LONDON: “Where is your visa Sir?” the Qatar Airways hostess enquired. This was after the Boarding Pass scanning machine beeped and a flashed red light to deny me access to board the plane.
We were still at OR Tambo International Airport, Johannesburg, South Africa from where I was scheduled to board a connecting flight to Doha’s Hamad International Airport before taking another one to London.
The journey started with Air Botswana from Sir Seretse Khama International Airport where I was the last person to board. The beautiful Air Botswana checkpoint woman at the check-in counter told me that I was lucky to be let in because I was very late and gates were supposed to be closed.
Mistakes normally happen during rushed check-ins and it is in those moments that checked-in luggage could easily be sent to the wrong airport. I kindly reminded the beautiful-Air-Botswana-‘lady’ (thanks for letting me through) to send my luggage all the way to my final destination, Heathrow Airport, London.
So in Johannesburg, boarding was not as smooth as it was with the beautiful-Air-Botswana-lady. After the Qatar hostess enquired about my visa, I confidently told her that I am not required to have any visa to enter the UK. And I could see the doubt in her eyes as she politely requested me to take a seat while they check.
A few minutes later she came with a colleague asking about my ‘purpose to travel to the UK’. I curtly responded with, “I’m attending an event”. They then requested me to produce any documentation to prove my purpose of travel. Having dealt with such before I had long prepared the invitation letters.
While there my papers being scrutinised as if I was trying to sneak into the UK, I wondered whether the UK citizens ever get the same treatment when they come to my country. Eventually the airhostess took pictures of my documents and let me board.
In the plane I was seated next to two young white men who were clearly ending their successful African safari - according to their lions and zebra T-shirts. We just smiled once, (those quick movement of the lips they like to do) in the entire eighth-hour flight. Well I also did not have time for small chat.
I put on The Best of Blues Collection from the on-board entertainment, but before that I read the Oryx, Qatar’s inflight magazine where I discovered that the airline would commence their service to Gaborone on October 27, 2019. I then later immersed myself in Alexander McCall Smith’s Tears of the Giraffe – which is part of the The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. The airhostess kept the whiskey flowing.
I must have passed out because I was awakened by an airhostess – now in landing uniform – asking me to straighten up my seat for landing in Doha. It was just after 6am local time and my next flight to London was in an hour’s time.
After landing I went straight to the boarding gate where once again I had to produce the documents to prove my purpose of travel to the UK.
At Hamad International Airport we took the grand Airbus A380-800 – the world’s largest passenger aircraft. This is my favourite passenger aircraft. After the pushback from the parking the huge plane stood for about 40 minutes on the runaway without moving until the captain made an announcement.
“Ladies and Gentlemen this is your Captain speaking. We apologise for the delay. We have to return to the parking due to some technical problem,” he said.
This is not a pleasant announcement any aircraft passenger wants to hear but it is better to be told while the plane is still on the ground. An hour passed while we were stuck in the plane with a ‘technical problem’ but we later took off. I believe it was everyone’s prayer that the ‘technical problem’ has been satisfactorily dealt with.
On the Airbus A380 I was seated next to a lovely elderly couple from India. I became their IT-support with operating the on-board entertainment system. It was a smooth flight all the way – that is why I love the A380, it soars so smoothly.
At Heathrow, I prepared myself for another one of those ‘purpose of your stay in the UK’. I was wearing African Prints BW sweater with a Botswana map made from Leteise embroidered in front. I wanted to prove that I am proud of where I come from and I did not come to beg to stay.
Sometimes arriving in this Western world they make one feel one has come to beg. At times it is humiliating. You have to almost beg to be admitted as if they are paying for your travel and stay in their country. But British immigration was kind to me – I guess all the visas in my passport including USA, Chinese and Schengener together with previous stamps into the UK were good enough to prove that I did not come to beg to stay in the UK.
*Thalefang Charles is in the UK by virtue of Brand Botswana, covering an event called In Conversation with Alexander McCall Smith.