WILCO VAN HERPEN
Airports, the nerve-wrecking pre-vacation turmoil in the terminals, are reminiscent of anthills in this crazy post-modern world in which we live
Travelling is nice and something unique to people; at least that is what we often think. But in nature, billions of animals travel every day. To show the madness of travelling, just replace the word “tourist” or “traveler” with any insect or bird species and suddenly you realize that we are living in a real hectic, chaotic, anarchistic, but at the same time, over-organized society. For my work, I travel a lot and this is what popped up in my mind one day while I went to the airport.
I looked at this big building I have to enter and suddenly saw everything from a different perspective. It looks like a giant ant nest. Thousands of people walk in and out. There is no obvious patron. This is anarchy in its best form. At the same time, there is no anarchy at all. Everything is an organized chaos.
They are all there with a purpose, but many times I can’t see what the reason is for all those people who are there. Have you ever looked at an anthill or a termite’s nest? Every time when I have the chance, I sit down and watch what is happening. The first time I sat down and watched an anthill was when I was eight-years-old. There was a war going on between ants with and ants without wings. I was watching them without the ants realizing I was there.
This is exactly what is happening at airports as well.
It first starts at the outer gate; there are big, strong guard ants with tools that check if you belong to this nest or not. If you don’t, you will be taken away. But it is very difficult to check all the ants that arrive. Big ants, small ants; all of them want to enter at the same time. Once you arrive at the entrance, the organizing ants have selected for you another group of ants, who are waiting for you.
They check if the goods you brought to the nest are the right stuff. Nothing harmful should enter the nest because it might destabilize the fragile structure of this micro-society. The ant made it through the first checkpoint but now it is time to see to which destination the travelling ant has to go to.
It is so busy here it is a nerve wrecking thing to just find the point where the travelling ant can get permission to enter the big machine that will bring it to the desired destination. There are monitors everywhere that tell the traveling ant at which counter to check-in. But there is a problem, not all ants know how to read or write, but even for them there is a solution. Very friendly looking female ants help the lost travelling ant to find his/her way. Now, a very exciting moment is coming for most of the ants; the place to get the ticket and to leave the luggage they brought with them.
Hundreds of helpful smiling and beautifully dressed ants are sitting next to each other; side-by-side, row-by-row. A very diligent check-in ant checks all the information. This ant has a beautiful uniform that gives the travelling ant the feeling that from here on, everything will be much easier. They take the luggage and weigh it. If everything goes smoothly, nobody pays attention to anybody, but sometimes a mistake happens. All of a sudden, the fragile system of the nest might face a problem. The travelling ant has too much freight with him or has arrived too late and starts quarreling. This is the moment that all ants look up, wonder what is happening and if the situation escalates, security ants might even be called in. Most ants do not face such problems though, and they get the ticket and can go on.
With its ticket, the happy travelling ant goes to yet another ant and has to show the ticket it recently received, together with a personal document that shows where the travelling ant lives and where it was born. This ant is a kind of indoctrinating ant with power. If something is wrong, this is the ant that will stop you and might even call some other ants to take you away. For most of the ants, this is the most nerve wrecking moment before getting in the big machine that will bring them to the other place.
Most of the ants feel quite relieved when they hear the bashing sound of the stamp being put in their travel documents.
Yet, another checkpoint and again, all the things the travelling ant is carrying with it has to be put into a machine. The protecting ants are very strict and have no mercy. If there is something different or strange, they take it away from you and expel it from the nest. A bottle of water or a small pointy item can be enough to be stopped and after handing it over, they check you again. Finally, you are in the core of the nest. From here on, things will be easier. There is plenty of food and drinks and this here is a very popular place for most ants to spend their time until they have to leave. Some ants become very tired after all of the excitement and they find a nice place to lie down and sleep a bit.
Then it is time to find the tunnel that will lead them to the big machine that will bring them to their desired destination. Before that, they have to face one more, and final, checkup, but this is a soft one. Actually, the aim of the last check point is to see if the ant found the right place to enter that big machine that will send it hundreds of kilometers away.
Writing this was kind of fun for me, looking at travelling from this perspective puts the world upside down. Travelling by plane looks like fun and stress-free, but the amount of stress, checkups and problems people face is something we are not always aware of. By looking at it from this point of view, suddenly travelling becomes a nerve-wrecking event. Summer holiday has started or will start soon for millions of people and all of them face the same ritual. So the next time you fly to some exotic holiday destination, just take your time and look at the structure we are living in. It is a fascinating part of our society and while looking at it with those eyes, you might be able to see the fun or tragedy of the life we are living…