The flight from Gaborone to Botswana was nice. I loved looking at the different terrain of African land through the aircraft window.
Figure: Aerial view before landing in Gabarone
Once I reach the Gaborone Airport, the huge Dumela sign “welcome”ed me.
Figure:Airport in Gaborone
A nice lady at the immigration looked into my on-arrival documents papers and frowned. Again, the same questions: “Where is the seal?” I was tired after this 30-something hours and almost wanted to say ‘Ask your embassy where the seal is; they sent me the document’. But, I used my better judgement not to speak my mind; this lady was just doing her job. I gave the smile I always give and said, ‘This is what they sent me’. ‘Do you know that you have to pay now for the visa fee?’ she asked. “I already paid the visa fee to the Washington DC embassy, ” I paused and then added, ” but I am fine paying again!” At this point, I guess I could trade one of my kidney to get the visa– double payment was nothing!
She asked me to wait. After a while, she came back and asked, ‘Do you remember how much you paid?’ Oh my god! I don’t remember; the visa application I sent seem so long time back! So many things have happened after that: Canadian visa process, my graduation, visit to Eastern Coast and Canada with parents, South African visa process… how can they expect me to remember how much I paid after all this? I opened my laptop to search for the document where I compiled the Botswana visa documents; after a long search, I found that I paid $107. I was so happy that I wanted to say “Eureka!”But the immigration officer wasn’t too excited; “Do you have a receipt?” she asked. “No, they never sent me one!” I said sheepishly. I had posted the embassy my documents; I presume they would have sent a receipt when they would have returned my passport. But, since I never got the chance to send my passport after visa approval, the question of receipt never came.
“I can pay it now!” I insisted; I just wanted this to be over!
“No, you cannot pay twice. Go to immigration head office tomorrow with this document and they will stamp the visa. I can’t verify the payment information since it’s a holiday today,” the officer handed me a document.
Okay, I have entry to the country! When I went to the luggage carousal, my luggage wasn’t there. The immigration process has taken around an hour; so I was not surprised. I asked one of the person, where I could look for my luggage. He said I’d have to talk to the South African Airlines office outside.
As I crossed the green channel, I saw a young boy waiting with the University of Botswana(UB). I was glad to see him; at least one thing happened properly: my pick-up was here! He was a student assistant from University of Botswana named Wame.
After looking through luggage room and searching for another half an hour, my luggage was still not there. I felt bad for making Wame wait; but of only the wait was worthwhile. But, nope…no luggage was there– I gave the airways offices Wame’s contact no. and they promised to contact that number once my luggage arrives.
The Botswana city looked very less crowded from me: I guess I had imagined to experience crowd and traffics. Instead, the streets were populated with sparse traffic and the landscape contained thorn trees and few buildings. I was too tired and frustrated to take any pictures.
On our way, Wame showed me the national stadium which looked all festive and colorful because of the African Youth Games that Botswana was hosting. As Wame took the room keys from Kevin(who I suppose is an RA), he asked whether I have a padlock to lock the room. Dr. Ice had asked us to get a padlock for the UB dorm room where our accommodation is arranged. I had diligently followed her instruction to buy the padlock but I realized I had put it in my main checked-in luggage which was missing. Wame was kind enough to lend me his extra padlock; later Dr. Marape bought be another padlock.
After I collected my cellphone from the supervisor of the other Ohio University group that was already in Botswana, I came back to my room to find that the travel adapter I had got (originally brought by my father from Bangladesh) was not adjusting to the electric connection in my room. It was only then that I felt completely helpless. Now that I think of it, I wonder whether it was because I am so dependent on electronics(i.e. laptop, internet, cellphone) or it was the limit of my patience of bearing all the misery that befell me in a matter of 40 hours. I somehow sent an email to my family of my safe arrival and sent a short email to Shomik before my laptop died out: “I am scared, Shomik…very scared…nothing is going right”…
I was not expecting this to be the longest flight for me since I have travelled from Dhaka-Istanbul-New York City-Columbus-Athens; but this would definitely be the most unfamiliar one for me so far. I have never set foot to the African continent; and comparatively heard lesser travel experiences to this part from people who did. My journey route was Athens-Columbus-New York City-Johannesburg-Gabarone.
The process of receiving the Botswana visa took way longer than the mentioned 21 days in the website. At one point, I felt that I would probably have to shift my flight to a later date. Thanks to the South African Embassy who gave the transit visa without the Botswana visa(which they claimed they normally don’t do) and the Botswana Embassy agreeing to give me an on-arrival visa that I prepared to embark on the flight on May 28th.
Since my flight from Columbus was in the morning, I had to take the afternoon Gobus from Athens the day before and stay overnight at the airport. These were the times when I wish I lived in a bigger city! This is my second time I had to stay overnight at the airport for a flight; thanks to Shomik whose company made this time less miserable! He came all the way to the airport and stayed overnight just to sea me off!
The trouble began when I started to check in through Delta for my domestic flight to NYC. The Delta personnel would not acknowledge my on-arrival document as a proper one since it does not have a stamp/seal. Lesson of the day: ALWAYS insist on seal on any official document. Dr. Ice had continuously advised us to check our luggage through to Gaborone. Despite my insistence, Delta refused to do so since I did not have a “proper” on-arrival visa document. They were about to check my luggage to JFK, but I managed to insist them to check it through to Johannesburg. I just had 2 hours in JFK and I didn’t want to miss my flight trying to claim my luggage; I calculated that I had more time in Johannesburg for that. I am glad that I did that– in JFK I had to change terminal from domestic to international. The shuttle took me to Terminal 4, where a lady showed me my gate when I couldn’t find it on the screen.
However, more trouble was to follow. The South African airways was also skeptical about my document without stamp. Additionally, they informed that I can’t claim my luggage in Johannesburg since I am a transit passenger who will not go to the baggage claim area. The lady dealing with the issue was nice and said she would do everything to recheck the luggage to final destination Gaborone. She warned me “I know you tried, but for future be very firm about checking your luggage to final destination; transit passengers cannot claim luggage midway!”
In the meantime, Ms. Beatrice who has been profusely kind throughout the process of working through Botswana visa, assured me that she is doing all that is possible to make sure that I’ll have no more trouble. Her support calmed me down- the last thing I wanted was to travel 32 hours to a country only to get rejected entry!
Figure: Breakfast at South African Airways; the lunch was better but I forgot to take picture of that
The in-flight South African Airways service was surprisingly good. They had the best airlines food I had eaten in years(nice, hot food with good choices) and the air host/esses were really nice too. I was sitting beside an old lady, who was travelling with her husband to Kenya, South Africa and Botswana on a camping trip. They were both Peace Corps volunteer when and were returning to Africa after years. The husband was also planning to run at Comrades Marathon which is ‘ an ultramarathon of approximately 89 km which is run annually in between the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race’. I admired him–I wish I could do that when I am 70 years old! With good food, Farhan Akhtar in “Bhag Mikha Bhag”, Peace Corps and camping stories from my fellow passenger and LOTS of sleep, the 14 hours flight went well.
Figure: Johannesburg airport– I liked the quote
Johannesburg stay was comparatively uneventful. The airport was nice and user-friendly. I followed the sign of ‘International Transit’ and passed security following a line. The immigration officers here didn’t seem concerned about my stamp less on-arrival document. There were some nice shops selling traditional crafts. I restrained myself from buying anything, hoping to find similar things in Botswana or hopefully on my way back. The wait for the next flight was long 5 hours–I had purposefully booked this thinking I’d rather wait than run frantically among time shortage. In the meantime, I have received additional document from Botswana embassy which I downloaded using the Alwayson complimentary Wi-Fi and more direction from Ms. Beatrice in case I needed support. I silently thanked her efforts to help; only because of this could I open my laptop and start writing this blog post
Little did I know what havoc would follow once I reach Gaborone. More to come soon…