Day 8 – Sunday

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This is an unexpected final posting, but is good therapy.

 
After a lovely but emotional farewell to my colleagues from Kabundi I passed through check-in at Ndola airport. An unexpected ‘departure payment’ was introduced, which I managed to scrape together with the help of my Zambian colleagues, then on to immigration…

 

‘Friendly’ immigration officer – “You only requested to stay three days, you have overstayed by four days”

 

Me (slightly concerned) – “Surely there is some mistake. Why would I request 3 days when my return flight was after 8 days?”

 

Less friendly immigration officer – “You have overstayed by 4 days, you will not be able to fly”

 

Me (more concerned) – “Is this a joke, I’ve got to catch a connecting flight in Johannesburg this evening”

 

Not at all friendly immigration officer – “You will not fly”

 

All passengers are heading on the airport bus to the plane, engines running, departure time in 5 minutes, my suitcase off loaded and sitting on the runway, no other flights to Jo’burg until Tuesday, no money to buy another ticket, night in Ndola prison beckoning etc…

 

Me (blind panic, pleading) – “Please, I’ve got to catch that plane”

 

Frankly, rather unpleasant immigration officer – “If you admit your guilt and pay the ‘fine’ of 1.5 million Kwacha you can fly”

 

Me (in a bit of a state, if the truth be told) – “This is a scam. You know I have to catch this flight…”

 

On reflection, that was probably not the most diplomatic response I could have come up with. Eventually I called for the help of my colleague and great friend, Tione Phiri. He gave them his own passport and would take the consequences for me. I sit writing this in Johannesburg airport, completely unaware if his fate. I thank Tione for his typically selfless act and await news…

 

My initial reaction is one of anger, as I felt that I was a victim of a crude but effective scam. I most certainly requested 8 days stay on my immigration card filled in after nearly 24hours travelling. It is possible that my hand writing is that bad that one can confuse an 8 for a 3, but I seriously doubt this. A lone passenger in a new country, with no understanding of procedures, after 24hrs with little sleep is an easy prey for an unscrupulous person. Of course I cannot prove my innocence as my immigration card was taken in on arrival. I now realise I should have checked the details on my passport stamp at the time, but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

 

I have learnt a great deal about life in Zambia after the last EIGHT (!) days but clearly I still have much to learn. Even after such a truly wonderful experience at Kabundi High School, I will need to think long and hard about future visits.

 

Even this episode has important geographical significance. Tourism is an important source of income around the world. Millions of jobs depend on its success or failure. I have learnt that greater diversity in Zambia’s economy could be key to a successful future. Over-reliance on one industry, namely copper production, leaves Zambia at the mercy of fluctuating world markets and the whims of foreign owned TNCs. Tourism is one industry that Zambia should nurture. My own 10 minutes of shear panic are already a distant memory and other passengers on the plane also made telling remarks.

 

Negative perceptions of tourist destinations have serious impacts on demand. It takes a long time to build a positive reputation, but this can be destroyed in an instant.

 

I refuse to allow this small, but very costly incident to damage my newly found love of Zambia. The warm, friendly people and their strength in adversity will remain will me for a lifetime.     

 

   

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