Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sky-dying


I had just gotten off the phone with Dumebi for the third time that Saturday night. He had convinced me several times to be at the steering committee meeting on Monday which I had politely refused. I still felt exhausted from the long project we just concluded at GR Systems. With two weeks of my vacation yet to be utilized, I couldn't but turn down his request for me to show-up at 'this crucial meeting' as he had put it.

I laughed again as I saw Dumebi's text few minutes later. It read: 'Just make sure d fun u're substituting for this juicy meeting is worth it *smiley*'. I cringed at the thought of having two whole weeks away from what I loved to do at work.

Hours later, I was scouring through various webpages on my PC using search terms such as 'best vacation spots in Nigeria', 'relaxation centers in

Africa' and many more. Few clicks and many more open tabs later, I was even more confused. Too many poorly advertised  relaxation spots, some without websites or means of contacting them to make inquiries.

I eliminated each browser tab one by one, doing a mental cost vs benefit analysis of each vacation spot I came across before finally narrowing down to a few pages.

The phone rang. It was Sope. My heart raced.

"Richieeee!", she screamed excitedly.

"Sopsy baby, I owe you a million calls and more"

"Don't baby me jare, you just fashied my side abi", came the voice from the other end.

"Sopsy, how now, no be so o, how your side?"

"I'm good dearie, guess what...I'm coming to Abuja tomorrow night!"

"Are you kidding?! Wow!"

I clenched my fist in excitement. Sope and I had been very good friends since secondary school and surprisingly after she relocated, we still kept in touch regularly. She was the spontaneous type as opposed to my reserved and calculated self and I always cherished her company as she always had something up the sleeves.
Back in school, she was my 'wing-woman' and a day never went by without her picking on me and trying to drag me out of my comfort to do crazy things.

"Sope, my vacation starts Monday...and you're coming Sunday night...you should see the horses galloping in my heart right now"

"Seriously, I wish I could reschedule my flight to be in Abuja right now...was thinking of going to Dubai initially...Richie it's really a cool place"

"I've been thinking within Africa, isn't Dubai too far? just thinking cuz you know..." She cut in.

"Richie, you've worked hard this year, you need somewhere different from where you're used to"...She continued, "Do something different, maybe go to a nice island and rent a beach house for a week, or something crazy like skydiving...or..."

I burst out in a loud hysterical laughter. I could hear her on the other end trying to get my attention but the thought of her suggestion was just too hilarious to process in my head.

"Sky-what! Oginni?...Sope that was a very nice suggestion but No! thank you."

I could imagine her smile on the other end. She continued...

"Richie, how many places outside Nigeria have you visited?"

"Nairobi"

"For the 3G Summit, that kept you whining about the intense boredom?"

"Jo-burg"

"Your departmental training?"

"Well, I was in the US for a week"

"Yeah right...All work related, Richie. You need a genuine break that is out of the usual"

At this point, I started realizing the truth in her statement. I needed a real break. I really did.
Few minutes later, I had made up my mind. Dubai was the spot and skydiving was the sport.

Sope arrived Abuja on Sunday and we booked our flight tickets to Dubai for Wednesday.
A few hours of internet research later revealed that Dubai had one of the most beautiful skydiving dropzones in the world located at the base of the Palm Jumeirah, an island with an outline shaped like a palm tree when viewed from a high altitude.

We picked 'Skydive Dubai' as our preferred dropzone and booked a time for Thursday afternoon. Sope was almost choking with excitement when the e-mail confirmation came in. I was silent in thoughts.

We arrived there on Thursday as scheduled with our light clothing, food pack, water as we prepared for the drop of our lives. I never imagined I'd do this in my lifetime.
I held my back pack tighter as we went through the preliminary training sessions. The instructor, an average height American, talked about the various diving options available. He explained 'The Tandem', 'Accelerated Freefall' and other freestyle jump options. As I watched him talk, all I could see was a daring figure who just delighted in taking pointless risks.

Sope did the question-asking all the time as I was calmer with thoughts racing through my mind.
I tried to reason..."Who was the first man to sky-dive? How did he know the gravity up there can make you float for some seconds? Who even invented parachutes? How did he test it?

"First timer?", the instructor asked, piercing through my thoughts.
"Yea, not a biggie anyways...I'll be fine." I laughed deeply as rivulets of sweat trickled down my spine.

One hour later, the training was complete. I was told I'd be attached to an instructor with a 'harness' which would strap both of us on various pressure points of the jump suit we would later be given to wear. Sope had opted for the 'Accelerated Free Fall' which would require two instructors during the free fall with more hours of training as she would be responsible for releasing and guiding her parachute in mid-air when the time was appropriate. This girl was too daring, I thought. I proceeded towards the lift-off zone.

Sope escorted me until we got to a point where the sign read 'Only Skydivers allowed beyond this point'. We took pictures and said our goodbyes.

Thirty-something minutes later, we had reached an altitude of 20,000 feet in a small charter plane where I would later drop from. My heart skipped two beats, beat three faster and slowly completed a fourth. In few minutes, I would be diving over the most beautiful dropzones in the world. Dubai was awesome I thought this time. The thought vanished quickly as I heard my instructor's deeply excited "Are you ready mate?!"

Those words cut deep within me. It was like asking, "Are you ready to die?" or "Are you set to break your bones". I let the thoughts go again. This time my heart was as if it would jump out of my chest and stay in the plane, laughing at me as I plunged towards the sucking force of gravity.

"Don't forget to enjoy yourself and remember it all happens in a minute", he said as we prepared to make the jump. The door of the plane slid open and I felt a violent rush of wind fill the cabin. Final checks were done on the emergency parachute and One...Two...Three...Ready?...Bam! Out we flew!

For the first time in my life, I saw the world from a different perspective.
The view from the top, the thrust of the wind as we pierced through gravity, the feeling of undertaking this daring task and most of all the memories it would leave for a long time.

I mocked the world from up there screaming my lungs out as we dashed at mind-blazing speed towards the ground. My instructor had asked earlier before take-off if I wanted him to perform some air manoevres like minor flips, downward spiral and other stunts. I wish I had accepted the options.

For few seconds in flight, we assumed a flat position parallel to the ground with arms spread out. He gave the signal, did a twist  and...Flip! The parachute was out.



I would later know that my screams of 'Chimo!' 'Awana me' and 'Woohoo!' were almost impossible to hear.

I would later know that Sope did not book any jump for herself but had set me up to enjoy this daring feat alone.

I would later learn a vital lesson that all it took to enjoy the time of your life...sometimes...was to take that bold step...or rather, make that bold jump!

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