On March 11 2017, 8 other students and I left Toronto Pearson Airport to venture to Kenya for a ME to WE service trip. This trip granted us with the opportunity to lend our March Break free-time to others, engaging in and learning about Kenyan culture through understanding of the 5 ME to WE pillars for improvement: health, education, opportunity, food, and water. This trip was also needed to help complete my visitation in all three main East African countries, Uganda and Tanzania already marked off. What was destined to be a great learning experience, however, did not guarantee an equally great flight journey.
Ethiopian Airlines had very high expectations to live up to. I tend to share a vivid distaste of flights due to their inflight seating arrangements, inflight entertainment, and most importantly, the taste of the meals. If you have ever flown with KLM like I have for all my flights to Africa, you would understand where my harsh outlook on airplane services came from; I have been known to fast when flying using this particular airline, and I think that I have slept longer on these flights than time spent watching their lack-luster lineup of movies and TV shows.
Surprisingly, Ethiopian Airlines didn’t disappoint immediately. The food throughout was enjoyable and non-repetitive. To test this theory, whenever a chicken dish was being offered on the initial and return flights, I would opt for that, and sure enough, every meal had differently prepared chicken accompanied by new side meals, though the desserts weren’t as varied and were often packaged in such a way that they looked way too unappealing to eat. On the initial flights, I ate the buns and butter every time, but while in Kenya, every meal was served with fresh buns and butter, making the airplane buns on the return flight an obsolete part of my diet. Nonetheless, I found myself pleasantly surprised by the meal options on the plane rides, and unlike on KLM, I wasn’t royally pissed when one of the cabin crew woke me from a slumber to announce lunch was ready.
The interactions on the flights brought upon some mixed reviews. I did have this wonderful conversation with this British woman on the flight from Kenya to Ethiopia. She told me about her work in the mining industry and I told her about some of the great things ME to WE taught me on the trip. Unfortunately, the flight from Ethiopia to Canada was plagued by annoying little children to my right crying and screaming throughout the flight, their parents seemingly oblivious to the frustration many of us around them were feeling. The dudes who stole my armrests weren’t too bad, but one kept pausing my movies accidentally while he rested on my remote, and because he forgot his reading glasses in his carry-on luggage and wasn’t able to reach them, he asked me to fill out his forms to enter Canada. This was quite the task too as he seemed to forget quite a lot about himself like his postal code and what he had to declare. And when he slept, he definitely knew how to snore. Loudly.
Speaking of sleep, I really didn’t have as much of it as I was expecting. Yes, there was the occasional movie that made me question the direction of the industry like Suicide Squad, but others, I thoroughly enjoyed like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I even enjoyed Beyoncé’s album Lemonade when I was not looking to watch a film (alas, the power in her words was a movie enough; I wonder what Jay-Z did to make her so angry). However, when sleep was imminent, I struggled to find the ideal comfortable position because, until the return flight, I did not know how to recline my chair, and when I did, I then realized that my seatmate to the left had taken my pillow and my seatmate to the right my blanket. And all throughout this lengthy flight, they both occupied the armrests, my skinny arms weeping by my side.
All in all, the flight wasn’t as bad as I secretly hoped it would be (I was getting tired of dissing KLM and was in search for a new scapegoat for my first-world problems). While the airplane rides definitely weren’t the point of the trip, they did help set up and cool down what has been a gratifying adventure. I would like to reiterate my thanks to all those who made this trip possible for me: thank you DICOTA, the Jurist Family, auntie Fatma, my school Upper Canada College, my teachers, and my parents. All of you played a significant role in enabling me to attend this life-changing trip.