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  • Joanna

The Border Awaits

I arrived at the Tanzanian Airport, only to be met with the usual navigational shenanigans.

There are always airport corridors. Very long corridors. Julius Nyerere was no exception to the rule. We all trudged down the never-ending hallway, hauling our carry-on luggage… awaiting that unavoidable moment of truth.

Customs.


Regardless of which airport you visit, the corridors go on and on, and then always seem to eventually round into rooms of extended delay... almost purgatory-like, brimming with agitated passengers. And then come the lineups. And then more lineups... There never seem to be enough lineups.


People just follow the arrows, slog down the corridors, linger in the rooms, stand in the lineups... patiently awaiting their turn. I do this as well, diligently, though I’m never really quite sure of exactly where the hallway is leading me or what the line up is for.

You can be waiting for one of numerous things, nowadays. Turns out the first line up at Julius Nyerere International was for proof of Covid vaccination.


I wasn’t prepared for that.

Wasn't it over? Weren't we past this?

Covid was soooo yesterday.


I was fully prepared with my passport, my Tanzanian visitor entrance VISA, my volunteer headquarter documents, my stash of American money, my carefully planned out story about how I messed up my Tanzanian VISA online... but I was not prepared with Covid vaccination proof.


So I approached this poor airport employee with my deplorable yarn about obtaining my Tanzanian VISA... rambling on & on about my recent misfortune and my incessant lack of attention to detail. She didn't care. Not only did she not care, she didn't speak English, which made my pathetic rant completely moot.


She stared past me, blankly, and muttered, “Covid Vaccination.”


Whaaaa?

.

...

.....

Oh.

Covid?

Um… ya… I have all the vaccinations… I nodded quickly, showing full understanding of her request.

“Need.”

Yes… yes, the proof is somewhere. Somewhere, being the appropriate word.

Digging through my excessive and burdensome pack as quickly as I could, I managed to pull out my certifications, as well as my laminated International QR code.

With this verification, I was excluded from testing… and permitted to carry on down another lengthy corridor to, yet, another lineup.


Everything I have is heavy. Yes... it's true... I have only packed a small 44L knapsack/backpack, but I somehow managed to fit every heavy outfit I'd ever owned, inside of it. I hadn’t even been in the country for 10 minutes, and my mind was desperately scouring through the contents, deciding what had to go. Immediately.


Prior to lining up for immigration, we were all herded around a narrow, wooden ledge holding dozens of small postcard sized forms, that we were all expected to fill out. The faded, light green type was probably a 3 or 4 on a regular font scale, making the form almost impossible to fathom, let alone write on. Had I not had my glasses, I would have been completely useless. Damn customs and borders of the world. Their quirky ways will never cease to bewilder me. Why not give these to us while we're in flight and bored beyond comparison?


First thing, first. I needed a pen. Now, I have managed to pack almost everything… absolutely EVERYTHING one might imagine necessary for surviving a few months in Africa… minus one pen.

What kind of an aspiring author travels without a pen?

Me.


There was a gentleman standing at the crowded shelf, who looked quite official, with his red pants and his dangling lanyard identification. He seemed to be assisting others stranded in the same disorientated position as I was.

“Do you happen to have another pen I might borrow?”

No.

No, was his stern and final answer.

Where do I go from here?


A kind passenger took pity on me and handed me one from her purse. It’s moments like this, regardless of the hardships endured (like finding yourself with no pen, when a pen is obviously required), that the world hands you a friend.


In order to make the form-filling-out an uncomplicated process, there was a larger, laminated filled-out form laying on the shelf, to act as an example to all of us. But even with its literal and printed guidance, I was lost.


At the bottom, it asked us to provide customs with an official number between 1-9, representing what we would be doing while in Tanzania. There didn’t seem to be a chart explaining numbers and what they coincided with, so I chose 3, for shits & giggles. In my head, I envisioned #1 as pure vacation and #9 as saving the world. So I fit myself in for a solid #3, and crossed my fingers. I then made my way to the next lineup. No one questioned my numerical choice, and I can only hope it won’t be questioned in the future.

My luck, I got the most official of the official officers officiating. He had the full ceremonial uniform, donned with all the impressive stripes and bars. My smile can often get me out of messes, if I pretend I’m just a little bit stupid... but fun… but I had a feeling my lack of attention to detail and my ignorance wasn’t about to win me any favours here... pearly whites or not.


I was surprisingly wrong!


As quickly and as professionally as I could, smiling incessantly, I set out to explain the error of my ways.

  • I had the wrong VISA.

  • It was a tourism VISA.

  • Big mistake.

  • My fault completely.

  • Needed an A6 VISA for volunteering.

  • Going to Arusha.

  • Please help me!

Throughout my entire commentary, I thrust a multitude of formal letters and official papers in his direction... and then finally concluded my speech with an open wallet, showing my willingness to pay a penalty or an upgrade. I had pulled all the punches. Except tears. That was next. He hesitated, momentarily, glanced over my paperwork… and then, with a single nod, said, “is ok.”


I had kept myself UP on soooo many nights, tossing & turning & tearing myself up about this exact moment in front of the Tanzanian Immigration Officer, only to be met with “is ok.” Although it was an enormous sigh of relief, it was a disappointing climax, considering I had envisioned exorbitant fines, interrogation, deportation and even jail time.


Of course, the fault lay completely with me. I was an idiot, and in a desperate attempt to speed up the immigration process, I had applied for my VISA online. Now, that's a perfectly fine thing to do, and it does actually speed up the process... BUT... I have a small problem with paying attention to the fine print. Detail has never been a good friend of mine. I ended up on the wrong site, applying for the wrong VISA. For a while, I thought I might have been scammed and I tried to cancel my credit card before payment went through. All the bells & whistles were going off for this one! My anxiety was through the roof. Long story short... what should have cost me $50, ended up costing me around $400. As I said before, it's no one's fault but mine... and hopefully this will be a valuable lesson for my next border hop.


Probably not, if we're being honest.


When people proclaim I am a travel expert, due to the amount I traipse around the world, I am always quick to correct them. Still a novice. Guaranteed. Let this latest online escapade serve as a prime example.


The taxi driver who picked me up seemed nice. His name was something along the lines of "Pizzazio," but it sounded like a cross between pizza & pizzazz. I was fresh off a 24 hour tragedy and I recall imagining how cool it would be to have a name like that. Very vibrant and glamorous. He met me at the arrivals gate, with my name hand-written, in block letters, on a single sheet of paper.


JOANNA MCBRIDE.


I don't know if anyone else has ever been met at the airport by a stranger with a sign, but... it's an odd feeling. Everyone reacts differently, I assume. It can either give you a sense of importance… luxury, upper-class... OR it can provide a temporary sense of belonging & security… OR it can be a little bit humiliating.


I am of the latter category.

I almost rush towards them, so that they will put the sign down... while still feeling that humongous sense of relief that I have a ride.

Ya... it's me... let's get out of here.


Once we had made the usual courtesies, I specifically asked him, in my broken Swahili, "will the taxi cost be added to my hotel bill?"

The answer was undeniably, YES.

Had the answer been NO, I would have been struggling to find the means to pay him, without a cent of Tanzanian shilling on my person.


Ironically, the answer was actually NO... and I received a knock on my door, asking me when I was planning on paying the taxi driver. Not 24 hours had passed and he wanted his money NOW. Unfortunately for him, NOW didn't coincide well with my all-encompassing jet lag, and I was not in the frame of mind to head out into the streets of Dar es Salaam, in search of an ATM,


Also... side note... now that I'm on a 'complaining about my airport taxi driver' roll... I had originally made the request for a 5AM pick up, so that I would have the appropriate time to purchase my Tanzanian SIM card. When I requested a few moments to do that, he told me that it was not necessary and that I could purchase one at the hotel.


Also a false hood.


Beat it, Pizzazzio...

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