Gabon, Libreville and Léon-Mba International Airport!
This happened back in the year 2005, when I was working for a sizeable commodity company and was based out of a city called Libreville, the capital of Gabon, a small country in Central Africa.
For the uninitiated, Gabon is a small country with a 2.1 million population (back then it was about 1.5 m) and is nested below Cameroun and Equatorial Guinea while sharing a large part of its border with Democratic Republic of Congo. Gabon is a former French colony and remains a Christian majority country. Gabon, compared to many troubled nations in this continent, was generally considered to be a ‘stable’ country, heavily dependent on oil and timber for its economy. In all honesty, I wasn’t aware of Gabon, before I was asked by my employer to move there. And I didn’t know anyone personally before 2005, who knew anything about Gabon either. Most Indians’ knowledge about Africa ended with South Africa (many still think Africa is South Africa), Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt. Football has also made countries like Ghana & Ivory Coast somewhat common, while Roger Milla made Cameroun a household name since the early 90s.
But Gabon was a name that wasn’t yet introduced to my family, locality, friends or peer groups. So much so, that a former boss of mine, usually a very well read person who I met in 2014 after many years, asked me something, which he claimed, he was curious about, for many years.
“So, how is this country of Gambia? I recall you moved there a decade back.”
Anyway, I was waiting at the lounge of the Léon-Mba International Airport (read: a concrete seat like those you find in the park, around a large tree) for a flight by Bellview Airlines, a Nigerian Airline that would fly me into Lagos. We had a three-day product meet starting from the next day, and this was the only direct flight for the day. The meet was very important, more so because it was the first since I joined the company, and delegates were flying in from all over Africa, Asia and Europe, with the top guys from Singapore HQ joining in as well. Not reaching on time would be a disaster for my reputation!
Luckily, Libreville to Lagos was a flight of less than two hours. and departure was at 10 am sharp. So I should be in Lagos by noon, a good twenty two hours before the meet starts the next day. I could even do some local sight seeing.
I had checked other possible routes but no other flight would take me to Lagos sooner. Most would either fly me a day before, or a day after. Connecting flights via all nearby major cities like Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Douala (Cameroun) and Kinshasa (Congo) were not working out and going via Johannesburg (South Africa) would make me lose one full day of the meet. So Bellview was the safest option, and I had reached the airport before 8 am and secured my boarding pass by 8:30 am. The flight would come from Dakar (Senegal), stopover at Libreville for forty five minutes or so, pick some passengers, and fly out to Lagos.
Very interesting and engrossing….infact the best part of the story is that it’s an exciting experience which is very beautifully written down….
This also gives an insight into the facts , figures, the people n their habits…a rendezvous !!!