Monday, July 15, 2013

The day I met Cardinal Tumi


On Sunday, July 07, 2013 I was working on an Arik Air flight to Kinshasa, DR Congo. I saw a couple of high profile Cameroonian clergy men of my church, the Roman Catholic church at the counter before check-in that made me very happy. They were his eminence, Christian Cardinal Tumi, Archbishop Samuel Kleda of Douala, Bishop George Nkuo and some other priests. I felt sorry for them because the flight was three hours late. They checked in and went to the VIP lounge anyway. I went to the baggage sorting area, (Containaire) where I was scheduled to work. After counter closure, I went to the ramp and then the boarding gate to get standby sequences. I learnt that all the passengers had boarded except the clergy men in the lounge. They had written down their phone numbers on a piece of paper which they had given to the flight supervisor of the day, Jareth, so he could phone them when the plane arrived. At the gate, Jareth told me he had forgotten the paper in the office, so I was sent to get it and take it to him so he could call the Cardinal.

Our office is very far from the A-32 gate where we worked, so I was very reluctant to do the double trip. But I went anyway, a little irritated and inwardly fuming at Jareth’s forgetfulness, (maybe he was even tobacco drunk since he smokes ten kilos of cigarettes per day.) As I reached the Police immigration area, I saw….the cardinal! And his entourage! My heart almost split in two halves with excitement and fright as I walked to him to tell him I would be accompanying him to the Arik Air gate (and very happy too that I was not going to make that long double trip!) When I reached him, I couldn’t find the right words to say even though I’m a writer. (The cardinal has a unique aura of grace about him that always triggers people to act a little confused and adults to act like babies.) And it caught me too. I said, “Eminence, I, er, you, me, Arik Air.” He turned towards me and snapped imposingly, “WHY ARE YOU PEOPLE SO LATE?” Jeez, I felt like peeing and defecating all at once. “I’m sorry your eminence, the plane…late...Lagos…late…but….on the ground now and I’ll accompany you to your gate.” Okay. For the first time in my life at that airport I saw the police immigration officers treat passengers (him and his entourage with gentleness and let them go with ease.) That’s when I realized that I had not even greeted the other Bishops –out of confusion. But I went ahead with the cardinal as they followed behind.

The disembarking passengers of SN Brussels were passing by and greeting him verbally, “Good evening your eminence, bonsoir mon signor!” he responded to them all. All of a sudden, I saw a hand among the passengers sticking out towards the cardinal. I was almost about to slap it off when I saw the face that owned the hand -my boss, Joshua Osih. The cardinal shook his hand and they chatted for a while, (they’re both party members, SDF.) Then I greeted him, “good evening sir.” “Yes, how are you?” “I’m fine.” “How is work?” “It’s okay sir,” (completely forgetting the whole damn flight was three hours late.) As the cardinal and I went forward again, he asked me the days when Arik flies to Kinshasha. By this time, I had calmed down, largely due to his down to earth nature, his remarkable humility which he is very famous for. “Your eminence, Wednesdays and Sundays but sometimes the flights are cancelled when there are very few passengers because it is a flight route which usually doesn’t attract customers.” “Okay, I usually fly with Ethiopian Airlines and they go all the way up to Addis Ababa before flying down to Congo. Or Kenya Airways. I travel to Nairobi, then I have to get another plane to kinshasha, very long journeys.”

I was bold enough to ask him this question very politely. “Okay, what are travelling to do in Kinshaha?” “We are going for an Episcopal conference of Bishops from all over Africa and some other parts of the world.” At that moment, one woman, an SN passenger walked to him and greeted him in a bowing manner. “Good evening your grace.” They chatted for about a minute and as she left, he started telling me who she was and what she does for a living. I kept saying, “okay, okay, okay your eminence,” all the time marveling at his very simple nature. He was talking to me like I was his little son. We arrived at the gate and my colleague, my dear friend, Nnaeto Yvette started her own share of stuttering. “Your, Evening, bonsoir, mon signor.” I withheld the laugh. He answered while Jareth doc checked his passport. (I was wondering how Jareth was going to tell him about offloading him from the flight, that is, if his passport/visa was expired etc.) His carry-on luggage was checked and he proceeded to board with his entourage.

Jareth immediately asked me in surprise, “Nkiacha, tu causait qoui avec le cardinal? (Nkiacha, what were you discussing with the cardinal?)” I laughed and said, “Hehehe, moi! Je vais au paradis, J’ai discuté avec le cardinal. (Me! I’m going to heaven, I chatted with the cardinal.” Jareth exploded in laughter. “Et quand Je t’ai dit que vas chercher leur numeros au bureau, tu etait un peu faché, maintenant tu est content. (And when I told you to go and look for their numbers in the office, you were a little angry, now you are happy.) “Hehe, Je vais au paradis, Je vais au paradis.”