March 4, 2008

Post 57 Postscript

When I left Lusaka about two weeks ago, it was a bright, sunny morning. About 20 degrees Celsius. As we zoomed out to the airport, late as usual, the 10-car presidential motorcade forced us to pull off the road and wait, Mwanawasa having returned from another state visit somewhere. Police had lined the highway right from the middle of town to make sure he could get back to State House without the slightest obstruction.

Even if it meant us missing our flight.

At first I was concerned it was a speed trap - in which we'd inevitably be fined for going 150 km/h - but of course it wasn't. The only road police I ever saw in Zambia were the automatons that worked the roadblocks, either giving you a perfunctory wave-through or bribe-inducing hassle for some perceived infraction.

Finally arriving at the independence-era entrance, the national dance troupe - who's always on hand to welcome Father Levy back from a trip abroad - was trudging back to the highway to catch a mini-bus for the long ride back into town. You'd think they'd at least have their own designated transport, being a pretty important part of 'official' Zambian things like plane landings, ribbon-cuttings and NGO conferences. Even the universally hated ZESCO (power company) employees get their own bus.

We got through security alright, mercifully didn't have to pay the arcane Departure Tax and the porters were at their servile best. The only thing preventing me from leaving Zambia was that my flight, even though re-confirmed like they annoyingly make you do, was missing some sort of reference number. No problem, I was told, I just had to go round to the Kenya Airways office in the airport to get everything sorted out.

Now, I wouldn't call myself an 'Old Africa Hand' just yet, but I'd been around Zambia long enough to know that there was no way it would be as simple as that.

Sure enough, I get to the office and it's empty. No, 'will return' sign or posted hours, just arbitrarily deserted. I talk to a security guard, who radios another security guard. Eventually an enormous man in a reflective vest - who in no way looks like he's employed by the airline - ambles over and ushers me inside the empty office. I explain the situation while he patters away on the keypad of his cellphone, eventually making the logical transition to pecking at his keyboard. He has a go at some extensions on the landline. Nothing. Someone who's supposed to be somewhere is gone. They always are.

"Is there some sort of problem?" I inquire, agitated that my flight is leaving in less than an hour and some random guy is just fiddling around with things just to appease me. Before he can answer, an Indian family bursts into the office, a father with two small children. At first I feared they might be rival customers, but even worse, they somehow know Big Guy. Greetings, updates and well-wishes add to my growing frustration, though the presumptive employee is still plying his keypad throughout the interruption. About 10 minutes later, they leave.

"The problem is that your reference number is on our other system at our downtown office, and the girl who knows how to access it isn't here right now," I'm informed with surprising clarity.

Well, where the hell is she? Can't you just CALL the other office and get my number? Or, have all the staff there mysteriously disappeared too? Why do different offices even have different 'systems'? Doesn't this enigmatic employee have a cellphone we can track her down with? Doesn't everyone in this godforsaken country have a cellphone?!

But before I can blurt out my trite Westerner rant, the employee in question - a confident-looking young woman actually wearing a Kenya Airways uniform - comes in, exchanges in local language with Big Guy and smiles at me. With the magic press of one button on the keyboard, the dot matrix printer fires up and screams out my now-precious information.

"I'm so sorry sir," she says, snickering at what I hope to be the incompetence of her colleague, "I hope this isn't your last memory of Zambia!"

"Oh, it won't be," I respond. "I've still got immigration to go through."


Scott said...

Well done sir, we could write an entire book of short stories revolving around airlines and airports.

The question is though, what happens to this little enclave of the 'net now that you're back Canada-wise?

B. Scott Currie said...

I dunno, to be honest. I'm guessing I'll just try and keep up with the odd 'fitting back into Canada' post until that gets old and I figure what the next stage in life is. Then start a blog for that.

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