If I’m honest, I’ve lived on ‘African time’ before I lived in Africa… but even when I make a timely plan, something seems to crop up that delays me. ‘African time’ and international flight departures do not mix. This is just one of the muzungu’s series of airport dramas! This one took place at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda.
This time I thought I was prepared.
I was at the airport on time.
I had looked at the Emirates website but could not work out how much I would be charged for the additional luggage I was taking home for a friend. I had therefore guessed I would just pay an extra $50 per bag (the amount I’ve paid with other airlines). All I saw was a note on their web site saying that because the connecting flight was provided by a third party, I would have to take the bags to the airport and pay the excess baggage fee there.
At Entebbe International Airport, a man called Ken very helpfully shrink-wrapped my four bags into just three. (I thought this would be a good ploy for outwitting the system, and hoped that I would just be charged for three excess bags not four).
I was rather pleased with myself.
At the check-in desk, I somehow lifted the bags onto the weighing scale. They registered a total of 44 kg.
“That will be $960 please Madam.”
“What?!” I blurted out.
$960? She even said it with a straight face.
“You must be joking!” I slammed back at her. “I don’t have that kind of money, so what am I supposed to do?”
She was totally unhelpful.
I tried to bargain with her but she said once it had registered on the system, there was no negotiation. I searched her face for an answer.
“You can just give it away or throw it,” she said.
And then I saw red.
I had been willing to pay one hundred dollars or so for extra baggage but after the way she talked to me, I decided I wasn’t going to give the airline a single extra dollar.
“The plane is closing!” Shouted one of the airport staff. So much for my normal view that ‘Ugandans are so friendly’, these two ladies and a gentlemen were particularly unhelpful.
“I tried to pay for the excess baggage online but there was no information!” I shouted back at them.
I then proceeded to claw apart my beautifully shrink-wrapped bags.
In a panic, I ran over to Ken and begged for his help. He obliged with a razor blade and delicately sliced through our 20 minutes of wrapping. (I just hoped he wasn’t going to slice straight through the canvas material of the bag as well!)
What to take with me? What to leave behind?
I broke out into a sweat as I tried to quickly decide what to leave and what to take with me. My friend had paid for my air ticket; I couldn’t leave his stuff behind. But what was I going to wear for my three weeks away if I just took his stuff?
“I can’t afford to miss another plane. My family will never let me live it down!” I thought to myself.
Knickers and bras flew left and right, much to the hilarity of the staff, as I panicked my way through my bags. (What a great time for them to regain their sense of humour – at the Muzungu’s expense…) Isn’t it funny how I didn’t laugh with them?
My driver wasn’t picking my call; he had gone to attend a burial. There was no way I could speak to him and arrange for him to come back and collect my stuff before I got onto the plane and switched my phone off.
“Ken,” I asked him, “can I trust you?”
There was nothing else to do but to trust this guy. I certainly wasn’t going to ditch my stuff in the airport for the unhelpful staff to take home.
I handed over a 20,000 Uganda shilling note – and two bags full of my personal belongings and my friend’s expensive whiskey – with phone numbers of a couple of friends who I hoped would follow up for me.
As I rushed towards the plane, Ken came running after me to check I had written the phone numbers down correctly. He seemed honest enough.
… And then I sat on the plane twiddling my thumbs for half an hour! (All the time worrying what I had left behind, and whether I would see any of it ever again)
The long-term effect of the momentary madness at Entebbe was felt throughout my trip: I was to realise 24 hours later that, in the pandemonium, I had left behind my phone recharger and my laptop recharger.
A big thank you to Honest Ken. He helped me in my hour of need and everything was still in my bag when my driver picked it up from Entebbe the next day!
If you enjoyed the image of the Muzungu panicking, write me a comment below. Airport drama # 2 is not far behind!
Have you seen my aerial photos of Lake Victoria and Kisoro? Taken on board domestic flights with Aerolink.