Seychelles is one of those countries or should I say Islands, which had enticed me for the longest time. Perhaps it’s the glossy pictures of white sandy beaches and clear waters or couples walking hand in hand into the sunset that got to me. This seduction is what made me board a flight and eventually touch down at the Seychelles International Airport, to begin my adventures. My arrival was indeed a “Bang” of an entry, starting off with mother of all near mishaps- Immigration Issues.
As we disembarked, everyone but me was chatting with their “person” read “spouse” or “friends”. I was travelling solo, so maybe, this is where the red flags started to be raised. Kindly note, their airport is so small, that as the door from the runway opens, you find yourself smack at immigration and everyone from the flight can see everyone. I decided to join the queue that had three other ladies of colour, which I hoped would help camouflage me from standing out like a lone tree in a desert. At first, we all stared suspiciously at each other, honestly, I do not know why we Africans do this and there after traded greetings as our line moved forward.
When it was my turn, I stepped up, smiled, greeted the beautiful lady behind the counter and proceeded to share the usual- passport, yellow fever and in this case plus my invitation letter. For those wondering what this is, some countries would require visitors/ tourists to have an official invitation letter from the person hosting them. This letter would basically contain details of your host, their confirmation that they are hosting you, duration of stay as well as your intended plan. If staying at a hotel, one would then need to show proof of a confirmed hotel booking. The lady looked over the invitation letter several times, then back at me and then back at the documents. The sirens in my head went off, my gut feeling told me something was amiss but she responded all was well when I enquired if there was a problem. She then proceeded to stand from her chair, “never a good sign,” and instructed me to wait at her booth as she walked away with all my documents. I mentioned the airport is small, so everyone noticed her walk away and everyone then turned to look at me with those eyes that seemed to scream, “BUSTED”.
As I stood there, I could see people blatantly staring at me, whispering among themselves and shaking their heads in dismay. I made a mental note to never, ever, ever, give a side eye, or a front eye to anyone I would ever see/find in a similar situation in the airports-they are innocent until proven guilty. I chose to busy myself by looking at the endearing duty free shop that was directly across from me-so near yet so far, I need to get my hosts gifts there I resolved. The wait went on and on and on until finally, when I was about to faint with anxiety, she returned and then asked me to pick my luggage from the baggage claim area. Now I knew for sure, there was a serious problem.
I picked my luggage, no smile now, eyes looking down, chin drooped as I tried to rummage my brain on what could have happened. I am always meticulous when it comes to legal requirements of my intended host countries, what could I have missed? Soon, all the passengers had left and there I was, sitting lonesome on a bench right outside the Duty free shop. I wondered whether I would be allowed to purchase something there before they deported me back home. My mind was racing, wondering, what wrong had I done, would I be arrested, would I be deported, would I be allowed to make an international call home and what are the extradition agreements between Kenya and Seychelles? I wondered why I had never read up on important stuff like that, why I had decided to expand my trip beyond Ethiopia as well as whether my hosts had a problem with the government. My mind was awash with scenarios and all this time no one was talking to me, even the immigration lady was no longer at her desk, she had gone upstairs to where I had seen her deliver my documents-to the bottomless pit. Poker face on-keep calm and smile.
After what felt like forever, the lady returned with a gentleman, whom I believe was her superior. As they walked toward me, I was ready for anything, their faces betrayed nothing, my stomach tightened in knots, my mouth parched, I knew I was innocent of everything, anything, whatever, yet I felt like I had been given the guilty sentence. I was re-directed back to the immigration line/counter and there I started picturing myself in their immigration cell. I wondered which would be better/safer, a solo cell or an occupied one, I wondered if I could plead my case and request to be held at the bench I was sitting on, honest-I wouldn’t run away, but my face betrayed nothing.
When he smiled, the tension eased, it eased further as I looked upon his attractive face and listened to his surprisingly soft spoken voice. Even as he proceeded to question me, he didn’t seem like he was baying for my blood, he wasn’t out for war, he was just diligently doing his job albeit at my inconvenience. I wasn’t afraid and I had nothing to hide, so I answered honestly to each and every question they asked. I was shocked at how calm and composed my voice sounded, I was even laughing and using gestures, clear indications that my guard was down. Next, he proceeded to apologize for the delay and informed me that it had taken longer than expected to get through to my host thus the delay. Then, when I thought all was over and done with, when I thought we were good, I was in the clear, he dropped the bombshell “Do you mind if we searched your luggage?” WHAT!…
Now my brain started pulling sprints, do I look suspicious, do they think I have something illegal, we just smiled and laughed with each other, the cheeky immigration made me drop my guard, now look. I wondered if they would request a cavity search, (that’s where I would draw the line and request them to put me on the luggage screener/X RAY if they must-I would deal with radiation exposure later if it came to that. I hate my private space being infringed on, I hate when security pass the wand over me, I hate when some airports do a pat down that I am seriously considering purchasing a see through travel out fit and only wear bare minimum clothing underneath, that way, no one would have to pat/touch me. I had nothing to worry about as I didn’t have anything illegal on me and my documents were all legitimate-, this should be fine, I am fine.
I unzipped my suitcases, stepped back and kept my hands where everyone could see them, as I have learnt from the movies. A tall, slender lady in security uniform then introduced herself, as she put on a pair of white gloves-she would do the search. Before you all collapse, it wasn’t for a cavity search-thank God, but the luggage search. This lady was thorough, she lay everything I owned in the luggage on the table for all to see. Yes, everything- clothes, toiletries, notebooks, the branded airline wet wipes and toothpicks, you name it, if I had it, it was on display. She spoke oh so softly and calmly the whole time as she touched everything, as she squeezed everything, as she shook everything, it kept me both calm and sane. Then she seemed fascinated by my collection of newly purchased, cute and very pretty shoes. Our trade off conversation of girls and their shoes turned to a near panic mode for me as I started wondering if they would damage my shoes during the inspection.
This was the first time I thought I would have a meltdown, I was sure, watching my new shoes damaged would have been my breaking point. It had been such a long time since I had actually shoe shopped like a crazy person, a long time since I had found cute shoes that could fit me, a long time since I had allowed myself to splurge on this pleasure and now they were under threat. I was sure, if they did that, I would have sat on the floor and mourned out loud, the shoes I had only met but never got to wear. Finally, after they were satisfied that I was clean, that I was a law abiding citizen, that I was a wanderlust young lady, that I spoke only the truth to all queries and still managed a joke and smile through it all, I was granted permission into Seychelles and got the much prized Entry stamp.
The power that immigration officers have is what determines whether you are accepted into a foreign country or not. It dawned on me then that what Immigration Officers worldwide do, is to choose to trust us with their country, and this is a trust we should all never abuse. Thank you Seychelles Immigration Officers for trusting me with your beautiful country. I appreciate you being kind, friendly and compassionate with me as this incident went on. At no time did you make me feel belittled or threatened as I have watched happen to many people. This “Bang” of an entry was a preview to the amazing, exciting, ” Bang” of an adventure, Seychelles had in store for me. It seemed like Seychelles was determined to wipe out any memory of this incident from my mind and leave me singing “Mon Kontan Sesel,” which means “I love Seychelles”.