My trip to Mali didn't start too well. What should have been a 4/5 hour flight turned into a 9 hour extravaganza.
I noticed that there was a couple of people walking around the plance with orange arm bands that say police on them. One of them address the airplane, but spoke too quickly and I lost him early, so I had no idea about what was to come.
The flight was about 15 minutes late when a police van pulled up beside the plane and 2 people carried a man in a straight jacket kicking and screaming into the plane.
I quickly put 2+1 together and reasoned that it must be a deportee, and indeed I wasn't wrong. They had cleared 3 rows at the back of the plane and they needed every inch of space to try and contain this guy.
The moment he came on board he wouldn't stop screaming "France chez moi, France chez moi"("France is my home, France is my home"). You can't imagine how disturbing this was, and it only took a few minutes before people started to protest.
6/7 people came back from the forward compartment to protest, and I recognised one of the girls from the waiting lounge. She had been dropping passport related flyers that I had only glanced at, because, again, my French wasn't good enough to understand what it was talking about.
So now I was wondering if it was a co-incidence that these "passport people" were on this flight. Some of them sounded German and several had the look of direct action veterans.
Anyway, they weren't the only people. A couple of Malians stood up to protest too. So naturally the plane couldn't take off. The staff didn't know what to do. Everyone, me included was developing more and more of a buildup of adrenaline, and a lot of English speakers, including myself and a few Americans around me still weren't even sure of what was going on.
A prolonged, escalating, nerve wracking confrontation between the police and a few of the hardcore protesters continues, while the captain makes a vocal appearance and decides to taxi back to the parking stand. The whole time the backing track of "France chez moi" stil hasn't let up for a minute.
About 2 hours of "France chez moi", I look out the window and see 2 police vans pull up and about police get out in full riot gear complete with batons and shields. I look at the petite little german girl standing next to me and point out that now would probably be a good time to sit down. She argues that now is a good time to stand up, and I do consider it, perhaps out of shame for not standing up for this poor wretch who's being removed against his will.
A few police come on board to assess the situation and I'm enjoying a bit of Gonzo journalism, taking photos and am told that I will be arrested if I keep taking photos. He wasn't clear what the charge would be, but I'm glad I was a bit more discreet after that.
Thankfully the police decide their sheilds won't fit in the plane and that swinging battons around the cabin, might not be too wise either. They do come rushing in, in a spectacular and completely unnecessary, reheased formation, with their helmets on, and forcably remove the protesters. Once of whom was cuffed and carried kicking and screaming out of the plane.
At least 1 malian who hadn't obeyed the original police guys and staff was also escourted off. An African, who I guess was either Malian or French/Malian, also left the plane with his 2 young children. I guess because he assumed the radio station wasn't about to change any time soon.
I can only imagine him trying to explain to his kids that the man was being treated like this, bound and sat on by 3 men, because he is Malian and France doens't want him in France. Confusing for kids and I must say that when I think about it, it's not a lot easier for me to rationalise.
I think I got so upset about all of this perhaps because I wasn't doing much to aid this man, who's story I knew nothing about, but who's distress was talking to me helplessly.
Afer the protestors and those who weren't in enough of a hurry to deal with this shit had left the plance, we sat for another hour with no news of what would happen next.
Then the captain announces that they have to find the luggage of all those people who are removed before we can leave (assuming they can find another take off window).
Another hour passes and they finally take the deportee off the plane. THANK GOD. Why the hell didn't do that in the first place I don't know... Man, I was really pissed with Air France. I don't know the full story of what they are obliged by law to do, or what sort of arrangements and agreements they have with the French government, but I really didn't feel like a valued customer.
We sit another 2 hours before we eventually take off after 5 hours on the runway.
I wasted my phone battery taking photos, making videos, installing a video editting app and uploading it to youtube, so I'm a bit worried about how to let people know when I arrive in Bamako at 2 am.
I needn't have worried in the end because Celine was with Abdoul and a few others who were in the bush near the airport recording an album, and they saw the flight come in to land. So I was greeted at the airport by Celine and Seydou, things were starting to look up.
Back at Abdoul's I met the man himself and a few other family and friends and fellow tourists.