Friday, January 17, 2014

My Kafkaesque Gendarmerie Convocation


On Monday 13th January after the Ethiopian airlines flight which I worked on ended, I received a phone call from the station manager of Kenya Airways, Roland Njeuma that I had a convocation at the Gendarmerie. My heart skipped to our office roof and down back in place. I asked him why. He said he didn’t know but I had to report to the Gendarmerie office at the airport at 9.00AM the next day with him. I rushed to the KQ office and when he saw me he said in jest, “I’m going to lock you up!” I wasn’t bothered for I knew I had not been involved in any “kara/fufu scandal” –corruption/money trafficking scandal. Not ever. I saw the one page document which was written in French. First and foremost, they had spelt my name wrongly, Nyatcha Atemnkeng and for a moment I wondered if they’d delivered it to the wrong person. But my phone number was written there perfectly. Secondly, they didn’t specify any crime I’d committed neither did they specify the flight or even day. It was just a short vague thing which read the way I’d earlier mentioned. I asked him why again and he said he didn’t know. I tried to find out from my baggage service colleague Mby Peter if he’d heard any gossip about me and the convocation. He said someone just bumped into the KQ office and handed it to Roland. He too didn’t know anything. But he added, “ahh, you’ll go there tomorrow and find out, its nothing, forget it.”

I went back to the office thinking hard about work and any mistakes I’d made. I told a couple of colleagues and Dinn Adolphe went “ahh, c’est rien, tu ne fait que ton travail a l’aeroport ci et rentrer a la maison. Est-ce que tu fait le kara?” “ah, it’s nothing, you just do your work at this airport and go back to your house. Do you even do kara?” Another one told me I shouldn’t bother, if I’d done nothing wrong. “If you don’t go, it will seem suspicious, just go there and listen to what they have to say, if you did nothing, then nothing will happen,” another said. Ekema added, “But it’s a very sensitive issue eh! Not even the police first! The thing just went straight to the Gendarmerie!” Gringo was anxious, he said he was going to call Roland himself to find out. “The man said he doesn’t know” I told Gringo. I went back home and called my boss, Lucien and told him. He said it was bizarre that they didn’t write down any crime but I should go there with the administrator.

The next day I was “off” so I boarded a taxi to the airport. At Marché Sandaga, Roland called me and I told him I was heading there. He said he was in Bonanjo but he would be there in a few moments. I told Zeze the administrator the issue. He wondered. He guessed that maybe it was the stolen arms thing of November and asked if I’d worked at the baggage sorting area on ET that day. I couldn’t even remember the day in November, let alone the flight I did. November was long gone. I met Nnaeto in the office for the first time since she returned from holiday and she too was worried when she saw the convocation. “Il ne connait meme pas, ce qu’il a fait” “He doesn’t even know what he has done!” she told Stephanie Mballa who snapped, “mais c’est ne pas ton nom ici Nkiacha, n’est part pas la bas, est-ce que tu t’appelle Nyatcha?” “But it’s not your name here Nkiacha, don’t go there, is your name Nyatcha?” “But they got my phone number right!” I pointed out. Again, I thought that if I didn’t go it would seem suspicious.

I went there with Zeze anyway. I’d never been to that part of the airport! I'd never had any summoning to a law enforcement office in my life! I didn’t even know the Gendarmerie station was there. Immediately Roland saw me, he said, “there’s a woman inside there who has laid a complaint that you’ve impregnated her daughter, she wants you locked up.” Zeze and I both laughed and Zeze said, “But is that a problem? Did he kill the girl? People impregnate girls every day.” Roland presented me to the Gendarme officers. I saw some airport personnel on interrogation. Then we went out and waited for about five minutes while he made a few phone calls. After which, he uncovered the mystery. “The problem is that, a business class passenger discovered a metal screw in his food on board while eating on the KQ flight of December 16th (about a month ago) so he launched a serious complain and Doual’air (which does airport catering) and ADC (operations company) personnel who worked on the flight that day were all given convocations. Since I was the Camport agent who did position 7 that day (Catering inspection), I had also been given my own convocation. So I just needed to explain my version of the story.

After about twenty minutes I went in for questioning. The officer told me what Roland had said. And he showed me the photo of the food. The passenger had almost emptied the plate with just some mashed potato like stuff left, next to it lay a fork and on another corner a nail-sized metal screw. In my mind I went, “Iron meat!” He told me I wasn’t a suspect but he needed to know exactly what our function was at the catering area, since I hadn’t spotted the screw. I told him we did Documents Check (VISAS) and aviation security -the prevention of dangerous goods into the aircraft and the airport. At the catering area, we made sure nobody inserted any dangerous thing in the cooked food in the food trolleys when placed in the cold room like knives…” “and screws” the man chipped in and I almost laughed. “Yes, screws. And then we check the interior of the trolleys after which we seal them with plastic seals. But we don’t check the content of the plates and bowls before sealing the trolleys because the plates and bowls of food are well covered with aluminum foils. So if there’s any dangerous thing within the food, we cannot really tell.” He wrote down all what I said and asked me some more questions about our work flow. I answered them all. Then he let me go.

But the interrogation period had to unnecessarily drag on for about thirty minutes since the officer kept halting and going out of his office to attend to one business or another, not to forget intruding people and other officers themselves who kept distracting him and the fact that he had to write two pages of how we worked at Doual’air also made the convocation snail like. At home, my uncle who is more of a technician analyzed it his own way. He said maybe the Doual’air people had put the plates on a metal shelf and one of the metal screws had gone loose and entered into one of them. Then the Doual’air worker had probably put food into it without looking, covered it with his aluminum foil. (So there was an additional piece of metal meat.) I wonder what would have happened if that passenger had chewed that iron meat, nyaam! Ouch, LOL. But Roland had whispered to Zeze and I that it was Doual’air which was acuusing ADC that they were the ones who wanted to sabotage them. Well, sabotage or error, I thank God that he flushed me out of it.

All of a sudden, my mind went to that unfortunate day three years ago when my colleague, Nnaeto was summoned to the KQ office the day she did catering and a lizard was found in one of the food trolleys in Nairobi. (Hers was worse because the lizard was inside the trolley and out of the plates! It was assumed she was supposed to have seen it.) And that particular Douala lizard was pretty ugly. The pictures which were emailed to Douala almost made me faint. Therese’s scolding voice in front of the computer at the KQ briefing still rings in my ears, “Hot Douala lizard, look at it its wowoh face, imagine if it had jumped on board the plane! What were you....”