December 16, 2008

Africa 4: It is not fashionable to be Indian...

...even in Africa. It makes me sad to write this. But we faced discrimination twice on this trip. Once in Lilongwe, a country our plane landed in because of a problem. We did not choose to go to this place. When they told us that we would be put up at a hotel for the night, we queued up at the immigration counter. While European and American passports were stamped and the passengers boarded the bus to the hotel, Asians and Africans (about 20 of us) were asked to fill two forms, which they eventually did not use. What was very annoying and demeaning was that they took our passports, and made us wait for a few hours and then told us they would give them next day. We were extremely annoyed at the lack of proper information/communication, and alarmed that we would have to leave our passports behind.

What we did not know was that this was only the beginning of our troubles.

The next day, refreshed, we came back to the airport, only to realise that it was going to be a tension-filled, agonising wait for our precious passports. In a foreign land, that little book becomes your life...without it, you are nothing. We waited the whole morning, asking every official-looking person from the airport/Kenyan Airways again and again, but were only told that the passports "are coming".

It became more serious when we were told that our aircraft had been repaired and all other passengers began to board the plane. Without us. As they went past us (how could they?), we told them not to go away without us. Those were moments of anxiety. The officials continued to tell us, "The passports are coming."

Finally, the passports were given to us, almost 20 hours after they were taken. We then boarded the repaired plane. Someone nervously asked, "Has there been a test flight?" Another nervously replied, "No, they will test it on us!" The flight, luckily for us, landed safely in Maputo, and we clapped. And Tara and I shook the pilot's hand, and thanked him.

Kruger national park, South Africa: This was the other place where we faced discrimination. We were told that we would be given permission/visa to cross the border and go to Kruger national park in South Africa. But the moment they saw our Indian passports, the man a the counter shook his head...

Our friends Raman and Savitri stood up for us. For Indians. They said to the officials, "Gandhi has done so much for your country, yet you treat us like this. Europeans have only done injustice to you, yet you treat them with respect. This is very unfair." They said they were very sorry, but the rules said...

We had to turn back. But it felt great to have said something. We also told ourselves we should write to Nelson Mandela.

On the other hand, Mozambique was good to us. They were friendly, gave us a single-entry visa twice, without fuss. And so were the Kenyans, who have a no-nonsense visa-issuing system at the airport.

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