Thursday, 15 March 2012

Africa - Day Fourteen Tuesday

We both slept restlessly.  Wakey’s late lunch ‘vegetable special’ fought with his digestive system.  For once he was up before me.  We packed, and were eager for breakfast.  Rukundo had decided to leave today, too, instead of staying til Thursday.  He reprinted his flight ticket at the hotel cybercafe.  We’d all be flying just after 2.30pm.  Around 10.00am Ps Luvanda arrived.  He accompanied Rukundo and me on a short shopping expedition in the market across Mandela Road for some teabags to take home.  Wakey had filed his conscientious objection to any of it.  He's giving anything consumerist a wide berth.  Rukundo did the ‘Chinese’ speaking and we got several boxes for a local price. 

I was watching the shillings carefully.  I’d planned to pay for our hotel meals this way, to use up the currency.  It would leave just the dollar room charges for the Skaino credit card.  The five of us gathered for final prayer.  I chipped off the check out, and we expected the taxi to arrive within half an hour.

What now follows for the rest of the day would make a stunning screen play for a two-hour action thriller, with Wakey, Rukundo and I being the principle stooges.  The shilling part of the account cleaned me out completely.  Wakey had kept the exact amount for the taxi.  I offered the credit card.  “I’m sorry, we don’t accept Visa,” the receptionist said flatly.  It was the clueless Cat5 cable waver.  I thought I may do better with the day manager, also behind the counter.  “We have no other way to pay,” I replied tightly.  “Then it will have to be cash,” he stated seeming not to grasp our predicament.  I said the only option for that was to go to a bank and draw $600, which time prevented. 

I asked him to send a bill to House of Goodness, and I wrote the details on my Multiply business card.  “No,” he insisted (though payment through account was an option on their billing system).  I looked blankly at the rest of the guys.  Wakey stepped forward to steer me away.  The taxi driver had come early, and we could try to make a dash to the Shoprite mall.  We hit a traffic jam.  We were crushed up against a line of lorries.  I stared gloomily through the open car window into a throbbing 4-inch exhaust pipe.  I knew we’d lost the plot.  Even if we raised the cash, we’d still miss our flights, though Rukundo may be okay.  If too much time passed, we may not even connect with Jonny and Jason and the midnight flight from Nairobi.  We deal with a God who specialises in resurrection.  For this He requires corpses.  Our notions of how the day would run lay slaughtered.

Bank no1 was crowded.  Rukundo pushed me forward firmly at the customer service desk.  “...Not unless you have an account with us.”  Same at Bank no 2.  So we set off from the mall to find a Barclays.  “Not at this branch, but probably our central one,” the manager helpfully suggested.  Wakey had worked at Barclays, and asked her to ring and confirm: she obliged.

The city centre brought more traffic jams.  Our long-suffering taxi driver remained placid.  Wakey had joined me in the realisation that the afternoon flights were a lost cause.  “Greatheart, I’ll ring Iain and get him to do something about it.”  Explaining, his voice was steady, stern and tense.  “Well?” I enquired shortly, from the front seat.  Wakey sighed.  “Our systems.  We’re just not getting it right, are we?  There was a credit card receipt he was supposed to give us.”  This was the Visa problem we’d had first at Heathrow and then in Kigali.  He was on the phone again.  “Oh, no,” he groaned; “Jason and Jonny have broken down 90km outside Nairobi.”

“Look, there it is. C’mon Greatheart, let’s leave the driver to turn round.”  Wakey jumped out of the back of the car.  In Barclays, we gave our well-worn story again.  “No problem,” smiled the lady.  “What?” Wakey gasped.  Just fill in this form, and...” she nodded in the direction of the cashiers.  Another helpful smile.  “Just enter the pin number, please.”  We waited.  ‘Transaction not authorised.’  This floored me.  I knew the card wasn’t authorised for ATM withdrawals abroad, but also I knew I’d got Euros over the counter from the bank in Germany.  The cashier put our form on one side.

With getting folks at home to pray, and keeping Jacob and Ps Luvanda in the picture while they waited at the hotel, Wakey’s phone battery had died.  Rukundo had run out of credit ages before, being unable to top up with any local service provider.  Wakey grabbed my mobile, announcing, “You stay here; I’m ringing Hilary,” and dashed outside to join Rukundo.  Through the window I watched Ian’s gesticulations and guessed the conversation.  “I think the devil’s angry.”  Rukundo smiled, “but no problem.”  I was blessed by his optimism.  “I will be okay to spend two more nights in Dar es Salaam until the flight on Thursday.”  Wakey and I weren’t quitting 'til he was sorted out for getting home as satisfactorily as we were. 

Office workers returned from their lunch breaks.  We waved an okay to our taxi driver parked by the huge hotel opposite.  Hilary rang.  Wakey summarised our needs: cash, and enough credit limit for flights.  She promised to get onto it.  Time passed.  She rang to confirm it was all cleared, and texted a Barclays number in case of difficulties.

Reassured, we join the queue to the counters.  Just as we shuffle to the front, the lights go out.  A power cut.  “O, no; I just don’t believe this”, I groan.  “Let’s hope the computers are on back-up” Wakey offers.  They were, but not the card readers.  Eventually our cashier brightens up and nods us over.  We repeat our mantra, and swipe the card.  “Not Authorised”  The cashier gives us a sideways look, and firmly places the papers on her 'Done' pile.  We step aside.  

 I ring the Barclays number, dreading the security check questions that I struggle to satisfy even at the office.  “They’ll expect me to know what Skaino’s been buying recently” I mutter vacantly to Wakey.  The helpful lady starts at the top of her sheet.  "Can you confirm an Internet transaction from your latest statement?"  I'm stumped.  She tries twice more.  I explained I’d been out of the country for two weeks.  Apologetically, she switched to other security questions, and finally seemed satisfied.  “Go to the ATM at the branch: it will be okay,” she instructed.  As we strode to the machine I said to Wakey, “Ah: it won’t be dollars.”  “How much do we need in shillings?”  he fired.  I did some quick calculations.  “Oh; about a million.”  Then, “It’ll never give us that.”  I knew the withdrawal limit was $800.  The ATM display told us it wasn’t working.  The power cut...  “The one outside,” Wakey urged.

The 24-hour ATM produced us 400,000 shillings.  Wakey was on the edge.  “That’ll have to do.  We’ve spent enough time.  Back to the hotel.”   We drove past the Diamond Jubilee Hall, the city’s top facility, where Big Guy and his American team would be hosting the pastors on Thursday.  “Rukundo, if the devil’s angry at what we’ve done here, why does he want to keep us longer?”  “So we will be discouraged, and not want to return.”  I thought the likelihood of that was more related to what the brethren at home may decide, but didn’t say so. 

We burst into the hotel.  The manager was nervous.  Wakey laid out before him the 400,000 shillings and some dollars we could muster.  “You will just have to invoice us for the rest,” he insisted.  And, “We’ve already missed our flights, and it could cost £1,000 to rebook.”  “I did not know this would put you to so much trouble,” he mumbled.  The four hours of suspense had done something.  “I have ruined our relationship, and that is a greater loss,” he confessed.  With an invoice stuffed into my sports bag, I was last to the reception exit.  The porter squeezed my hand and smiled broadly.  “Please know you are welcome to return.”  The voice of the common people.  Wakey, with Jacob, made sure our taxi driver was well reimbursed.   We left Ps Luvanda and Jacob with as much warmth as the testing circumstances would permit.  Rukundo had explained to Wakey that their honour would be challenged if we had found their arrangements unsatisfactory.

From the Landmark Hotel, you have a choice of roads to the airport: down two main sides of a triangle, or across a diagonal.  Our driver chose the short cut.  We bumped down mud tracks through neighbourhoods and crowded markets.  We nearly crashed into a stall when the congested road suddenly narrowed and ran out.   The car lurched across a burial ground, complete with grazing flock of goats.  I was beginning to like the colour and life.  We’d felt imprisoned in the hotel, with our only relief being taxis charging the white men half as much again on the normal fare.  Maybe the place wasn’t so bad after all.  In fact, as an alternative to sitting in Nairobi airport, the day's drive had been quite stimulating.

“Brother Rukundo,” I mused, “ I should like us to fly together to Nairobi, but also to make sure you get home safely to Erika.”  He sort of agreed.  Surely, if we could find a route to Kigali, paying flight bookings would be no problem.   Then there was the Jason’s and Jonny’s situation.  They were on the move again after being stranded, and Carlson had been on standby to pick them up.

Once at Julius Neyrere International Airport, we had to use our time wisely.  Rukundo had to see the agency that handled his booking.  Wakey had to find the Kenyan Airways sales desk.  I looked after the two trolleys of luggage.  The best they could offer Rukundo was to pay $50 to revert to flying on Thursday, meaning two nights’ stay.  But where?  And paid how?  “It’ll be $120 per night here,” I cautioned him.  His eyes popped.  These were sums beyond imagination, as were the prices for flights (also in dollars).  He tried Uganda Airways, who could get him to Kampala/Entebbe tonight, but thereafter, a blank.  And they needed cash.  We tried another agency.  No better.

Wakey sped into view.  For some inexplicable reason, he’d first had to secure an airport access pass.  Then, he’d found the sales office a waste of time.  They directed him to Precision Air, the economy partner carrier.   I thought there may be a chance we could book Rukundo on any revised flight to Nairobi.  He protested that Kenyan flights to Rwanda were customarily too expensive.  Wakey appeared, grabbed my e-ticket, and triumphantly reappeared with bookings for 8.00pm that would connect us to our original flight, and Jonny and Jason.  The Precision lady had been massively helpful.  But Wakey’s last cash - $50 – was now gone on the rebooking.  Hilary texted, and sent Agape greetings. 

Now the three of us could focus on a solution for Rukundo.  “If we get him to Nairobi, I can go to a sales desk and pay for the connection on,” I offered.  “But, of course, all the way to Kigali would be better.”   We marched to two nearby ATMs.  We got the 200,000 shillings maximum from each, and I handed the wad to Rukundo.  “That’s worth $250 dollars,” I explained.  “You’re okay for staying, or it may get us a ticket.”  “Brother,” he queried, “How is it that this machine just produces you money?”  We failed to stifle our laughs.  I think he meant how is it that suddenly we can procure the cash, where for four days we had been saying we had no funds.  But I'm not 100% sure.

Wakey pressed his nose to the Precision window again.  There was a long wait.  The day had been sweltering.  My left arm was red and stinging from sun on the taxi window.  We used $4 to get three Pepsis, the first thing since breakfast over eight hours earlier.  I checked at a nearby bureau what they’d give me in dollars for the £50 common purse float that was our last spare currency: $72.  We had 15 minutes before Wakey and I must check in.

“$590!” Wakey shouted.  “What’s that in shillings?  What can we raise?”  The Precision lady had cracked it.  Rukundo would come with us and go on to arrive home at 2am.  Back to the ATMs: 400,000 shillings more.  Then refused transactions.  I thrust the notes towards Rukundo, his eyes widening.  “That’s $500 in total.  Just don’t get mugged.” 

Rukundo gave Wakey the last of his cash, which we’d somehow need to pay him back to get home.  Wakey gave me the last of his common purse float to exchange.  I found $5 more.  We’d scraped enough together.  Rukundo raised his arms and did his twirl.  We raced to the check-in. 

“No, Rukundo.  Leave the projector in the big suitcase,” I chided.  “I want to take it all as hand luggage,” he protested.  Security caught him.  Wakey had given him all his spare and half-used toiletries to take home.  I looked away as the officer marched to the sin bin with confiscated shampoo and shower gel.  “This is just not a day to be trying to bend the rules.”  I thought, and shuffled to the slightly 'greasy spoon' cafe in the departure area.

Wakey was jumpy.  On our trip, two local flights had left 15 or 20 minutes early after very few announcements, and we could see no departure indicator boards.  He was also thirsty.  I gave Rukundo the final 20 dollars from exchanging our sterling, to repay his shillings.  “How is it you are giving me money for a ticket I should buy?” he quizzed.   “Now we are in a common purse,” I smiled.  “And if Wakey is going to get a drink, it’s going to have to be from this money.”  “Unless they take Visa,” Wakey interrupted, trying to sound hopeful.  He knew that Rukundo eats and sips as sparingly as a sparrow.  The cafe took Visa.  We laughed, had a quick snack, then boarded. 

At Jomo Kenyatta, Nairobi, Wakey was restless.  The airport was busy and Jonny and Jason were ages coming though check-in, security and immigration.  Rukundo leaned towards me.  "Brother, I am confused.  Please explain why you bought this ticket."  "You've been living like a Westener today," I grinned, and continued.  "You see, you laid down your life for us by sticking through our trials, and being prepared to sacrifice more two nights way.  Brotherhood deals with treasure that is more precious than a few dollars.  This is the true wealth."  "Ah," he smiled.  "Then I am happy".  However, he was giving up hope of seeing Jason and Jonny before he had to make for departure.  They emerged from the escalator bearded, sun-burned and travel-stained.  We gathered to pray.  A local guy joined in!  It was farewells to Rukundo, then lining up to board.  A very English voice toned, “There are queues,” as the four of us jostled to stay together.
With empty seats sprinkled around the plane, Wakey was calculating how we could sit together.  I slid in between Jason and a guy called Darren who’d just completed some anti-piracy training.  He advised getting pre-paid cash cards in future.  Jason chatted in Swahili to a hostess, who turned out to be a Christian.  The plane taxied out, then back to the terminal.  “Ice,” she confirmed.  This had happened to Iain and me last year, too.  Take-off was delayed nearly two hours.  But, I’d already closed my eyes.


Cornelius said...

You have entered Africa, as it is. Congrat's. Actually there is nothing to be planable like in Europe. For christians and non christians the same. The only difference is our faith. Active faith keeping us on track and recieving the nessisary miracles to achieve what we are here for...thy Kingdom come... In a special way it is wonderfull and I am thankful to be here for Jesus cause.
Bless you, brother
Your Cornelius

Flamie said...

This definately would make a great film :-)