Year: 2012

Region: Africa

True story: True

There were three of us headed to Africa for work. Part of the job was to serve as a resource courier. With that, we had to get courier documentation that was to be hand carried along our path of travel to ensure the resources we were transporting made it to the final destination. We received the final documentation and clearance to travel only a week before our scheduled departure.

On the day of departure, we ran into several issues at the airport, specifically revolving around the resources being transported. The items weighed more than the standard allowance, and a manifest of the resources had to be signed off by myself and two airport agents. So, we had to unpack everything that we so neatly packed previously, in the ticketing lobby right in front of everyone. (It was a lot of stuff!) Finally everything was ready to go after we got rid of our lithium batteries and repacked.

The journey began and all was well. We arrived in Paris for our connection flight and had to change terminals, and with that so did our resources. In order for the resources to be loaded onto the plane, the gate agents needed to see the manifest and the courier documentation. The last major place for an issue to arise was passed and it was smooth sailing. We had one more layover and weren’t permitted to leave the aircraft, so we had no worries for the resources there.

About 23 hours after our original departure, we arrived at our initial port of entry in Africa. We had no clue what to expect, but knew we may face challenges based on the stories we were told prior to departure. To help mitigate any challenges faced, we arranged for an escort to pick us up at the airport.

We deplaned onto the tarmac and entered the customs area of the airport. We had no clue where our belongings were, nor where we would get them from. There was no A/C in the building we were entering, it was hot and humid, and about 10:00 at night. As with any other airport, we followed the people who looked like they knew what they were doing. We wanted to stay together because not all of us spoke the local language, and it seemed none of the locals spoke English. Unfortunately, the people working customs made the three of us go to separate customs agents. We weren’t happy with this forced outcome, but we didn’t want to make a fuss in order to reduce any issues when it came to collecting the resources we were transporting.

After what seemed like an hour of waiting in line to get a stamp on our passport, we were finally able to go to the baggage claim area. We were nearly the last ones to arrive, so our personal bags were already set aside waiting for us. We grabbed our bags and had a conversation on what the game plan was going forward. At that moment, we didn’t know where our escort was, and we couldn’t find the containers that were housing the resources we were transporting. One things stood out in our minds, we were instructed not to open the resource containers in the airport in Africa under any circumstance. We were forewarned that they would attempt to make us do so, but to resist at all costs.

45 minutes pass and we received unfortunate news. The person that we coordinated with to be our escort was detained at another airport two hours away. Our minds raced and we came up with a plan. We had two other local contacts that would be able to help us. So we called them and were instructed to first and foremost get control of the resources. I spoke the local language as best I could and did my best to convince the agent to give me the resource containers. The agent resisted with everything in him and made us out to be bad people. Screaming and hollering in the baggage claim area and drawing a crowd of people. He insisted we open the resource containers (as we were told he would) and we resisted with everything we had (as we were told to do). Finally our local contact arrived and we thought he would be able to do something for us. It turns out he couldn’t because we were dealing with a government official, and our contact was a foreigner like me (AKA nothing was going to happen). What we didn’t know was that our local contact knew people who worked in the embassy. So, our contact called this person, who turns out to report directly to the ambassador.

This person, who just so happened to be a woman, shows up to the airport a solid two hours after we got there. She proceeded to get very close to the agent who was causing all the “trouble” for us and yelled for quite some time. It turns out she happened to know this customs agent’s boss and gave him a call in the middle of the night. She handed the phone over to the customs agent. He listens and hangs up. An agreement was made. We had to leave the resource containers to be brought to the local police station, where we had to pick them up the following day.

We gathered the resource containers the next morning and went over the manifest with the local policeman (talk about uncomfortable). He was so confused as to what was going on, but unconfidently made up a brand new process as he went. After 20 or so minutes, he released the resources. Free at last. We could finally take a deep breath and relax. We loaded our resources containers into the truck and headed “home.”

But what about the guy who was detained? It turns out he was held because he “didn’t have the proper paperwork.” To note, he traveled that path many times before over the preceding months and had never had that issue before. Perhaps it was because he was a foreigner?

Takeaways:

  1. Sometimes contingencies fail – go with the flow
  2. Always have a local contact
  3. Do you have the right documentation for your travel path?

I hope you enjoyed this first Sanctuary Digest. There will be more to come and hopefully you gain something from reading them.

Yours truly,

#WelcomeToTheSanctuary