10 September 2016
I haven’t felt this insulted and angry in a long while.
I am on my way to Athens via Paris on Air France. At the pre-check in counter, where verification of documents is done at Murtala Mohammed Airport, the Nigerian lady indicates that the Schengen visa from the Greek embassy is not allowed on the airlines (KLM/Air France) if the holder hasn’t travelled to a Schengen country before. She flips through my two passports that I handed over to her. She suggested that they would have to “off-load” me, and proceeded to start filling the appropriate form for that purpose. She told me she just finished off-loading one such passenger.
I said “Oh wow!”
She asked where I work and I tell her, and provide all the supporting documents including company ID and letter of invitation from our sister company in Greece which stated my designation. I then showed her my UK student visa which is in my first passport (in another pack of two older passports), asking her if a travel to the UK mattered. She took pictures of all these and send to their chat forum on WhatsApp, awaiting further directions. At this point, it was all civil as I expected her to trigger their standard procedures and seek approval for my boarding.
Then she looked at my bag (1 piece, 24kg) whilst the allowance is 2 pieces. She let out what got me annoyed:
“Your bag is too big for someone going for only 10 days. It looks like a bag for someone who is not coming back.”
I blew my top!
“I consider it an insult,” I told her calmly, surprising myself. I was boiling inside, the heat of my anger could have easily cooked beans.
She said that is how they “profile” and that they were there to profile.
Profile? I thought that was a term used by people we called racists, on blacks. I thought that was a word peculiar to the US, especially lately with all the news we have been hearing. I asked her whether she knew what I was carrying and why one bag was too big for ten days when the allowance was for two anyway?
“If you are going for a vacation, yes, but not for a business meeting.”
She wasn’t making sense anymore. I know when to stop when an argument is going nowhere.
She left to go upstairs to process passengers for the final boarding and told me her other colleague will attend to me. Eventually, I was called, and I completed the check-in procedures. I also called the company airport passages guy who I like to swerve when I travel, not seeking to worry him as I travel through the Lagos airport often so quite at home. He was livid!
We don’t respect ourselves.
After I submitted and, thus finished my Master’s in the UK, on the 15 September 2006, I stayed in the UK for just two more weeks because I opted to serve as a Student Assistant for Nottingham University’s International Welcome Week, where the University helps freshers to settle in and go through induction. I was back in Ghana on 2nd October, and resumed work in November. I returned to the UK in December to graduate and came back right after graduation, to continue working in Ghana and on the continent (with a month to spare on my student visa). This is in line with my cardinal belief that I don’t have to sweat elsewhere, as I wrote in my book I Speak of Ghana, where I stated “Why sweat my youthful years away building someone’s village and not mine? Why put my shoulders to a wheel that turns another economy whilst the one that has my umbilical cord tied to it travels south? And in returning to Ghana, I was returning toAfrica, to the continent that needs the resources to grow. How can Africa improve if we don’t want to stay, sweat and swim against the tide of under-development and turn our economies around? Why sweat elsewhere when I can sweat on the continent, and stay in a better Ghana, a better Nigeria, a better Africa?”
I haven’t travelled back to UK since then, mainly because work hasn’t sent me there. And many of my friends know I hardly do non-business travel, especially outside Africa, because I absolutely hate the notion that a visa officer would think I wish to be an illegal immigrant and thus ask questions we as Africans wouldn’t ask when his kin and kind wish to visit the continent.
So for a fellow African to think that a professional, an engineer, an expatriate for a multinational in another African country would want to travel to Europe only to escape Africa was a painful insult.
Even a low grade airport official who may not have travelled before (sorry if I am profiling her too) thinks that a professional engineer has nothing to do with his life but to run away to Europe via Athens and live as an illegal immigrant.
At the pre-departure check point she tried to be nice and smiled and wished me a safe trip. I didn’t mind her.
“You didn’t respond to my wish,” she whispered.
I gazed at her and didn’t even blink.
I don’t forget those who insult me.
I may take condescension from someone different and put it down to ignorance and bigotry but not from a fellow black.
This experience, aside the annoyance, caused me to think deeply on the flight. How do I contribute to build my country and continent such that no one, not even our own selves, would think or want to flee at the least opportunity? How do I help to change the narrative?
It took less than 5 minutes for the immigration guy to stamp my passport at the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport to go to the boarding gate to Athens.
Seems some can be more French than Jacques Chirac.