For my leave, I flew off to Zimbabwe.
Yep, that country that we were told had billionaires and millionaires carrying their Zim dollars in bags and baskets.
I even thought we would meet President Robert Gabriel Mugabe at the airport and he would ask us what we were doing in there. Facile thoughts, I know.
Either way, I was prepared to visit the country that flows with the Zambezi River and see for myself the “run down economy” that we all think Zimbabwe is synonymous with.
Touch down at Harare International Airport October 25, some few minutes past 2.30am and for the nearly two hours flight from Nairobi I was not sure what to expect.
I still had in my mind that things would be really bad in the Southern African country and nothing prepared me once I walked into their arrival terminal.
The place was clean, the airport staff friendly and warm.
They asked that we stand on a white tile as they screened us for Ebola. Shortly after, a woman in a blue uniform, matching socks, black leather shoes and a cap came up to us and handed white slips of paper.
“Please fill in your details over theiya and come beck to these tills.”
We were a group of us and we pulled out our pens and got to it.
Reason for visit.
Shortly after, I went beck and handed my slip and stood patiently in front of the pretty young lady behind the computer.
I gave her my passport as well for the entry stamp because, as a Kenyan I do not need a visa to visit the landlocked country in the south.
As she scanned though the leaf of paper, I kept wondering to my self what lies beyond the white airport walls, if I would see artifacts that told me welcome to the land of the Shona and the Ndebele, if I would be allowed to get into Harare town before our morning connecting flight to Victoria Falls…
“You are a JOURNALIST?”
The stress and emphasis was intentional.
I looked up, thoughts and sleep weaving in my head…
“Yes, yes I am…a journalist from Kenya.”
“Where is your accreditation? What are you coming to do?”
“I am here for a conference in Victoria Falls.”
“Yes, Vic Falls,” truncating like she did.
“But you need accreditation, you need to get clearance.”
She stood up from the swivel chair, and called the lady in the blue uniform.
In a singsong to what I would later know was Shona language they exchanged the slip of paper and the passport, shook their heads and looked at me.
“I am sorry but we do not have your name here or of those other Kenyan journalists,” the younger lady pointed at my three other colleagues behind me.
“Oh, okay…is there someone to help us? We are here for the Climate change conference.”
I even pulled put my phone to show them ‘proof’.
“You will need to speak to immigration office but they don’t open until Monday.”
It was Sunday, 3am.
Then an elderly man come into the conversation. He had on a white shirt and a stripped tie.
Speaking to the airport attendants but looking at us…
“You need to clear them so that the plane that brought them can leave…”
Wait, wait, I thought…you mean they can turn us back right here at their doorstep?
Then they broke into more Shona, heavy with concern (perhaps of what would happen to us, or that we were holding back a plane) a few nods here and then the woman in the blue uniform said:
“You will only stay here until 27th. After which you will present yourselves to the Immigration office at Vic Falls. It is close to the hotel you will be staying in. Okay?”
My affirmation synced with the tiny rectangular purple stamp on my passport. Another white slip inside the passport and we were done.
We were here for seven days. We had three.
Hello borrowed time. Hello Zimbabwe.