Sunday, March 16, 2008

Midnight Welcome to Entebbe

You may have seen a version of Entebbe International Airport in The Last King of Scotland. The movie captured the feel of the place--it's not exactly brimming with the spirit of welcome.

That was my first impression,too, when Nora (my wife) and I arrived there for the first time, but I was wrong. There were all kinds of friendly things going on, as we found out a few minutes after arrival.

No airport looks very good after you've spent 24 hours getting there--in coach. But Entebbe is sadder looking than most, especially after midnight. At least it was bustling. Our flight was one of a handful of big jets from Europe to stop there every week. Once we deplaned and the next load of passengers boarded, its next stop was Amsterdam, so there was quite a bit of activity. But despite all the hustling porters and hopeful taxi drivers, it was still midnight in Uganda, dark, mysterious, and just a little bit threatening. It was an appropriate setting, I suppose, since I was there to do research for my novel, Heart of Diamonds.

I assumed it was too late to change some dollars for Ugandan shillings, but our driver, a can-do sort of guy, said it would be no problem. We followed him around the terminal away from the dwindling crowd in the dimly-lit parking lot into a dark passageway that led to an even darker staircase. Bad thoughts bubbled to the surface of my jet-lagged brain, but I followed him anyway.

We went up the stairs to a glass storefront that looked very, very closed. The door slid open at our touch, however, and we stepped up to the counter--even though there wasn't a human in sight nor any light to see them by if there had been.

Our driver rapped sharply on the counter and a girl popped her head up from the opposite side, looked around with surprise, then disappeared beneath the counter again.

We heard a little scuffling and a smothered giggle, then the girl appeared again, wearing a sheepish grin this time. Mustering her dignity while trying to button her blouse, she stood up straight and asked how she could be of service. A cough came from beneath the counter, which she answered with a kick.

With love all around, I decided Entebbe wasn't such an unfriendly place after all.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds a about in the

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