[Analyses]–Amsterdam. Hotel. Long layover.
The week in Accra had been busy but it also lent itself to a level of re-invigoration
I’ll write an extended op-ed on such issues during the flight, I say to myself as I check in last night in Accra. Omoyele Sowore will finally exclaim in relief that I have not ditched SR.
I should have known that I am not always lucky to write without distraction during flights…
I should have known that the more I try to mind my business, the more neighbours in a flight try to make me look like a busy body.
The pretty Ghanaian lady, thirtyish, shoots me a smile as I claim the aisle seat beside her. She is already nestled in the middle seat. I return the smile. I make the usual stolen and rapid visual assessment that men make in such circumstances and deceive themselves that a woman has not noticed the examination. I mentally commend KLM’s computers for the random seating arrangement. They have given me a neighbour of great beauty.
However, I need to write. As we take off from Accra, I bring out my laptop, give unmistakable body language indicating that pleasantries are over, and enter into the mental mode which usually gives birth to a title or an essay’s first paragraph.
My neighbour begins to fiddle with inflight entertainment buttons. My eyes are on my computer but the corner of one eye is starting to notice all the fiddling.
How does this thing werk? Her frustration is delivered to me in a thick Ghanaian accent that I am only just noticing. Apparently my eyes had been busier than my ears so I hadn’t caught the heavinness of the accent. I ask a few questions about what she wants to watch and I take care of businness for her. But now I am curious. So this is your first flight?
Yes (more heavy Ghanaian accent), my very first flight and my first ever trip out of Ghana.
Atlanta and maybe New Jersey next week.
To visit family or friends?
No, vacation. I am just going on vacation.
Sorry, what do you do in Accra?
I am a beautician. I own a beauty salon.
I am about to start thinking that it must be a very exclusive, posh, capitalist beauty outfit when she brings out her phone and shows me photos of her business. Just your regular, not too capitalist, not too rundown affair- the sort of beaity salon you’ll see in Surulere, Agege, Festac or Taiwo road in Ilorin.
That is your beauty salon? And the Americans gave you a visa? I make a mental note to take koboko after my mother’s American son in Accra, Biodun Ishola Ladepo.
Yes, they gave me five years. She brings our her passport to show the empirical evidence for effect. Virgin passport of an Accra beauty salon owner. First time traveler. Five years multiple entry.
I’ve been saving big for this trip for three years nonstop…
I no longer hear her. My mind has now drifted to a recent past episode. Another place, another time in November 2017. I had also encountered a Kenyan secondary school teacher on a flight. I was returning from the Seychelles and my trip had been routed via Addis Ababa and Washington before a final hop to Ottawa. The Kenyan school teacher was also like this Ghanaian beautician. First time traveler to the US. Vacation he had said. Five-year visa.
It’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed with growing concern in recent years. Even in Canada, African nationals, Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, etc, will approach the US Embassy in Ottawa and they will give them five or ten-year visas fiam. Then a Nigerian in a much higher station in life will approach them and they will grudgingly give him 90 days after making him undergo orisirisi frustration and iwosi.
I think of an Ojuelegba beauty salon owner. I think of a teacher at Anwojuoloun Community Development Comprehensive High School, Okokomaiko. You will just put one leg on top of another leg, carry your virgin passport to the American Embassy in Lagos for a vacation visa? The koboko they will land on you ehn?
Of course, Nigeria’s leadership is too porridge-braine
It is now certain that I will not write that op-ed for Omoyele Sowore. The idea of a regular Jane just strolling to the American mission in Accra for a five-year visa when I know what would have happened to a Nigerian in her exact circumstances in Lagos leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I am now in a foul mood. I will brood in agony from Accra to Amsterdam.
Arrival in Amsterdam this morning. More misery.
Two long queues at immigration. We are all waiting to be stamped into Holland. By pure accident, I find myself directly behind three African brothers. That makes four of us, Africans, in front of the first queue. Behind us is a long line of white humanity. Beside us is a second queue of totally white humanity.
The second queue is moving briskly and you can hear kpam as passports are slap-stamped. Our queue? Em, the first African brother is undergoing an unusually long interrogation. The whites behind us are getting impatient. I am gettinh really impatient. The other two brothers start to wail and hiss. They are impatient too. They say, “e be Naija sef”, of the guy holding up the line. So, all four of us in front of tbe queue are Nigerians?
The immigration officer is asking the first Nigerian under interrogation why he flew en route Accra. He is answering very incoherently, very clumsily, very annoyingly, justifying the interrogation. He is clumsily bringing out shabby documents that look like cyclostyled paper from the era of Tafawa Balewa.
He is let in after nearly 40 minutes of grilling. To my surprise, the other two Nigerians who have been forming impatience and sophistication also run into document wahala and are akso heavilly grilled. The contempt of the white humanity behind us for the four humans in front of the queue is now no longer disguised.
I approach the counter and present my passport. The immigration officer meets me with holdover contempt from his three previous encounters with my Nigerian kind.
What business brings you to Amterdam, he asks sternly.
Sleep, I respond curtly and sternly.
Yes, sleep. I have a ten-hour layover so I prefer to go to town, get me a nice hotel, and sleep.
Do you have a reservation?
No but I am thinking of the Sheraton just outside the airport terminal. I’ll go see downtown first and come back to see if I can get a room.
Phew. Sheraton for a ten-hour layover?
Well, I’ll be passing on the bill to Accra.
The officer’s tone is now compeletly deferential. Contempt has yielded to respect and awe. He asks me what I do in Canada and what my one-week business was about in Accra. I tell him. His deference becomes contagious because the white humanity behind me is taking its cues from him. Everybody is now in on my business. Reverse shobolation…
The fawning officer stamps my passport, making generous recommendations
I am supposed to feel better but I feel worse.
Something tells me that in this business of Nigerianhood, you are either seen as shit or the exception to shit.
None is acceptable.
Only us can fix it.
Before we fix it, I must nap now for another hour before going on to catch the flight to Ottawa.