Flying in South Sudan brings oh so many stories with it. I mean really, all you have to do to realize this is land a Juba Airport and enter the arrival hall one day, which wins the prize for “the most illogically set up room in the world”. Yes, Juba airport has a total of 3 rooms: one arrival hall, one check in/”immigration” and one departure hall. And all 3 are perhaps the most frustrating places in the world. In particular, the arrival hall can take you a total of 2.5 hours to cross (yes, one room). But more on that in a later blog post…
Today’s blog is about a different “airport.” This is a wee airport located in Yambio, Western Equatoria State that we arrive and fly out of with the kind services of the World Food Programme’s United Nations Humanitarian Air Services (UNHAS) flights. Now last time I flew into Yambio, I was made to pay an immigration fee AND I got a stamp in my passport, which now constitutes probably the coolest stamp in my passport:
So why, you may be asking yourself, was I paying an immigration fee and getting a stamp in my passport if I had not left the country? The easiest, and most common answer is – just don’t look for the logic. However, check out the date. Yup, 2nd of July. Before I even arrived in South Sudan. Before SOUTH SUDAN WAS EVEN A COUNTRY. So yeah, perhaps the memo on independence did not reach them or I entered some time warp where time stayed still. Or the immigration officer just did not know how to change the date on his stamp and wanted to collect a fee. You pick.
Anyway, fast forward to my most recent trip where we were going to fly out of the same airport. However, this time, I was going to refuse to pay any immigration fee. So when I went to “check in” (a proceedure that involves entering the “immigration office” and declaring you are here, and sometimes maybe they may look through one of your bags – but anyway, a procedure avoided by many both unintentionally or intentionally) I intentionally did not take my passport with me. Here is how the conversation went:
Immigration Officer: I need your passport
Me: But sir, I did not leave the country
Immigration Officer: But it is a state regulation
Me: But sir, you are now one country. If I don’t leave the country, I don’t take my passport.
Immigration Officer: But each state can make its own regulation.
Me: In my country we also have states, but we don’t need to carry our passports to cross them.
Immigration Officer: Well I need to see whether you are not from South Sudan.
Me: Ummm can you not tell that I am not from here? I can tell you where I am from if you want? Also, here is my South Sudanese Driving License.
Immigration Officer: You can drive?
Me: Well, I assume so if your government was willing to issue me with a driving license.
Immigration Officer: Well let me check your bag then.
(**Note a queue has started to form behind me – but this is not deterring me from standing my ground).
Immigration Officer ruffles through my handbag and finds a bottle of honey that I had brought to take home.
Immigration officer: What is this?
Me: Honey, I bought it at the Suk (=market in Arabic).
Immigration officer: You speak Arabic?
Me: Only a little bit.
Immigration officer: Where is my honey?
Me: But you live here you can just go to the suk to get your honey.
Immigration officer: But you are my family, you should be giving me honey.
Me: No I don’t think we are family.
Immigration officer: Why?
Me: Because my family would not need to ask for my passport to verify my identity.
Immigration officer (now exasperated and looking at the queue behind me): Ok fine, you are checked in.
Now if only check in in other airports was this easy.