Recently I had to go through Lome on my way to the US. It was a promo flight and it was our only stop and so we were quite in high spirits, most of us seeing Lome for the first time, albeit just the airport.
Walking through the duty-free shop I noticed how small it was and how it seemed to have everything. Luggage, chocs, alcohol, perfumes, the usual. The local merchandise was on sale as well, for people wanting to buy souvenirs from their trip. I remembered how when I went to Ghana there were also people selling their kente and native works of art expressed in various forms: bags, shoes, dresses, tops, hats and even musical toys. of course the comparison with Nigeria followed. I don’t remember seeing anything for sale from Nigerian culture except at the Ladi Kwali centre in Abuja. I mean, why are our cultural items/souvenirs so scarce? Or is Nigeria just a place where they have no need for souvenirs? But I digress.
The real fun was in the security screening. When we arrived we met a row of searchers all slightly smiling but very business like. The first warning of any danger was the scrutiny my passport received. The man peered thoughtfully at my passport as though I was a long-lost son and then studied my facial features for any signs of plastic surgery/face modification. I smiled back at him and he greeted me politely before letting me through.
The rest of his colleague searchers just beyond the wall were waiting for me. The fair one with his connected beard motioned to me to take off my shoes and empty my pockets. I did so and stepped to him for a pat down. It was more of a full body massage than a pat down. He looked into my shoes and caressed the bottom of my stocking-ed feet. He told me to part my legs as he ran his hands up my thighs while my mind was forced to travel to watermelons, cucumbers and egg plants all in a bid to avoid the gutter. I smiled again at the ridiculousness of it all. My colleagues in the resistance behind me exchanged bemused looks at themselves as they wondered what was going on. My collar was raised and my trouser hems were checked meticulously.
After the body search was the hand luggage search. I was asked to empty my man purse. Now my man purse has never been emptied since the day I bought it in Paris 4 years ago. I brought out things I didn’t even know I had: cables for my phone, bracelets from my fave charity (TCLI), bank tokens, broken sim cards and their frames, rubber bands – everything came out. The hand lotion I nicked from my last hotel was examined and when it was found to be opened I was told to throw the 20 mL container in the trash. I was even more surprised when people with perfumes under the 100 mL limit where asked to do the same after me. I had some biscuits in my bag. I was asked to eat one of them (I have no idea the security implications of eating biscuit on the plane or before boarding). I was also told to put on my laptop and phone and show the home screens.
Ki lo de!?
At this point I began to cast my mind back to all the times strangers at the airport had brushed against me, trying to determine if anyone could have slipped anything into my bag. It would not be funny at all to be caught with … anything contraband at such a search! I wasn’t sure what was in my bag again. But thankfully I recognized everything and all was well with the world again. The man also insisted on putting everything back in my bag himself. This was the funny part because I have a different pocket in my bag for different objects. So I had to teleguide him and tell him where I wanted everything.
When the search was over I went to relax in the waiting lounge and watch the rest of my colleagues squirm through the reality TV show that was the Lome Search. I made a mental note to warn anyone who harboured any thoughts of attempting a drug courier career not to attempt going through the Lome Search.