Tuesday, September 13, 2016

On winning Ethiopian Airlines' blogging award and choosing an African nation as a holiday destination

You receive a message from Monique Yemeli of Fabafriq magazine that you write for, that you have won the Ethiopian Airlines Award for most consistent blogger. You are happy after waiting for so long for the announcement. Your Fabafriq boss Adeline Sede had told you all during the 70th “birthday” hangout with ET that the prize is actually a two way ticket to any African country. So you head to the ET office in Bonanjo, the next Monday afternoon to meet the Area manager of ET Cameroon, Mr. Tesfaye Girma to talk about it. His assistant ushers you into boss’s ornate office. You greet him. Mr. Tesfaye looks up from his desk, peers at you through his reading glasses and responds to your greeting calmly.

He asks you what you want. You tell him you heard from Adeline Sede, that you won the ET best blogger award. He smiles and congratulates you. You say thank you. He asks you where you want to go. You halt and almost scratch your head. “Anywhere?” You ask, wondering. “Yes, just tell me where you want to go and we’ll issue your ticket.” You think about the 54 countries in Africa in an instant and you can’t decide. But you’ve always loved the Indian Ocean African island nations with their exquisite beaches and colourful waters, so you just instinctively say, “Seychelles?”

Mr. Tesfaye smiles again and asks, “You want to go to Seychelles?” “Yes”. He nods. “Seychelles is really nice and its visa free, so no problems trying to obtain a visa.” “Okay”. “But it’s a little expensive. So maybe you need to carry along your own food which you’ll eat. The food is quite different from the food here too.” Oops, when the country manager of ET, who is surely loaded, starts warning you that a country is expensive, maybe you need to think otherwise. “Do you have a family?” he asks. You think it’s a tricky question because he wants to know if you’ll travel with a “loved one(s)”.

Sure, you have a family that nurtured you. But you reason that, the word “family” means a wife and children along those aviation lines. You remember that ET had said, “the best blogger will win a ticket to an African country” and not “the best blogger and his family will win a…” You think of a witty answer to his question. “I’m not married but I have a girlfriend. No kids.” He tells you it’s best to travel the world when you’ve not had a family yet. And it’s not very cool when there is a wife and kids, and you take off, so now is the time to travel!

He asks if you have a passport. You tell him you have one and you even brought it. He laughs as if to say “this guy is serious about his travelling oh”. He photocopies your passport's biometric page and hands it back to you. You tell him you need to take a holiday and plan the trip. He tells you to take your time and choose a nation and travel dates. When you’re ready, they’ll issue your ticket. You tell him thanks and leave.

You remember that you had not discussed anything about accommodation with Mr. Tesfaye. Oops. You tell yourself you’ll ask him next time you’re there to get the ticket. You go to work and google up “top holiday destinations in Africa”. You see ocean options like your Seychelles, Maldives, Mauritius, Cape Verde and safari countries like Kenya, Namibia and Botswana. You discard the safari nations because you’re from a “forest country” and you’ve already visited the Kakum National Park in Ghana. You’ve seen lots of forests already. A lion or crocodile could even bite off your head in Botswana! No way. You relish the colourful pics of the Indian ocean nations, so you start checking immigration procedures from the Swissport Travel Information Manual (TIM).

Seychelles is visa free and you can obtain a visitor’s permit on arrival for a max stay of three months. But as you read the TIM further, you see a line that says you need to present 150 dollars a day for all the days you spend there to immigration, so 20 days equals 3000 dollars in cash, that's about 1.5 million francs. And it is just what you’ll declare to immigration, excluding food, accommodation, transportation –pricey boat rides among the different Seychellois islands of La Digue, Desroches, Praslin, Bird etc.

You shake your head no. You check other aforementioned island nations. and they seem pricey too. You express your worry to Adeline that your beloved Seychelles may be expensive. She just goes, “I’ve been there, it’s not a little expensive, it’s very expensive! Just one boat ride to 3 different islands cost 300 dollars! And the hotel bills are really high. Imagine a place where Prince William and Kate Middleton go to for holidays. Everybody there will hike up prices... But the place is really beautiful!" Your colleague Wasu, tells you its because it's so lovely, that's why it attracts so many people including really rich people and even celebrities.

She gives you a pep talk about going there as an eco-tourist and doing AIR BNP lodging. You look at her and just go, “Maybe I’ll only go there when I become a boss like you someday”. She laughs so hard. Next, she proposes beautiful Gambia. You shake your head no because you’ve read articles about its poor human rights record and that, it is the most difficult country in the world for journalists to work in and that, sometimes president Jammeh can be…weird! She proposes the archipelago of Zanzibar in Tanzania, saying it’s also really beautiful. You are already in refusal mode, so you also say no to that and you don't even know the reason why.

"Kenya? Great safari there. Botswana?” Hmmm, you're thinking about those lions eating you up all over again! Ok, you can easily travel to Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria and Zambia in the near future for writing stuff, literary festivals etc. “What about Ethiopia? Not just Addis. Kuriftu, Hawassa or another place?” You say, you've done two night stops in Addis, you don’t want to go there for this one again, somewhere completely new”. Simo Jandie proposes north Africa, Magrebian Sahara land. You say no because you don't like north Africa, although you know Tunisia is beautiful and prehistoric Egypt is legendary with its pyramids. Boss lady digresses to another discussion and you keep talking. You're still undecided.

You suddenly remember your dear cousin, Joseph Asong Anu who is a missionary and who’s studied and worked all over southern Africa. You ask his suggestion for an affordable beach country. He types back on Whatsapp, “Tanzania would be a good try. It is a regular destination for Nigerians, so I am sure Visa may not be a big deal. The touristic element there is simply awesome especially if you have a contact to show you around. Not to mention if you get a chance to hit Zanzibar…Life is evidently cheaper in Tanzania compared to several other countries in the region. Cape Town in South Africa could be considered but Visa could be an issue, plus in country expenses would obviously be higher.”

Okay, you'll grapple about Tanzania later. But South Africa! No! You recall how the lady at the SA high commission in Yaounde spoke to you harshly and abandoned you in 2014, when you wanted to apply for a South African transit visa, for only a two hour transit period in Jo'burg when you intended travelling to Mutare in Zimbabwe for a writers workshop. Mere transit visa! You imagine the procedure of getting a real SA visa this time and you shake your head no, once again.

On the contrary, Tanzania especially Zanzibar sounded like Aaliyah’s music to your ears after missionary Joe’s message. You wonder why you had rejected it when Adeline proposed it as you check the TIM again for more info. You read that you can obtain a visa on arrival for between 50-100 dollars. You google up Zanzibar pics online and they’re amazing. Persian empire feel, centuries old castles feel, diverse people feel, stunning beaches!

You tell your engineer friend who works for ET, Rahmet, the next day while you’re both working on the ramp and Rahmet informs you he’s been there. The visa cost him only 40 dollars. Oh! Cheap! You exclaim. He tells you the standard of living is like that of Cameroon. You nod. He tells you that it’s got so much iconic infrastructure and wonderful beaches. It sounds like what you’ve just read and seen online. You concur. And then you tell him, “My friend, I’ve finally made my choice. I’m going to Zanzibar!” “Oh, man, you will certainly enjoy it, congrats for your ET blogging award once again."