the poor clouds, it’s still a privilege all the same.

Clouds above the city of Bamako, Mali

But the most crucial thing that you are likely to forget – which will sooner or later throw you in utter disarray and poisonous poignance – is the fact that one way or the other, you will have to go back below those very clouds! Poor you! In going back below the clouds, the reality is that you will either land or crash, and the probabilities are not for you to determine.

If you safely land, you get a chance to continue with the not-so-normal routine of pain, sickness, politics, murder, tears, treachery, betrayal and graves! This will be a golden chance for you to right your wrongs and redefine your purpose but I can bet with you, you will waste it. If you don’t, then you are among the rarest exemplary breeds. 

On the other hand, if you crash, that’s the end of your story. Sad and absurd, but we are being real here. Forget about ‘happily ever after’ – it’s a trap! A mental trap that’s aimed at keeping your spirit comforted in an uncomfortable zone, your intellect maimed worse than that of a zombie and your rationale blocked so you don’t think or reason. Happily ever after is non-existent, it’s a hoax. Anyway, I digress. 

So if you crash, you lose not only the privilege of being above the clouds but also your life itself. You die. You lose it. And this kind of death isn’t comely (not to mean others are) because folks don’t get to view your remains. They are given your body parts or ashes or things, but not your intact remains. Chiefly, you lose forever a chance to live forever. The pride that beclouded your sight and the privileges that you never took time to appreciate, all gone! 

I need to let you go now, but just in case you missed the whole point: live simply, learn and refuse to unlearn humility. Remain humble regardless of your worldly achievements, both apparent and assumed. Stay connected to more human beings than machines and do not forsake your God – He alone will have your back till your last breath. Spread the Word!