Hello & goodbye

02-09-2011

It is 6.50 AM when I get to the Kenyan immigration desk after my flight from Amsterdam for the final week in Kenya before we are taking Joseph home. I have rushed to beat the queue and beat the morning traffic to get home. It can take over an hour extra, if I don’t make it through immigration soon. My physics are switched on, but my brain clearly is not. I arrive at the desk without a visa, but also without enough money to pay for one. I only realize it when the lady asks for the white form and $50. Suddenly my mind rushes, as I know there is no ATM on this side of immigration that will provide me money.

The immigration officer sends me back to get money and the white form while the queue starts building up. I walk back slightly disgruntled with myself, trying to think through an easy way out of this. All of a sudden I detect an irregularity in the system: I did not pay for a new visa two months ago when I also left Kenya for a little business trip. That is why I did not think about it properly this time. I walk straight back past the queue and explain to the officer why I was not prepared.

The impact is –of course- devastating. Was I thinking that the detected irregularity would make her change her mind? The officer talks to her colleague for a moment, who grabs my passport and looks me up in the system saying: “bad, very bad”. I realize I am in trouble and the trouble is spreading like oil from the Deepwater Horizon. “You will have to pay for the previous visa as well”, she says: “that is $100”. “I am keeping your passport here with me”.

Half an hour later I have finally been able to get cash and make my way back to the immigration desk. My passport has been handed to the next shift, I am told. When I finally find the person handling my case, she refuses to take Kenyan shillings. “Dollars or euro’s” she demands. When she sees my desperate face, she decides to become a little more lenient: “Ok, 11,000 Ksh is fine”, she says. Oblivious to the precarious situation I am in, I suddenly become very angry at the scam I have become part of as this conversion rate is worse than a five star hotel. I shock myself about my mindless response, but also my counterpart, who probably thinks she has gone too far: “ok, ok 10,000 Ksh is all right, but I can only give you a receipt for one visa”. I look at her, think about my stupity, the final week ahead, I nod in agreement and think: Welcome to Kenya! Ready for goodbye!