In 2011, I was leading a team of 11 Ugandans for a project in Liberia. Because of the war, a flight cost 1200 US Dollars then (almost 10 years ago); quite expensive.
I started to say my goodbyes to everyone, my neighbours, my friends and family a week in advance. It was a 3:00 am morning departure flight, the only flight every week with Kenya Airways. My mother dropped me off earlier, at around 11:00 pm because she had work the next day.
Since Liberia didn’t have an embassy here, it was visa on arrival. I had my invitation letter on email on my phone. I handed my passport and ticket over to the KQ officer who then asked for my visa. I explained to him that it was a visa on arrival and he asked for my invitation letter. I had just graduated with my degree in computer science so I was trying to be tech-savvy. I handed him my iPhone 3s. He stared at it and rejected it. He asked for a hard copy coz he didn’t have time to read it on my phone.
I, of course, panicked. He rudely asked me to step out of line, he said he was “too busy”. I tried to call my host late at night to talk to him. The officer refused to talk to him on phone, he insisted on a hard copy. I rushed to look for a printer at any of those airport shops. They were all closed. They didn’t operate at night. I went back with my bags to beg the guy. I even referred to him as ssebo several times
But Ssebo refused.
He ignored me till when the boarding gates were closed. He didn’t even say sorry (It still hurts?)
I had already said goodbye to everyone. I was embarrassed to call my mother to pick me up. I had pocket money. We hired an airport taxi to a hotel/lodge to Nkumba. We lodged there for a week. As we printed and rescheduled our flight in the next 7 days. It cost us money as well.
We all switched off our phones pretending that we had travelled. My mother got worried because she hadn’t heard from me. She called my best friend to find out if I had contacted her. They contacted the airline. The flight had arrived but our names were not amongst the passengers. A rumour amongst my friends started spreading that we were intercepted and got arrested at the airport because of sex trafficking (?)
We waited out our days in hiding till the new day, This time around, we went in line at around 10 pm. We were refused to check-in till 1:00 am. We stood there till 1:00 am with our photocopies. We prayed a lot for all those hours nonstop.
It was the same Ssebo guy, I didn’t like him but I had to smile at him because he was acting like God. He was the only enemy of progress I had ever met in my entire life.
He remembered us.
He looked at our papers.
Just like that, Ssebo let us through to check in with our sweaty palms.
All he needed was a hard copy of our invitation letters to let us through.
Today as we celebrate #Africaday, I pray for the day Africa becomes borderless. A one Africa, one that doesn’t need visas for an African to visit an African country. We need to visit more African territories visa-free.
Have you ever missed a flight for a silly reason?