Holiday in the Comoros?


I had booked a flight to
Comoros for the 21st to the 26th of December. The
motivation: fight loneliness during a period which crystallizes togetherness (love,gifts, 
family gatherings) . In my mind it would serve as the perfect distraction; the
pristine beaches, hills and lush greenery culminating to fill my heart with
something other than pangs brought on by wishing to be with my family. 

I was also
motivated to jump on the occasion to book this holiday because of the very
attractive cost of tickets for what is otherwise known as the ‘high season’. I
booked through a mobile application a return ticket for approximately 267
Euros.  The worries may have started then
but I never really stopped to think twice.

My
intention was to book precisely December 21st-December 26th
which were the exact dates I put in the app, also the dates I was asked to
confirm until my booking was processed.  I was sent an email stating the booking was
received and awaiting approval and it would be confirmed once the bank had
allowed for my payment to be made. I did not panic even though said app has
accumulated a great deal of negative reviews from on social media.

Luckily,
everything almost went off without a hitch but my reservation came back as
December 19th to December 26th and I was not given an
e-ticket per se, neither a complete itinerary; just two separate booking codes
and written confirmation. This detail is important because I never carefully
re-read the dates on the booking email and absent-mindedly concluded I obtained
what I had keyed into the app.

A funny
situation to be discussed further down brought me to the realization there may
have been a mistake made. It would have definitely been advisable to call
FlySax; a small gesture to quickly clear up the discrepancy.

My schedule
became erratic during the end term exams I was studying for, and I had also
planned to go to Kigali from the Monday after my last exam until the day before
my Comoros departure. Nonetheless I had not called FlySax to make the
correction given how sure I thought I was of the dates I chose and the booking
confirmation which I had received, never taking a second to reconfirm it for
safety.

I arrived
at Jomo Kenyatta on December 20th at seven in the morning. Exhausted
and just yearning for a few hours of sleep before taking off on an adventure of
a lifetime, I rushed home; I got in the shower; I ate and curled up in bed for
a few hours of rest before going to get a coach ticket to Mombasa.

Ultimately,
the goal was to be on a bus departing around eight in the evening so as to
arrive in Mombasa by six the following morning. I presumed this would leave me the
sensible three hour window to make what I was certain was my December 21st
departure from Moi International.

After
running up and down Accra road going from booking agent to booking agent, I was
pulled to some questionable looking building at the southern tip of the road
where the buildings were lower and the smell of waste was greater.  Immediately I feared this may turn out to be
a hoax and whatever purchase I make may turn into an anecdote about how I
missed my flight in Mombasa because I was sold a fake bus ticket heading there
from Nairobi.

Out of
desperation and sheer optimism I proceeded to book a spot on the 10 pm bus and
was adamant about obtaining verbal confirmation that I would arrive in Mombasa
at the earliest hour possible in the morning. Accepting said promise indicates
the delirium must have had already set because somehow I was comfortable
thinking if all things went well I would catch my flight and be in paradise in
the span of a couple of hours.

Upon
returning to the house to pack my bag and make supper in preparation for the
long road ahead, I felt an uneasy mix of angst and incredulity for how things
potentially might work out like in a fairy tale.

By half
past eight, I was making my way to the coach. I wanted to get there early just
to make sure I was eliminating any risks of delay which I had control over.
With a great deal of uncertainty and some sudden desire to affirm the keenness
of my planning, I rechecked the E-dreams booking confirmation which I had
quickly glanced at a few weeks back.

My heart sank
and my blood pressure shot up, in this whirlwind of confusion I made out that
my booking was from Saturday, December 19th until Saturday the next
week and not what I thought I initially paid for and booked.

Marred in
negative thoughts flooding in as my temples throbbed and hot blood rushed
through my body and a venomous concoction of fear and anger thrashed my
entrails, I was confused about whether to ball and run back to the house or
soldier on and see this adventure through to its end.

I chose the
latter, started on whatever delusive –mind over matter, self mastery breathing
and mindfulness- techniques picked up in therapy and over the course of my
multiple free samplings of the Deepak and Oprah meditation journeys.

It worked
just enough to not lose consciousness in that window of time where my mind ran
off as my body waited for the coach to arrive 15 minutes past ten. I boarded
and found out I was in store for the most uncomfortable ride of my life in this
rickety timeworn prism with wheels. A coach it was not!

I devised a
plan on how when upon arriving at Moi International airport I would tell my
tale of how I stayed in Kigali because of unfortunate circumstances which
prohibited me from contacting the airline to make arrangement s for a later
departure.

Nevertheless
I was already coming up with ways to view the situation in a more balanced
light, preparing to soften the blow of losing a dream ticket due to my poor
planning and reluctance to accept the world we live in is not all second
chances, strawberry cheesecakes and happy endings.

Being self
congratulatory I prided myself in having booked the trip of a lifetime, in
making the bold move to jump at the occasion of ‘having it NOW’ because ‘The
Price Is Right’ and after all I maybe deserved it. I sang it in almost
mantra-like fashion: “you did right to choose your happiness above rationality”
and that victory alone would suffice. I also thought it was commendable how I
remained undeterred as all signs pointed to retracing my steps to the house and
getting under the covers to call it quits on the holidays.

Upon
arriving on Jomo Kenyatta st, the one in Mombasa, it was half past seven. I was
not worried because temerariously I had gone back to the application and
convinced myself I would find a way onto the 10:15 am flight to Moroni from
Mombasa that I originally intended to book.

I got to the
Flysax window and started pleading my case just as it read in the email I had
sent the company in panic during the tenebrous journey to the airport.  The agent obliged and typed away on his
keyboard rarely looking up and taking on a number of other situations that came
to his attention. Close to 15 minutes later, he said go ahead and make your way
to the gate. I repeated to him that it was not that I feared I missed my flight
but that I missed a flight I was scheduled to be on two days prior.

He asked if
I desired a change of dates. I acquiesced and he replied an additional nine thousand
shillings, approximately ninety USD, would be required.  I attempted to play up the sadness in the
situation that made me miss the flight (may or may not have fictitiously killed
a family member). I was then informed that for four thousand shillings I could
be put on said flight to Moroni.

I rushed to
the ATM because for some mysterious reason the debit card machine was out of
order. When I paid, this ephemeral wave of disbelief worked its way up my body
and almost immediately disappeared because the joy of having saved the day was
more intoxicating than a libation of self criticism.

Chicken-scratch
on a receipt book, the sound of the printer at work, I felt the warm embrace of
hope.

 I was told to head over to the security check
line and go to the ticket counter inside and get a boarding pass. First I
darted to the Forex because I remembered reading I would have to pay 30 euros
for the visa in Moroni. Secondly, I needed to swiftly change out of my
sweatpants and Playboy hoodie (which is definitely art and not offensive
because it is Eleven Paris) not due to fear of ruffling a few feathers in a
Muslim country but because it was scorching hot.

When I arrived at the counter this young man
was pleading his case in French for what appeared to be an issue with excess
luggage weight.

Astonishingly
the man who had helped me at the window outside the security point had appeared
at the ticket counter and now could manage to help someone in French. There
were a few misaligned words and more left lingering in the air during their
conversation, nonetheless it was French and they were sort of communicating.

The result
of their conversation was that the young traveler makes friends with me so that
I agree to take on some of his luggage as my own given that I had checked only one
piece. I shrugged yes, throwing caution in the wind even with the foiled terror
plot from the previous day on a flight headed to Paris from Mauritius
redirected to the very same airport where I stood.

At the
following counter an attractive young lady printed out a boarding pass and
instructed my new friend to head up the stairs to Gate 3, he did not understand
a word and I stepped in to play interpreter as mine was being printed.

So was the
beginning of a conversation that would last hours. My new travel companion
firstly did not understand how someone would choose Moroni if not to go visit a
relative living there. I explained my holiday predicament and the incredible
discounted price I had stumbled on.

As we sat
waiting in the hall waiting for permission to head to the gate, we sat on the
ground while I plugged in my decade old laptop to search for accommodation at
destination. I thought his insight might help with only one establishment being
present on the web nonetheless. Many more had phone numbers which filled my
contacts list with multiple “Pension whatever else follows”.  I would call before leaving, decidedly the
conversation took precedent and I never got to calling.

 We spoke of the Global South in relation to
the North and the power dimensions at work, we touched upon the experience of
being foreign students in Africa and all which it implies, and we extensively
discussed the concepts of peace, war and Daesh.

The
dialogue veered to Islam and spiritual quests. It became an investigation into
what would be required for the world to be rid of violent or armed conflict. My
new friend helped me arrive at the conclusion that the proposed utopia would
not be my reality, that of my children or any of their offspring. I intimated
that for a long while I have been looking for a name by which to call what I imagine
to be my daily morning prayer and the entity I feel guides my actions and gives
me faith in the world. Speaking on the title of this book I had fallen in love
with a few years back ‘The Disappearance
of the Universe’, 
we discussed concepts in Physics about matter and
anti-matter. It is my friend’s field of study.

I
remembered the calls I needed to make so we walked around looking for phone credit
and we found an attendant who was willing to go buy some past the security
checkpoint.

We sat back
down and carried on talking, this time, of the End and how the Qu’ran and the
Bible both speak of the world ending. A string was drawn to the ideologies that
subtend the evolution of mankind and society. This talk of evolution brought up
how globalization contributed to a homogenization of the world’s beliefs and
the trap of capitalism which has perpetually subjugated resource rich countries
to the will of technologically superior nations. We brought the conversation
back to the relationship between Comoros and France and it skirted Burundi’s
current issues and how the present day administration has purported the Belgian
role played in eliminating the last chance at peace for the people of my
country.

The phone
credit arrived. We were now talking about feeling like a betrayer of Africa
when one is a hybrid product of the West and the rest. It was convened that one
cannot exist without the other like is the case for the island of Mayotte which
remains a part of Comoros all the while being heavily reliant on France. We
continued on the topic of how democracy was built in the developed world and simply
iterative on a global scale now due to innovations like Google.

Google now
turned to talk of Facebook and how it would be very interesting to see a world
controlled by a multinational corporation and that brought us back to talk of
the anti-Christ and how according to my friend’s interpretation of the Qu’ran
such companies have the potential of incarnating this prophesied doomsday
character. The argument’s basis is that as with many other concepts in
religious texts they have lost their anthropomorphic character over time and
have become symbolic.

Next I was
bringing up how it is frightening to think in some way terrorist groups were
now acting like international corporations and how the recruitment process was
growing simpler, and simply growing.

The time
came to head to the gate and at this point, if my memory is not failing me, I
may have misplaced the printed return ticket I was handed which also had my
luggage tags. When you have to yet again remove your laptop weighing easily
10Kgs to run it through the scanning machine paper tickets tend to be the last
thought on one’s mind.

It was back
to talk of Islam and the Catholic Church  their similitude along with the negative
impact had on it because of  the world’s
media outlets driving a narrative that equates being Muslim to irrational and
radical action.  This all the more
encouraged that we look at the patronage of certain richer communities with
mercenaries in economically disfavored ones under the guise of fighting for
change, liberation and or equality when in the end it proves more beneficial
for those who supply arms or depend on the movement of goods that are hard to
come by in weaker economies.

We quickly
spoke of Israel’s role in the world and the Palestinian occupation.

We were
called to board our flight and on the runway we carried on talking about how
many siblings I had and the multiple places where my family was spread out. On
the plane I asked him if he had siblings and what his parents were like.

Five minutes
in, I said I was taking a quick snooze and my pal went to sit next to a friend
of his from school who surprisingly was on the same flight home for a medical
reason.

I woke up
and lo and behold we were sitting across the aisle from each other and now the
talk was about what prospects there are for a physicist interested in renewable
energy sources for an island country. The main idea was that in order to
sustain such projects it is best for the person who is interested by the field
to have an alternate source of income and that it is best to be self-employed
in such a field. So the topic was now the best ways to generate income from
activities in which individuals own the production process putting emphasis on entrepreneurship.

Having been
to Kigali just a day prior, I felt obliged to drop that in the conversation and
boast about how SMEs there are doing really well and how my friends were
preparing early retirement and becoming world renowned brands by offering
high-quality products made locally. My friend spoke of a business endeavor he
was looking into and suddenly I caught from the corner of my eye a man two rows
ahead peering in our direction. Funny enough this was not the first time since
Mombasa I had observed this man and his peculiar behavior.

It was
announced we were close to landing, I saw this breathtaking mountain and an
indescribably beautiful beach strip, a sight matched alone by the overwhelming
joy in the privilege of witnessing this marvel of nature I had found.

As we glide
a few meters over the strip drawn in mud caught between the greenest florae on
all sides, tarmac magically appears and the wheels touchdown.

Outside my
window I see a timeworn helicopter, a passel of big to small vehicles. The door
is opening and I am just seeing winsome hues of color for which I possess no
frame of reference. Something quite similar to that awakening I had my very
first trip back to Burundi at the age of ten after having spent six years
abroad.

Something
makes me wonder if my guide book in the form of a young international student
was being overcome by that same feeling. He had been away at school in West
Africa for over five years. It was maybe not the case seeing as he had left as
an adult and that we are in era where Skype, Snapchat and Instagram are
globally accessible.

I enter the
airport and a person in a tan shirt and squinty eyes hidden behind glasses asks
where I am from. He follows up the question with are you Kenyan? I answer I am
Burundian.

I make my
way to the table where landing cards are laid out. I rummage up a pen from the
mess in my computer bag. The man is now standing over me and to his side there
is a shorter paler accomplice. They ask as if in chorus “where is your return
ticket?” I now start looking through all the pockets on the bag and find
nothing. Embarrassed, I frantically carry out the same exercise. Now I am
hearing a multitude of questions.

-“How long
are you here for?”

- “Where
are you staying?”

-“What
mission has brought you here?”

I take out
my phone as in a Eureka moment and say I have an online booking for my return.
Looking to do due diligence, I start saying there are a number of guesthouses I
have put on a list with contact information that I intend to visit before picking
where to stay. I add there were no websites or pictures to help me make my
decision prior to arrival.

I proceed to ask: “j’ai combien sur ma personne? En liquide? »[1]

The short
plain clothed officer answers « Oui ».[2]

I say I
have enough to pay for the visa in Euros and will go to the ATM.

My new
friend had telepathically read my mounting confusion and fear. He understood whatever
they were saying in Comorian between the incessant questioning they were making
me endure in French. He was asked, “Are you together?”

In a split
second I knew there was an important choice he had to make, either accept to be
implicated in a rapidly escalating situation which at worst may become an
international headline, or say that he was just concerned from what he
overheard from the sideline. He said we had met up in Kenya and travelled to
Moroni together and that he was helping me plan for my stay and that we had
made the list together for the guest houses.

Suddenly
the shorter man had taken my passport, more of his colleagues had materialized
from thin air and I was being pointed in the direction toward the arrival hall
and told to follow someone else to whom my passport had been handed.

There was a
uniformed man at his desk in some office from where I could see the departure
waiting area, he held my passport in his hand and was filling out some form as
one of the officers repeatedly mentioned “insuffisance de resources pour le
sejour “[3].

I am taken
across the waiting area; there are a number of different people. As I am asking
somebody please help me understand what is going on. This police man comes to
ask me what has happened. I rapidly offer a glimpse into the situation and I
see across from us, there is this trendy looking young man with some expensive
looking DSLR camera swinging from his neck and a hip fedora atop his head. He
coyly smiles and hides the fact he was listening in. This immediately confirms
it.

Am I being
deported? I think to myself. A lady with a powerful stride and presence wearing
a FlySax vest comes to me and asks the same question as the police officer. I
sum it up in less than fifteen seconds now. She heads directly to the office
where my passport had been left. I think I have been sent another guardian
angel. I start imagining how funny all this will be when I get to lay out on
the beach later.

The lady
returns in a matter of minutes, my passport in hand along with that form. She
escorts me onto the plane as we discuss what just transpired. She reminds me
that she has no authority in Comoros immigration matters and that she only
represents the airline. I thank her and say goodbye.

As I am
boarding, my passport and that form are handed to the pilot. I ask when I will
be able to get my travel document back. The instructions are to take a seat and
trust the pilot will keep it safe until we arrive in Mombasa.






[1] You are asking how much I am carrying on me? You mean in cash?

[2] Yes

[3] Lack of resources to cover the stay



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