To kill a fear…
I used to have a huge fear of flying.
In honour and trepidation of the airspace, I had cancelled some pre-scheduled flights after the plane crash that took away my mentee, friend, collaborator, brother and confidant, Pius Adesanmi. I had lost the energy to do any work, and now they pile up before me. What really is the worth of man, and what is the value of all our aspirations to be, to grow, to plan even for the next day, when there's a pre-ordained schedule for all our steps, a divine boarding pass in hand for us all...?
I don't know if there was any other person who was as afraid of flying like me. Each boarding is like a small death; each landing, another resurrection. For me, flying is the most primitive of all contemporary inventions of technological man. I hated it. No, I detested it the same way a child withdraws from the healing pill. Yet, there are no major alternatives to trans-continental trips which could be taken.
In my part of the world, there is even no faster and safer alternative to trans-national travels. In 2019, West Africa is still in its infancy compared to advancement in the regional rail system of East Africa. In the recent past, Nigerian roads used to be safe and fun to ply. As students, we were used to going on excursions across the states and the cities by road. Businesses and people moved from city to city on four wheels or more. Of course, road accidents were a feature in the national disaster chain, but such calamity as the death of a hundred citizens in one fell swoop was a rarity. It was the scare of kidnapping, terrorism, the fear of bandits, and the other rogues in uniform, that drove many commuters into the patronage of the airspace within. Remember the Ejigbo plane crash, the Fokker F48 crash, the crash that claimed the life of Prof Claude Ake in 1996, and the Dana plane crash of 2012.
I used to have a huge fear of flying; and each time I heard of crashes, I thought of the event as fiction, something like an episode on CSI.
Now my mind raced back to some lines that I had composed before that near crash on the flight from Lagos to Istanbul in October 2018. I was in company of three colleagues from my Faculty - Francis Egbokhare, Tayo Adesina and Tunde Ayeleru - heading to Berlin for a conference and a capacity building meeting with other scholars in Humboldt University. The Turkish Air plane stalled less than 30 minutes after take-off. Something strange happened: in some split seconds which seemed prolonged into minutes, the body reverberated, and jerked forth and back, then it seemed the machine lost balance or it swerved almost uncontrollably, slipping by its left side, like a car that had lost control of its flywheel. Then it stabilised and resumed with a speed supersonic slicing the night air, a deafening silence replacing the panic and the prayers that rented the air in the last timeless minutes. And strangely, the pilot did not say one word from the cockpit, all through the remaining stretch of the trip. After the disaster that claimed my buddy, and recently, in the moment that one of the fellow travellers commiserated with me, it occurred to us that that Turkish flight experience happened to us inside a Boeing 737 Max (8) Series plane.
Looking back now, I realised how foolish or helpless it was to succumb to fear.
On April 1, I accepted the wayfarer fate to fly from Ibadan to Abuja. When the plane took off, I said my prayers and waited for resurrection. I had a mission: to kill the fear or be killed by the fear. Then the one-hour flight became prolonged. After about 20 minutes circling the air of Abuja, the pilot announced that the airport had been closed for "operational reason" and he would soon return to land. The huge bird landed after another three minutes of descent.
Now and for some time to come, I may feel diminished at the thought, I no longer stoke in the fear of flying. Until there's another alternative to that primitive contraption, I shall not be afraid to live, because to be afraid to live is to die and dishonour the roving spirit of my departed friend.
April 1, 2019