Flying high
17 June 2007

Visitors to Bahir Dar will likely spend time on the shore of Lake Tana, where they can see hippos, island monasteries and the source of the Blue Nile.


If the same visitors arrive or depart via a plane, they will also spend time in Bahir Dar airport, which can be more fun that it sounds.


Upon arriving at the airport, customers are informed by the bus driver that the plane to Addis will be anywhere between half an hour and two hours late.


It’s anyone’s guess what the official expected delay will be, since the only apparent airport employee is a limping man wearing half a uniform who drags your bag five metres from a large pair of scales to the conveyor belt then asks for a tip.


Taking a coffee upstairs in the meantime is a great way to indulge in fine Ethiopian coffee and to observe the antics on the runway. At one point, three military police in blue camouflage uniforms herd 30 head of cattle across the tarmac. They have assault rifles slung over their shoulder, but prompt the cattle with long wooden staves.


Fifteen minutes before the original listed departure time and someone has appeared behind the check-in desk. Customers report in and proceed thenceforth through the X-Ray scanner and metal detector to the waiting lounge.


An iPod is carefully scrutinised and given the ‘OK’ once it is proven to play music.


Then a peculiar item of hand luggage a Japanese tourist passes through the X-Ray attracts the attention of staff and other passengers alike. It is a clear plastic lunchbox containing several ‘DD’ batteries, some loose wires, and what looks rather like an alarm clock. All that’s apparently missing are the letters ‘B.O.M.B’ written across the lid.


A concerned American diplomat saunters over to see how the attendant is handling the situation. “It’s OK, he’s Japanese,” he reports back to the fellow nervous travellers. “If he’d been Indonesian I would have been worried.”


The lunchbox is re-packed, deemed to be ‘all clear’ and returned to the tourist.


Just then another type of lunchbox appears through the rubber curtain of the X-Ray machine: Two plates of injera, Ethiopia’s national food which tastes like sour fermented pancake served with spicy meat stew.


The attendant gives it a dismissive glance and it is couriered post haste on to the tarmac and given to the crew of the Ethiopian Airways plane which has just landed, and will shortly depart for Addis – just as soon as the pilot has finishe his lunch.