Tuesday, 10 February 2009

KENYA YETU: HAKUNA MATATA? (II)

I have to do this:

Requiem for Good Old Lady Burberry’s

The good old lady is a genuine Burberry’s suitcase that has been faultlessly and efficiently helping me through my travels for almost a decade now. Yet, difficult as it is to separate one from the other, it’s not the label that I mourn, but the quality: she has gone through countless air miles and some of the roughest airports in the world, mostly in Africa, in various airlines and through it all never let me down. I guess that on that account she should have earned by now all the special treatments afforded to ‘frequent flyers’ by any airline in the world. Except perhaps by Kenya Airways (KA)…
Interestingly enough, while on the check-in line for the first of the three flights that took me from Cape Town (CT) to Mombasa, via Johannesburg and Nairobi, having noticed some clued-up passengers having their luggage all wrapped up, I commented something like “there’s something I should but never do”…

I traveled on South African Airways (SA) to Nairobi, where I had to check-in again on a KA flight to Mombasa (my first time on the airline and the country). But before I could do that, I went through the most exhausting ordeal, during about two hours of back and forth through long corridors, just to get 50 dollars from the various bureaux d’exchange located inside the airport to pay for my entry visa in the country – only citizen residents of the East African Community get any special treatment in that respect in Kenya, something that I wasn’t previously aware of, and they will only accept dollars for visas.

All that to and fro, carrying along my handbag plus a heavy trolley containing laptop, books and some working documents, proved unsuccessful, forcing me to leave the airport, with the permission of a customs officer who felt like helping, to withdraw local money from an ATM located outside and exchange it for dollars at another exchange bureau, also past the airport border, after which I started to see light at the end of the tunnel…

Only to be denied entry to the airport again, until – after dragging myself and my bags through various entrances around the airport, all at considerable distance from each other, without being allowed to get in through any of them – a sympathetic airport employee, seeing my state of absolute despair, took me through the back doors to a customs office, from where I was taken back again to the customs counter inside the airport and finally got the visa. I could then freely pass the border and finally go to the carousel to collect my luggage. Good old lady Burberry’s was awaiting me nearby in the same condition I had checked her in at CT airport.

I finally arrived in Mombasa past mid-night, at which point I had been traveling since 5:30 a.m. the previous day… When good old lady Burberry’s showed up in the carousel, she was no longer as I last saw her in Nairobi: the zip ends had been cut off and the padlock was missing. I just (re)started crying… Well, to cut a long story short, I spent the next more than two hours trying to get someone, among airport security, police, customs and KA officers, to acknowledge the damage done to my bags (there was another one, but no damage had been done to it, perhaps because it wasn’t of such a recognisable label, apart from also missing the padlock).

They wouldn’t. All I got from all of them was total collusion, mockery and complete disregard for whatever I said… If anything, when they said something was only to anger me with the most pathetic attempts to deny the obvious and defend the indefensable! Until someone, perhaps on taking notice of my mention to the practice by any serious, competent and professional national flagship airline to register complaints about damaged luggage in a special form to that effect, got one such form to be filled in. I was then able to leave the airport to the hotel, more than 20km away, where I arrived as good as dead meat at past 3:00 a.m. (almost 24 hours since I left CT) facing the prospect of having to deliver a few hours later in that morning the first scheduled presentation at the workshop for which I had traveled all that way to Mombasa…

The following day I started corridors again to get KA to do something about the state they left good old lady Burberry’s in, i.e. unusable, as she was, for my return journey, even though, apparently nothing had been taken from her contents. After being put, for the next four successive days, through different people in different offices, they finally decided, on the eve of my departure, to collect the suitcase from the hotel and see what they would do about it promising to return it repaired or adequately replaced on that same day. Again to cut a long story short, they didn’t return the suitcase, un-repaired and un-replaced, until the next day and five minutes before I was supposed to leave the hotel to get my flight out of Mombasa… needless to say, I lost that flight and was only lucky enough to get on the next, just in time to catch the connecting flight to Johannesburg, where I arrived at around 12:00 a.m. and had to spend the night to get the final flight back to CT the following morning.

Only that this time I made sure at the Mombasa airport that good old lady Burberry’s was all wrapped-up, as if finally dead for good… and KA still hasn’t fully acknowledged responsibility for the damage, or liability for its reparation. Ah! And throughout this entire saga I never heard from anyone at KA words such as “our apologies”, or “we are sorry”, or “can we be of any assistance to you”, which, just as the words “please” or “thank you”, seem to be in short supply in the Kenyan English dictionary – just as the simple, congenial, African smile doesn’t seem to go well with the faces of staff in charge of whatever thing in Kenya Yetu, not even with the faces of KA’s flight assistants, particularly if they are facing other Africans, sorry to say…

And to cap it all up, when I arrived in CT, good old lady Burberry’s didn’t show up in the carousel… But by then I was so exhausted that I didn’t even have enough physical or emotional energy left in me to despair. So, I just filled in the missing-luggage forms that were promptly availed to me and other passengers in a similar predicament by the SA customer office and went home with only on thing in mind: get some good old sleep! Which I couldn’t, because it was ‘Jool’s Day’ – the Stellenbosh University’s students Carnaval, whose main parade happens exactly along my street…

Anyway, about three to four hours later, I received a call from SA saying that my old lady had just arrived from where she had been left behind in Jo’burg for whatever reason and a courier would be sent straight away to deliver it to me. And so it was. In the brief chat we had, I mentioned just how happy I was to be reunited with her given all that we had been through in Kenya which had forced me to have her all wrapped up, to which the courier, a white Afrikaans guy, said: “you know, you should always do that when you travel to African countries, because black people, sorry to say but that’s what happens, like to cut and scratch the luggage and steal the contents!”… I said nothing back, but thought to myself, “if only all those KA and Mombasa airport’s staff realised how many people gave their lives not to ever hear anything like that again in our lifetimes”!

Yet, they call themselves “the pride of Africa” and sport a slogan according to which “with KA African pride is flying high”!
Is it?!

As a proud African, I was made by KA not to be proud of such ‘African Airline’…
Sorry to say!
I have to do this:

Requiem for Good Old Lady Burberry’s

The good old lady is a genuine Burberry’s suitcase that has been faultlessly and efficiently helping me through my travels for almost a decade now. Yet, difficult as it is to separate one from the other, it’s not the label that I mourn, but the quality: she has gone through countless air miles and some of the roughest airports in the world, mostly in Africa, in various airlines and through it all never let me down. I guess that on that account she should have earned by now all the special treatments afforded to ‘frequent flyers’ by any airline in the world. Except perhaps by Kenya Airways (KA)…
Interestingly enough, while on the check-in line for the first of the three flights that took me from Cape Town (CT) to Mombasa, via Johannesburg and Nairobi, having noticed some clued-up passengers having their luggage all wrapped up, I commented something like “there’s something I should but never do”…

I traveled on South African Airways (SA) to Nairobi, where I had to check-in again on a KA flight to Mombasa (my first time on the airline and the country). But before I could do that, I went through the most exhausting ordeal, during about two hours of back and forth through long corridors, just to get 50 dollars from the various bureaux d’exchange located inside the airport to pay for my entry visa in the country – only citizen residents of the East African Community get any special treatment in that respect in Kenya, something that I wasn’t previously aware of, and they will only accept dollars for visas.

All that to and fro, carrying along my handbag plus a heavy trolley containing laptop, books and some working documents, proved unsuccessful, forcing me to leave the airport, with the permission of a customs officer who felt like helping, to withdraw local money from an ATM located outside and exchange it for dollars at another exchange bureau, also past the airport border, after which I started to see light at the end of the tunnel…

Only to be denied entry to the airport again, until – after dragging myself and my bags through various entrances around the airport, all at considerable distance from each other, without being allowed to get in through any of them – a sympathetic airport employee, seeing my state of absolute despair, took me through the back doors to a customs office, from where I was taken back again to the customs counter inside the airport and finally got the visa. I could then freely pass the border and finally go to the carousel to collect my luggage. Good old lady Burberry’s was awaiting me nearby in the same condition I had checked her in at CT airport.

I finally arrived in Mombasa past mid-night, at which point I had been traveling since 5:30 a.m. the previous day… When good old lady Burberry’s showed up in the carousel, she was no longer as I last saw her in Nairobi: the zip ends had been cut off and the padlock was missing. I just (re)started crying… Well, to cut a long story short, I spent the next more than two hours trying to get someone, among airport security, police, customs and KA officers, to acknowledge the damage done to my bags (there was another one, but no damage had been done to it, perhaps because it wasn’t of such a recognisable label, apart from also missing the padlock).

They wouldn’t. All I got from all of them was total collusion, mockery and complete disregard for whatever I said… If anything, when they said something was only to anger me with the most pathetic attempts to deny the obvious and defend the indefensable! Until someone, perhaps on taking notice of my mention to the practice by any serious, competent and professional national flagship airline to register complaints about damaged luggage in a special form to that effect, got one such form to be filled in. I was then able to leave the airport to the hotel, more than 20km away, where I arrived as good as dead meat at past 3:00 a.m. (almost 24 hours since I left CT) facing the prospect of having to deliver a few hours later in that morning the first scheduled presentation at the workshop for which I had traveled all that way to Mombasa…

The following day I started corridors again to get KA to do something about the state they left good old lady Burberry’s in, i.e. unusable, as she was, for my return journey, even though, apparently nothing had been taken from her contents. After being put, for the next four successive days, through different people in different offices, they finally decided, on the eve of my departure, to collect the suitcase from the hotel and see what they would do about it promising to return it repaired or adequately replaced on that same day. Again to cut a long story short, they didn’t return the suitcase, un-repaired and un-replaced, until the next day and five minutes before I was supposed to leave the hotel to get my flight out of Mombasa… needless to say, I lost that flight and was only lucky enough to get on the next, just in time to catch the connecting flight to Johannesburg, where I arrived at around 12:00 a.m. and had to spend the night to get the final flight back to CT the following morning.

Only that this time I made sure at the Mombasa airport that good old lady Burberry’s was all wrapped-up, as if finally dead for good… and KA still hasn’t fully acknowledged responsibility for the damage, or liability for its reparation. Ah! And throughout this entire saga I never heard from anyone at KA words such as “our apologies”, or “we are sorry”, or “can we be of any assistance to you”, which, just as the words “please” or “thank you”, seem to be in short supply in the Kenyan English dictionary – just as the simple, congenial, African smile doesn’t seem to go well with the faces of staff in charge of whatever thing in Kenya Yetu, not even with the faces of KA’s flight assistants, particularly if they are facing other Africans, sorry to say…

And to cap it all up, when I arrived in CT, good old lady Burberry’s didn’t show up in the carousel… But by then I was so exhausted that I didn’t even have enough physical or emotional energy left in me to despair. So, I just filled in the missing-luggage forms that were promptly availed to me and other passengers in a similar predicament by the SA customer office and went home with only on thing in mind: get some good old sleep! Which I couldn’t, because it was ‘Jool’s Day’ – the Stellenbosh University’s students Carnaval, whose main parade happens exactly along my street…

Anyway, about three to four hours later, I received a call from SA saying that my old lady had just arrived from where she had been left behind in Jo’burg for whatever reason and a courier would be sent straight away to deliver it to me. And so it was. In the brief chat we had, I mentioned just how happy I was to be reunited with her given all that we had been through in Kenya which had forced me to have her all wrapped up, to which the courier, a white Afrikaans guy, said: “you know, you should always do that when you travel to African countries, because black people, sorry to say but that’s what happens, like to cut and scratch the luggage and steal the contents!”… I said nothing back, but thought to myself, “if only all those KA and Mombasa airport’s staff realised how many people gave their lives not to ever hear anything like that again in our lifetimes”!

Yet, they call themselves “the pride of Africa” and sport a slogan according to which “with KA African pride is flying high”!
Is it?!

As a proud African, I was made by KA not to be proud of such ‘African Airline’…
Sorry to say!

9 comments:

Calcinhas de Luanda said...

Well my dear, although it may hurt you, you must agree that Africa is still a long way to go toward a proper degree of civilization.


Best regards,

Calcinhas de Luanda

Koluki said...

Whatever civilization is...
And, by the way, I could just tell a much more upsetting story, even more hurting because it didn't involve material, but moral damages, on my last trip from Lisbon to London, at Gatwick airport...
In any case, all I hope this sort of post can do is to call the attention of some people in our continent to the need not to stain even more our collective image with stupid and totally avoidable behaviour such as this!

Calcinhas de Luanda said...

Of course, when officers behavior go beyond basic and sound human relationships and derivate to pure and stupid racism things are very painfull. But as far as I know, in Europe you can present complaints and quite often officers and members of staff who did not behave properly will get some tough times. And that is the huge difference between Europe and Africa. Nowadays in Europe, although these events still happen, things are rapidly changing and people are getting more careful and citizens rights deserve quite a lot of respect. I think the EU and local governments are working on this.
And that is civilization, however it might be difficult to accept...

VERONICA BENESI said...

Meu Deus, MAna, isso foi uma Odisséia!!... Mas, se isto lhe dá algum conforto, meu marido, que viaja muito, também já passou por problemas bem parecidos algumas vezes. I'm very sorry, it is all that I can say...
Um xi-coração MAna

Koluki said...

Obrigada Veronica e um abraco solidario ao seu marido.
Nao se preocupe que o pior ja' passou... como tambem dizemos, estou pronta pra outra!
Bjs

Koluki said...

Calcinhas,

It's a given that rules and regulations in the EU are better and more efficiently enforced than in Africa. However, for all that efficiency, you would be surprised at how frequently rules are violated there and regulations simply overlooked.
In that particular case at Gatwick, the only difference was that in Mombasa I had material proof of the damage, whereas in London I couldn't produce any evidence of the moral damages inflicted upon me... The rest was 'igualito como en Cuba': collusion, lies and everything else...
The other point I wanted to make is that, as I mentioned in the post, this bag has been travelling for years in various African countries (including Angola - where once it also didn't show up at my arrival in Luanda, but came on a later flight and the procedure at the airport was exactly the same as at the CT airport, except that they didn't send it to me by courier, I had to collect it myself) and this was the first time something like this happenned!
But, sure, we still have a long way to go towards improving our behavioural practices in general and in customer services in particular, everywhere in Africa - which is not to mean that "there is no civilization in the continent", at least in my perspective.

Anyway, thanks a lot for your contributions.

Diasporense said...

What a shame.
Normally we keep silent about these things and silence will not get us anywhere.
So, good on you and good luck on your travels!

BRE said...

Finally got the opportunity to pay you a visit since your arrival in Cape Town. Quite a story about your 'old Lady Burberry' and the service crew at Kenyan Airways. It's enough to make me avoid the airline KA like the plague. Next time you have to travel to Mombassa from Cape Town take the boat (a passing cruiseliner); it is much less hassle than Kenyan Airways, cheaper (measured in how much of your valuable time was wasted with these idiots), and a helluva lot more scenic.

Welcome home Koluki (well, it ain't exactly home but you know what I mean).

BTW: The New York Times has an excellent article this week about the beauty of Cape Town. Checkout the Travel Section at the NY Times for the lowdown. Adios!

P.S. I'm working on a post about economic historians and economists i.e. Niall Ferguson, Nouriel Roubini, and Dambisa Moyo. Don't miss it!

Koluki said...

Hi BRE. Good to hear from you.
You know what I was told every time I mentioned my plans to do a cruise like that? That's for old people!
But I guess this time KA made me old(er) enough to follow your advice. And you'll be welcome to join.
I'll look for the NYT and certainly WILL NOT MISS your post on "my colleagues"!

Adios Cumpadre!