Dudes, leave a girl alone! Sheesh.
Mr. Chukah A. Manyenga* was dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, holding a couple of Kilimanjaro postcards. He kept trying to stop me while I was running around Bristol Cottages (our Moshi hotel) trying to tie up loose ends before flying out to Zanzibar. Finally, he stood in front of me and wouldn’t let me pass. I looked at him, irritated, thinking that he was yet another fly-catcher trying to sell me something I don’t want. Moshi is full of these young unemployed and immensely annoying guys. Except he called me by my name. I didn’t really want to find out how he knew my name. Maybe a hotel staff person ratted me out.
“Sophia, I want to talk to you.”
“Please – I do not want to buy anything. I do not want to go on safari. Please let me go about my business,” I pushed past him to continue along my way.
“No, I’m not trying to sell anything. I’m an immigration official. I want to see your passport.”
I looked at him. Was he joking? No he wasn’t. I checked his identification and it looked reasonably legitimate (as legitimate as things look in Tanzania). Why was he chasing after me? Why did he know my name? Why do these annoying young men harass me every day? Why can’t I be treated like a normal human being? Ick, ick, and ick.
I allowed him to look at my passport, but I held on to it, knowing full well that he would more effectively try to bribe me if he took my passport away.
“Hey, hey, it’s OK. I just want to see it,” he said, condescendingly.
“You may look at my passport, but my passport is mine. You have no right to take it away. I don’t want trouble from you,” I stared at him.
Three of his buddies (a.k.a. immigration thugs who came to help extort money from us) came to surround me. Steve and Guy came too. He asked Guy for his passport too, but barely even looked at it.
The immigration officer tried to tell me that I had the wrong visa and that Guy and I had to go to his office for “further investigation.”
Steve said, “We are leaving. We have a flight to catch soon.”
Guy said, “Unless you’re going to arrest us, we are leaving.”
I told him very clearly that I was a professional consultant, that I had fully paid for a professional visa (I did and was very careful to do so), and then I showed him my UCSF physician’s identification badge. Being fully legitimate didn’t matter. They wanted a bribe. Then I pulled out my only weapon.
“I am a professional, a physician, here to assist as a consultant for the HIV care and treatment roll-out under the National AIDS Control Program. I have been hired to work under the Elisabeth Glazer Paediatric AIDS Foundation to help your country with your medical care. If you want to make trouble, you can first talk to our country director, who is a friend of the Kikwetes.” There. And all true. President Kikwete is the current president of Tanzania.
They stood back for a second. One of them mumbled something about me being a VIP, and that they should leave me alone. “OK, you can go.”
Feeling most unwelcome in this country, I dragged my luggage through Moshi with Guy and Steve to catch our van to the airport. It made me wonder, really, what am I doing here? Am I crazy to be so far from my home, from my family and friends? Can this place ever possibly feel like home to me?
Up to that point, I had been meditating on “Being Home” where-ever I was in the world. Now I’m not so sure that I can practice it.
*Yes, I checked his identification and wrote down his name before I allowed him to even look at my passport. Certified by Afisa Uhamaji on 31/5/2007. No details overlooked! And now anyone will know the name of the person who harassed and tried to detain us unfairly.