The Gate Pass to Heaven
You know how I know Kenya Airways is at a dead-end? Their check in crew are bitter half the time and will take out their bitterness on innocent passengers at the drop of a coin.
“Where is your VISA?” yet the country you are visiting issues VISAS on arrival.
“Proof of accommodation madam?” because it is highly likely that you intend to elope with a beach boy at your destination. Much as some of these questions are necessary, it is the way they ask them with an accusatory tone that riles me up. And even when they are wrong, they don’t know when to back off a heated argument. With Kenya Airways, the adage “The customer is always right” holds no water.
The people manning the desks at Terminal 1A exclusive to KQ really need a pay rise. And free breakfast loaded with carbs. Or they should just move to immigration where it is the norm to be hostile to passengers. When a Kenyan immigration officer says hi to you and asks after your day, it might be your last day on earth. It is advisable that you say a prayer (again) that you land safely at your destination.
My pal Don Jazzy (not the one from Nigeria, though I wish he was my pal too) is always flying KQ Nairobi-London and has had his fair share of drama, yet, he keeps going back. Talk about Kenyans and their peculiar habits. KQ is like that ex that treated you so badly but against your better judgement, you keep going back hoping that somehow they have changed their ways. On one occasion, Don was onboard with KQ’s CEO at the time. He (the CEO, not DON) slept through the entire journey and did not bother to greet the customers or engage his crew at any point. Don is Kisii, and Kisiis love greetings. So, you understand why this was highly offensive.
The night before we travelled to Seychelles, at 10.03pm, my bag was packed but my travel documents were not. I pulled open my bedside drawer certain that my passport and Yellow Fever Certificate were tucked in the corner but Alas! After rummaging through the drawer, I upended the contents on my bed. The passport appeared alright, but the Yellow Fever Certificate played hard to get. I searched every possible hideout with no success.
In my disheveled state, I drove to the office hoping to find it in my desk, but luck was not on my side. This was the second time the stupid yellow card was doing a number on me, except that the other time when I was travelling to SA, I had a day to replace it. Thank God this damned card is not the gate pass to heaven because my guess is as good as yours where I would find myself. I drove back home and barely managed three hours of sleep. In a short while, I was going to discover what’s the worst that can happen when one didn’t have proof that they were safe from this mother of viruses.
At 9.00am, terminal 1A was almost sleepy, save for the few KAA staff- the yellow clad security guy at the entrance, and the two young men scanning luggage. On the far right, a light-skinned long-faced lady donning KQ’s signature red blazer manned one of the check-in counters. She flashed a warm smile (probably because we were her first) revealing an enviable set of white teeth. Her braids though, were an easy target for birds. The mister stepped forward and submitted all the requisite documents, his and mine.
“Can I please have your Yellow Fever Certificate?” She directed her gaze at me.
“Unfortunately, I misplaced it.”
She gave me this look like I had just committed a crime against humanity.
“Even if I were to let you in, you would not go past the airport in Seychelles. They are one of the strictest countries when it comes to this.” She dangled the mister’s card as if it were a piece of meat.
“Surely there must be something we can do?” My eyes stung as hot tears welled in them.
“There is an airport health office that issues them, and the good thing is that you have time to have it sorted.” She then went ahead to give me directions to this office that saves lives.
“I will check in both your bags so when you come back you just need to show your passport and yellow fever card. Your friend can proceed to check in.” This was one helpful KQ staff. An outlier.
However, the way she said “friend” made me wonder if she thought I was running away with someone’s husband. Obviously, I was bitter, and I felt like the entire world was against me. But then I realized first, the surnames on our passports were entirely different so it was not obvious to the whole world that we were a married couple. Plus, we’ve known each other for 12 years so really, you don’t expect us to randomly embrace each other and get into a long kiss, tongue and all. Or walk around with our hands interlocked. Second, it was not humanly possible that the two of us hailed from the same house. Everything about us that morning clashed severely. One had unperturbed composure and the other, no less the chic, looked like she had been pulled from a night shift somewhere (going by my eyebags and fatigue).
I exited the terminal, took a sharp right and walked down to some old hall. The airport health office sat in a desolate corner, reminding me of the tuck shop in Hall 13 at University of Nairobi. It smelled dump. Everything about that space felt like a police interrogation room, including the wide drab wooden desk. Except that the lady seated behind the desk seemed motherly even in her blue uniform. A sign on the wall screamed “YOUR DISORGANIZATION IS NOT AN EMERGENCY ON OUR PART.” I always imagine CAPS is the writing equivalent of shouting.
“Young lady, how can I help you?” Her elbows dug at the table bearing the weight of her upper body. She rested her chin her on her thumbs which stuck out from her interlocked hands. Her eyes smiled at me.
“I misplaced my Yellow Fever certificate and I need a replacement.”
“Do you have a photo copy? You need that otherwise you will have to go into that room and get an injection.” She pointed at the next room which I was too scared to even peep at, much as the door was ajar. I sat there in silence as tears rolled down my cheeks. I was overly emotional that morning.
“Are you that scared of an injection?” She was puzzled and deeply concerned. I managed a nod.
“If you have the batch number of your last vaccination then we can skip the injection. Where did you get the vaccine from?”
“Getrude’s, Lavington.” I whispered. I called the clinic’s landline and put my phone on loud-speaker.
“My name is Joy and I would like you to confirm that I got my Yellow Fever Vaccination at your clinic. I am at the airport health office and I urgently need a replacement,”
“What’s your surname?”
“Migongo.” (Can we save the question about my surname for another day? Please? Thanks.)
“Do you remember the month when you received the jab?”
Of course, I vividly recalled not only the month but the date! I had had such a horrid experience right from two weeks before my travel when I applied for my VISA, to sending KSH 70,000 (USD 700) to the wrong person and having a bout of diarrhea the night before my travel. You don’t forget a day when Murphy’s Law is in full force!
“Saturday, July 29th.” I said to the phone which lay like a block of soap on the otherwise empty table. The health officer raised an eyebrow probably at my memory. She must have thought if only I could use half my memory to remember where I kept my documents.
“Yes, you were here on that day, but I can see that what you got was a replacement meaning you didn’t get an injection then.” She announced, to which the health officer shook her head incredulously. She went ahead to read the batch number which the officer took down. I thanked the lady from Getrude’s and hung up.
“You really need to take care of your documents, young lady. How do you lose these cards anyway?”
“I think my enemies don’t want me to prosper.” I said to her. She laughed, probably because that was the first time I cheered up since our encounter. I finally got my card after parting with close to KES 4,000 (USD 40). KAA really know how to take advantage of a desperate situation.
I rushed back to Terminal 1A which was now beginning to fill up. Given that part of the verification had been done, I skipped the snaking queue and walked straight to the check in area. All the desks, about six of them were occupied but I could not see the lady who had checked in the mister and our luggage. I walked to the next available desk and PROUDLY submitted my brand new Yellow Fever Certificate and my passport. Two young ladies, probably in their early twenties manned the desk. One (who seemed like she had sneaked out of high school) was seated. Her brown braids which hang loose matched her fair complexion. Her dark-skinned colleague stood behind with her back arched as she guided the newbie on the process. Her makeup looked like it would melt off at noon.
“Can we have your VISA?” The one seated, who I imagined to be a trainee demanded.
“I don’t need a VISA to Seychelles.” I retorted.
“Yes, you do.” Her colleague said. Her overdone make up was beginning to get to me, much more than her haughtiness was.
“If that’s the case how come my husband has been cleared? Doesn’t it show on the system that I am travelling with someone else?”
“Who cleared her?” The cocky one demanded. I looked across the row of KQ check-in desks and not one of them was the light skin lady who had afforded us a warm smile. I frustratedly tried describing her but they looked at me like you would look at those texts from jailbirds. You know the ones that say “You have won KSH 1,000,000. Call this number to receive your prize.” Or “Hello madame Jane, I sent 7.2m to clear the container, Ken Juma from TZ.” Or “Mpenzi wako ako na nia mbaya.” They looked at me with disdain.
“All our staff are here.” Her attitude made me want to grab my hankie and wipe off her make up.
“Are you calling me a liar?”
I called the mister who was already at Java having a beer.
“You might have to make this trip alone. Things are not working for me. They are demanding that I produce a VISA.” I said.
“What VISA? We are supposed to get them on arrival!” He blurted.
“I am informed the VISAs are granted on arrival.” I said to the two ladies who were probably playing solitaire behind the desk.
They paused, then tinkered with the mouse.
“Yes, it is issued on arrival. But we need your proof of accommodation.” I could not believe her guts.
No apologies for the mix-up, just straight to the next possible way they could frustrate me. I was now at the end of my wit.
“Do you guys even have the slightest idea what you are doing? If you hate your jobs so much, why don’t you just quit? You, are you angry at the world because of your cheap make up? Did anybody force you to wear it?”
I went on and on with a barrage of hurtful statements calling them out on their unprofessionalism, but they did not flinch. No apology was forthcoming. They just stared at me like I was Miguna Miguna.
“We are just doing our job.”
“And part of your job requires that you think. My husband has been cleared, I am travelling with him. Whatever proof of accommodation you need, he has it, and he showed the other lady who now miraculously and conveniently ceases to exist.” At this point, I was screaming at the top of my voice.
She, the standing one, rolled her eyes and handed me my boarding pass. I pulled it from her hand and took off.
In the plane, right after the passer made announcements in a heavy Kalenjin accent, the drinks trolley rolled down the aisle. I could not wait to grab a whisky, knowing that they serve the miniature Jack Daniels bottles.
“What drink can I offer you? Soda, juice or water?”
“Whisky.” I said unflinchingly.
She then pulled out a clear tumbler and before I could stop her, poured some brown liquid from a bottle I could not recognize.
“What whisky is that?”
“Lawson.” She said.
“What happened to the miniature Jack Daniel bottles?” Obviously cost cutting happened.
“I am afraid this is the only available whisky.” She wore this expression that said if she had to serve one more entitled passenger, she would kick open the emergency exit and jump out of the plane.
Like a feral toddler not wanting to eat their veggies, I handed the whisky back to her, tilted my seat backwards and passed out. It was not until we started our descent to Seychelles that I finally remembered to breathe. A most stunning view of turquoise waters with numerous islands and calderas stretched on one side, with a white strip of sandy beach separating the sea from the land. On the other, the land rose gracefully, as if desperately attempting to meet the sky. It was hilly and verdant, with tiny specs of buildings and numerous trees that, from high above, looked like broccoli. Seychelles was spectacularly breathtaking. As it turned out, the Yellow Fever Certificate was a gate pass to heaven.