As a newly employed Consultant, it is easy to adopt an approach to implementing your chosen solution based on a tried and tested approach. You’ve shadowed the best, you’ve learned from their tips, tricks, highs and lows – and now you’re on your own. You graduate from the school of Domestic Projects and begin a new, exciting career at TouchstoneEnergy. It’s all going really well………
Fast forward a few years… a client wants you to visit their office in Gabon, West Africa. That sounds like an interesting place to go. Your mission – to undertake a simple requirements gathering workshop for a new module & carry out some refresher training?
Day One – and we’re off
A Sunday morning in August, a connecting flight in Paris to Libreville (Gabon, W Africa) from Heathrow – a sprint through CDG after an inevitable air traffic control delay at Heathrow. Phew, glad I am travelling with hand luggage. Just enough time to sweep through the sparkling brand new lounge at CDG to use the bathroom & grab a drink & some snacks (remember that – it will become important later).
1600 – Arrived. Fashionably on Parisian time, in Libreville & exit relative comfort of the Business Class cabin!
Your client has assured you that Airside Protocol will be on hand to smooth the passage through immigration. TIA (This is Africa) – unsurprisingly he is nowhere to be seen. Be prepared. Have every piece of paper that might come in handy accessible – and never, ever leave your Yellow fever vaccination certificate behind. Now would be a good time to brush up your GCSE / A Level French.
Success – you’re in the baggage hall. Award yourself the ‘I survived African Immigration’ t-shirt. If you have never experienced a plane load of Africans returning from a shopping trip in Europe, you are in for a treat. Mind your ankles & elbow your way through to the ‘Sortie’.
Found him – your happy, smiling (previously AWOL) Airport Protocol officer. Waiting patiently, clutching his clipboard bearing an interpretation of your name that is just about recognisable. Just in case you can’t follow the signs 50 metres to the domestic terminal, he shows you the way. Sign his job sheet and say he did a good job – you’ve survived the airport without him anyway, and at least he gets paid for the privilege! If you’re feeling really generous, compliment him on his English – and watch the smile, it’s priceless.
It’s HOT – big rain or shine – it’s HOT. This would be a good time to reach for your illegal stash of CFA from a colleague, or a previous trip. Ok. So you have no CFA, and no way of buying refreshments. You are now feeling very smug about the dash through the AF lounge at CDG. See, I told you that 2 minute detour would prove useful.
Now it’s time for the most exciting part of the day. The check-in process for the connecting flight to Port Gentil. This is where your Protocol guy earns his fee. You’re not queue jumping really – how can you be when you’re parked innocently enjoying your contraband drink and snacks on a nearby bench? It is only when the check-in agent needs to verify that your face matches the picture on the passport that you actually need to present yourself at the desk. Safely in possession of your handwritten boarding card, you’ve made a quick check to confirm it matches the number and colour of your handwritten luggage tag.
Excellent. En y va? You wished! The departure board card states a departure time of 1945 – it is probably around 1700 by now. Your protocol guy wants to go home for his tea, but needs to despatch you into the relative safety of the ‘domestic’ departure lounge. For lounge, read tiled room with hard tiled benches, no washroom or catering facilities & a small army of hungry mosquitoes. Resist – tell him you’re fine really and he can go home.
A couple of hours later, a tiled bench inside the domestic terminal…
‘Je suis désolé ….’ – Here we go, the flight is delayed / your bag is one of the chosen ones that won’t be on the plane (sadly even hand luggage has to be checked in, the overhead bins are very small!). In 90% of cases both will be true.
Eventually you are called for your flight – by colour of boarding card! The plane makes 2 trips (which is why the Protocol guy earned his fee!). Remember to ‘claim’ your bag on the runway and wheel it to the plane – if it’s not there then no need to look for it when you get to Port Gentil – it will arrive tomorrow!
Eventually, you bounce to a stop in Port Gentil. In recent months, the runway has been extended to accommodate International flights, there is a brand new terminal building to receive the passengers – but the airlines and Gabonese authorities are still debating the landing rights. Keep the faith and remember- TIA.
If you’re lucky, and I consider myself to be very lucky, you will have a friendly face meeting you at the baggage reclaim. The luggage trolley is pushed backwards and forwards between the plane & the ‘hole in the wall’ chute to the conveyor. It’s simple – if you don’t see your bag on the trolley, it’s been left behind in Libreville. It will arrive tomorrow morning. Moral of the story – always pack some essential, overnight survival items in your laptop bag – they won’t make you check that in!
Off you go in search of the accommodation provided. Hotel or Staff Apartment, good luck with finding an eatery that is open. Port Gentil closes for business around 9pm on a Sunday.
Sometime later – after a warm welcome, freshly caught & cooked fish, French wine (or beer) and coffee – a quick check for wildlife in the room, spray for mosquitoes & make sure the bottled water is sealed.
Good night – it’s been quite a day and we haven’t started work yet.
By Sarah Davis