Wednesday, 17 August 2011

How to get to Chad

I am scared of many things, like zombies and failure. But there are few things that frighten me as much as handing my passport to the angry bureaucrat and walking away, with nothing but his assurance that I’ll get it back the next day. But such was my introduction to Chad.

Even before I landed I was clear that I was definitely back in Africa. The plane had a business class section that took up more than half the plane, and I couldn’t figure out why, as there aren’t a lot of business opportunities in Chad, until I realised it might have something to do with the large UN presence. On this occasion, though, it was mostly empty, with all the passengers crammed into the jam-packed economy section. My fellow passengers were exactly who I would have expected to be going to Chad – diaspora returning home, NGO people tapping away on computers, and a missionary couple with four blond children, very visible crosses, and lots of luggage.

The plane landed, and we were escorted onto buses to drive to the terminal – even though we could see the terminal about 20 metres away, and it was probably quicker to walk than to get the bus. Then, because I didn’t yet have a visa, I had to go to the police post to get a safe passage permit. Here an angry man glared at me, and shoved a piece of paper in my general direction. Closer examination proved it to be a form, so I filled it out using the pen in my bag. Big mistake.

“Who told you to do that? Did I tell you to do that?” he shouted at me, stabbing the form with his finger, before scrumpling it up and throwing it in a corner.

Unsure quite what I’d done wrong, I managed only a feeble “errr... ” and started an apology, before he interjected “don’t you have a black pen?”

“No... sorry” I replied. Sighing at my incompetence, he handed me a black biro, which I used to fill in the form again. And again. Big mistake.

“Again? You’ve done it again!” he shouted, stabbing the form again then throwing it away again. The next minute or so consisted of rapid and angry French, most of which I didn’t absorb, but eventually I gathered that the ‘duration of visit’ line at the top was for him to fill in, not me, and that I was supposed to have guessed this. Silly me, for not realising that the random official got to decide how long I stayed, rather than me. I filled in the form again, and this time, finally, it was accepted, signed, and stamped. I got the form, he got my passport. Couldn’t help feeling it wasn’t much of a swap.

I then used my safe passage permit to go through passport control, where no-one checked my Yellow Fever certificate, and got my back from the belt. I then had to join a veritable scrum to get out – all bags had to be first compared with the tag on your boarding pass by an official wandering through the crowd at random, before being scanned in an ancient x-ray (god knows what they’re looking for, but never mind), and given back to you. The entire flight was trying to shove to the front of the queue, but I was grabbed by an official and dragged to the front. Bags scanned, I continued through the cage door (yes, really) that separated the baggage hall from arrivals, where after an initial moment of looking around wildly assuming I’d been left at the airport, I was greeted by Youssouf, the Office Manager, and welcomed to Chad.

Oh, and it’s now Wednesday, and I still don’t have my passport back.