my flight was scheduled for tomorrow. we have no flight permit, i have done nothing but chase people around for the past 2 weeks, the whole thing a failure. one guy. one single guy is blocking the paperwork because he didn't get his share. he wants 2,000 USD, which i would pay if we had the money but our safe is just empty. the plane from south africa has cash, but since it can't arrive, forget it. we are going to have to go up the ladder, get the ministry of transport involved, the german embassy. my sweet korean project manager is begging me to stay another week to help move things along.
i go back to civil aviation to try and meet with someone, when i arrive the doors shut delicately, just like my invtroverted cousin who would rather play video games than say greet family. on the way back, without asking, my driver stops at the air france office. "go in and see what it costs to stay." i go in, halfheartedly meandering among the people wrapping up their bushmeat and illicit wares. i go to the counter where you are meant to take a number. there's a bowl of folded paper, like it's a raffle. i sift for the smallest digit, 10! i sit and wait and check my blackberry. my colleague who flew out sunday sends me an email how he caught a man checking in 2 ivory tusks at this very place. he chased him for 3 hours at charles de gaulle only to have the authorities say, "sorry, he's in shengen now, nothing we can do." he is writing to me from the hospital, he has dengue. "don't you just love your job?"
i go to the desk with a guy reloading the paper in his dot matrix printer. he eagerly helps me, all excited because there is another shapiro on the flight, a man named avi, do you know him?
it only costs 100$ to change until thursday. i think about my cats, my balcony. i say i'll come back and pay with cash, i don't have enough on me anyway.
the rest of the day is more frustrating phone calls, getting nowhere. i went to lunch with a woman on mission here, and has not been feeling well and her hair is falling out. the stress.
the tradition on my last night is to get everyone to go to limoncello, so i reserve a table for 12 at the fancy overpriced italian restaurant run by my former roommates maria and filiberto.
i am the first one there, i order a bottle of pinot grigio. i get a message from marie, she and her boyfriend got pax'd this afternoon! it's like a civil wedding thing in france, turns out they got a last minute appointment on pentecost monday, usually a holiday. what's better is that he has a beard and long hair and looks like jesus so it's a match made in heaven, pardon the pun. something else to celebrate. ooh and not only that, they tell me the french embassy servers got grilled in the power outage on sunday, they lost all their data, which means no one gets their visas, which means my flight will be empty. double whammy.
everyone shows up and we are trying to explain the pax.
"marriage by fax?"
"can it be undone?"
"c'est du concubinage ou quoi?"
lots more wine. the taboo topic is the flight permit, which all my friends/colleagues know is just not the thing to talk about. the food is delicious, service is slow, as usual. my feet are eaten to bits by mosquitos. people are making toasts about marriage. it's grand.
tonight is the first time we just split the bill and we actually have a surplus, which never happens. so we order rounds of whiskey.
a few tables over, i see maria and filiberto sharing a pizza like newlyweds. i go to say hi, maria's hair is marvelous, she looks years younger. filiberto on the other hand looks hunched over, like my grandmother after her stroke. makes me sad. one of his eyes is droopy and he has spilled pizza sauce on his nice shirt. they ask me about the infamous plane. i tell them my trials and tribulations, civil aviation are a bunch of thieves. filiberto goes "shush! the president's pilot is sitting behind you!" i turn around to see a fat lebanese and some congolese splitting a bottle of johnny walker. if i had the nerve i would drop my business card and turn on the charm but there's no opening. i turn back. maria starts on her tirade about how much this country is broken, nothing works, all crooks, it's worthless! filiberto grabs my arm "you need to persevere! we stayed through the thick of it, look at us now! congo needs you, don't give up!" he stops the waitress and we toast to shots of delcious home made limoncello. "come back and see us! the italians will win the world cup! congo will be waiting for you!" ciao, ciao.