My Return to Aden
When I decided to return to Aden I had very mixed feelings, I knew it would not be the same as my memories, nothing ever is, but how much would still be the same? After 33 years, two sons, two marriages and a whole bundle of baggage we call life just what would I feel? Would this trip rekindle the feelings I used to have, would it awaken hidden memories? Most of all, would it burst the bubble of childhood?
Aden to me was the perfect childhood, endless sunshine, crystal clear seas, hot white sand, and really good friends. Life was definitely good. I did not want to let the present affect the past.But Jonathan, an old and close friend, who was clearly as mentally affected by Aden as I was had done it before, so I knew the time had come for me to return despite my mixed feelings. Jonathan and I agreed a date, and the planning of the expedition began. (Somewhat less than military precision was the order of the day).The intrepid expeditioners were myself, Jonathan, my son Aidan, and Don Stephenson. As it turned out a more motley crew you would be hard pressed to find, which was just the ticket to make the trip just that little more enjoyable. Aidan had obviously heard me waxing poetic about the place, seen the photos, etc (his name is no coincidence either) so he was eager to take the opportunity to see it for himself. I was just as eager to show him my childhood haunts as he was to see them. When we met Jonathan at Heathrow I began to lose some of my trepidation about bursting the bubble. We reminisced as the beer flowed, and became quite mellow as the afternoon, and memories, progressed.
The time came for departure, and with cries of “were British colonials” we elbowed our way to the front of line. (Well, not quite, but almost). Yemenia was an experience before we even finished check in. Our very presence, and Aidan’s name itself caused comment, and we were escorted to the front to be amongst the first to be checked in. With, what I believe to be genuine interest from station manager of Yemenia in who, what, and why we were going to Aden. When we were airborne I realized the eagerness to get us on board. It had been a long time since I flew on a plane where the toilet didn’t work and the in flight entertainment headphones had to be shared between 3 people. (Aeroflot was the prior occasion from Bahrain to Moscow in a Tupolev TU154, and there was no in flight entertainment)Joking aside and bypassing the technical problems both the crew and passengers were extremely friendly. When my fellow passenger on my left realized my struggle with the entertainment system was failing offered me his headset. From that point it was much more interesting talking to him than watch Spiderman turn black. At that point Jonathan had blagged himself an upgrade to business class, I guess he wasn’t impressed with the in flight entertainment in the scuppers either.
I knew I was definitely back in Arabia when we landed at Sana’a where not even the flight crew knew if we should stay on board or transfer to another aircraft. The problem was solved by a manic steward on the ground waving his hands frantically and screaming for all Aden bound passengers to get on the right bus. Some of us were unsure which bus was which, and that added to frivolity of the proceedings, but alas not to the wellbeing of the manic steward. After driving around for a bit they found a plane and we proceeded to board. Aircraft have a particular odour all to themselves, and this one was no exception. This was verified by a Yemeni in traditional clothing, stating loudly, and in a broad Birmingham accent, that this particular aircraft “stinks worse than the other one” presumably he had already investigated this aircrafts facilities.
We arrived in Aden at dawns early light, and memories of the old BOAC flights came flooding back. As kids coming back home from boarding school this was the same time they would land, and the terrain had not changed very much at all. The causeway was just as it was, the road to Little Aden was now 2 roads not one, but the approach to the airfield was exactly the same. I could just imagine my Dad in his white shorts and short sleeved shirt and my Mum in one of her A line frocks that she loved to make her herself waiting for the Bristol Britannia to land. By this time I was babbling like an idiot to Aidan as the memories unfolded. I was both in the present and the past as we made the touchdown.
Aden airport has changed, couldn’t expect much else really, but a lot of the old RAF buildings still exist which was a surprise, but the feeling, the atmosphere, felt like 1957 not 2007, just my memories interfering with reality I guess. Disembarking into the sunshine and the early morning heat was worth the trip in itself. I was back home. Since 1978 I had worked in Oman, Saudi, Iran, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Siberia, South Africa, and Angola. The nearest to the feelings I was experiencing was my first trip to Oman, which in many ways in 1978 was very similar to Aden. But it was not quite the same as this. That was work, this was home.
After passport control, which was quite painless really, all things considered. Then came baggage reclaim, which was a different story. Needless to say it took time and we meandered aimlessly until they arrived. The upside was that customs was breeze, and we were outside, back on Aden soil, and looking for a taxi. Most of us who have pottered about in obscure regions of the planet are quite familiar with unrecognizable wrecks that pass themselves off a vehicles, Aidan however was not, and this particular one was a prime example. It was older than Aidan, and at one time in its history was a Peugeot station wagon. It was now gas powered, had great difficulty in starting and had more manual taps and valves than a Model T Ford. The doors did not shut properly, the upholstery wasn’t, and the instrument console was blacked out, and air conditioning was supplied via four glass openings in the doors, not sure if the glass was still there as the winders were missing. I felt sure I had seen this car in Aden before. It was so good to be back.
Driving out of Khormaksar onto the Maalla strait was wonderful, not only was I babbling like an idiot, so was Jonathan. Before I knew it we were heading for Gold Mohur and the Sheraton. Gold Mohur I knew well, the Sheraton was a whole new concept. As it turned out a very acceptable addition to the amenities that Aden has to offer. After check in I was totally cream crackered so it was to the room for a little rest until lunchtime. We all agreed to meet at a certain time at a certain place.
Aidan and I strolled down to the beach to meet Jonathan. Great beach, no Jonathan. No problem. We settled down underneath an umbrella, ordered a couple of refreshing drinks and proceeded to watch this poor lonely figure slowly walking up and down the beach. After a few more drinks the poor lonely figure slowly transformed into Don Stephenson who settled down to assist us in disposing of the drinks and reminiscing. By the time Jonathan put in an appearance the Adenkids revival was well in motion. The beach, the sand, the sun, the friends, it was all there again, 40+ years may have passed but it may as well have been just yesterday. As the sun started to set I remembered the sundowners my Dad used to enjoy on the verandah with Jack Hill and Joe Crowther whilst my Mum, Gladys Hill and Audrey Crowther walked the dogs on the beach. I broached the subject to my compatriots, a vote was taken, and the unanimous decision to continue the sundowner tradition was passed and put into immediate effect.
Our first day back was all I hoped it would be, and all my initial concerns dissipated with the setting sun. I now eagerly awaited the activities of the coming days. Aidan was rapidly becoming an Adenite, and the three original Adenites were peeling the years back minute by minute. If only we could do something really stupid then the trip would be truly complete. I was not to be disappointed.
Photographs of the trip can be found at this page Aden September 2007
To be continued................................
Jackie Degg - March 2008