Originally written in July 2018, 

Imagine the world, if you will, as a departure lounge of an airport,

I’ve been lucky this past year to have ticked something off my bucket-list and that was to achieve the ‘Twelve Countries in Twelve Months’ and, as you can imagine, it’s been quite a journey. Expensive? Sure. Worthwhile? Absolutely. Yet amid all the sights, sounds and spectacles that travel brings; some truths can get unearthed.

By Jonathan Foley

Amid these adventures to the likes of South America, India, Britain and Africa’s southern region, it’s no surprise that a fair few hours get spent hanging around airports while waiting for flight connections. That comes with the territory as well as the occasional bout of jet lag and yearning for refreshing shower and shave, yet in some ways, airport departure lounges have always fascinated me. Here’s why. 

They are full of people coming and going; some for reasons that make them happy or excited, some for work purposes and some maybe for sad and disheartening reasons. And they are full of people of such a wide variety of cultures, faiths, colours and nationalities. All coming and going in a given particular section of the airport.

In all the hours I’ve spent there, nursing takeaway coffee and taking in the observations of what’s on offer, I’ve never once seen any sign of intolerance, bigotry or racism rare its ugly head. Whether it’s groups of friends, families, loving couples or individuals traveling, there is always that sense of harmony as they shop, eat and relax in their shared environment of the departure lounge. 

And that’s marvelous to see if you ask me. Perhaps the best case I saw of this was just last month when I was waiting in Johannesburg Airport for a flight to London Heathrow where a small cafe had a television above their seating area and they were showing live coverage of the World Cup match between France and Argentina. A small group at first but it grew and grew as the game went on and a flurry of second half goals in a 3-2 French win seized the attention of so many customers; some sitting and many standing. 

I’m not even sure if any of the congregation were French or Argentinian natives, but so many strangers got chatting, laughing and cheering as the dramatic events of the match unfolded. Language barriers seemed to be overcome and at the final whistle, handshakes, pats on the back, hugs and wishes of a safe onward journey were shared. 

I myself even shared a round of beer with a lovely and friendly traveling Swiss girl who was asked If she could make use of the only spare available seat at the table I was using.

A simple yet nonetheless touching moment of humanity which I was quietly pleased to have been there to see with my own eyes. As I got up from the table to head off to my boarding gate for the long overnight flight to the UK, I think what I’d just seen even had me happily whistling the tune of ‘What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love’ by Jackie DeShannon to myself as I went. 

Now as everyone knows, when you’ve been on a long flight and the captain makes the ‘cabin crew, prepare for landing’ announcement, those who got the window seats – and even those who didn’t – will take a moment to look out over the landscapes they are descending into. Oh come on, we all do it, don’t we? 

It’s a wonderful opportunity to see the country from a vantage point made possible by the moving aircraft and makes any place seem full of peace and serenity. What’s more is that, as a proud Irish person, I always love that view when I’m landing into Dublin Airport after having been away. It was the same too when I was living in Scotland and would be descending in towards Belfast International for a visit home. 

As a friend of mine used to quip in his broad Mayo accent when living in Edinburgh: “Landing into Ireland is just like putting on your favorite pair of socks, boy!” 

Ireland is known the world over for its fun-loving, humanitarian and somewhat immaterial and spiritual enjoyment of life. That’s something that we should never lose. People I’ve met and become friends with, from all over the globe, have made these encouraging points to me and in my own wee way, maybe I feel feel secretly content with myself that my representation to them of Ireland’s people has made them feel that way. 

Sadly though, there are a still that minority of whom who let us down. Not so much on the world stage, but right here at home, who often betray that positive image by way of old-fashioned sectarianism and xenophobia and the month of July was, not for the first time, a startling testament to that. 

As a nationalist, I too hold disregard for the Twelfth bonfires that set the flag of our nation alight as it baffles me as to how the authorities allow that to happen without considering it to be an offensive ‘hate crime.’ That topic though can be left for another journalist to write about but it does nonetheless sadden me as a blatant act of hatred against a country to which we are not even at war with anymore. 

On a more sociable and relaxed level, it’s well known that I’m a devout fan of sports and yes I did chuckle at most of the gags that were going around when England went out of the World Cup. Banter in football is fine and I enjoy it but on the other hand, there were those who went too far.

I was tipped off to the story that an English couple had to leave a public house on the Letterkenny Main Street one night. They allegedly grew fearful of what was reported to be a rather boisterous and foul mouthed group from the North whose loud statements against the English team, playing on the TV, were going far beyond the realms of sporting humour. 

It’s sad that this couple will go home and probably discuss this memories of Letterkenny as a negative one because of that. And those who caused will go back up the road sniggering about it. It’s sad too because, for an Ulster town, Letterkenny has always been one of the most peaceful ones; typified by how we have Catholic and Protestant/Presbyterian churches in close proximity to one another in the town center.

If this had happened in Alabama where a black couple were made to feel this way by the majority, we might have taken a different view. It seems as if your people were once oppressed, it gives some a sense of entitlement to be disrespectful or others decades or even centuries later. 

In a wider context, this thinking was what Nelson Mandela’s ANC and Theobald Wolfe Tone’s United Irishmen had to overcome. Seems like some here, would choose to intolerate another human instead of embracing the freedoms and lives we are fortunate to have in this part of the world. 

Of course, I firmly respect political devotion and loyalty, but not a point where it becomes fanatical and that the one live we all live is used to build resentment, fear and hurt to others. Isn’t that what drove Europeans towards what happened in the 1940s? 

The news of the tricolours being set alight and the Anglophoblic sentiment that rose in equal measure was a far cry from what I’d been a happy witness to at Johannesburg Airport a fortnight earlier. Maybe this world could be better if it resembled an airport that bit more.

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