October soon came around and I was jetting off from Heathrow Airport on a Thursday afternoon. The 15 hour plane ride was easy. Flying solo I must say is rather luxurious. You have no siblings to argue with, you can drink as much vodka and pineapple juice as you desire (it definitely helps you to sleep!) and you essentially can do what you want, when you want at your own pace.
Arriving in Kilimanjaro airport however was tricky. That is when it hits you. Shit. I really am in Africa and I really have no clue where to go. Before I left I decided I didn’t want to bring my UK phone. Firstly I did not want to risk a brand new iPhone getting stolen through sheer carelessness but secondly, and most importantly, this trip was not about being glued to technology nor checking my emails every 10 minutes, it was about experiencing a foreign culture whole-heartedly. However, for the first few minutes in the arrivals lounge all I wanted to do was call home and ask for help.
Yellow Fever Certificate Check
The first obstacle I tacked was the Yellow Fever Certificate Check. I had been advised by WHO (World Health Organisation) that the YFC is not needed upon entry in Tanzania (and hey,don’t worry, it still isn’t unless you are travelling via a High Risk Yellow Fever country). The sheer panic and visualization of being deported straight back to the UK hits you before you have even stepped out onto true Tanzania soil and the overwhelming need to phone home is sickening. But none the less, the dread soon subsides as you mention that you came from England and you are welcomed straight through with a warm smile and a quick hello.
The dreaded Visa Form
The next obstacle is the visa form. The last thing I really wanted to do after a 15 hour flight was use my brain to attempt to remember the full address of where I was staying (not only til later did I realise that in Tanzania you don’t have addresses like we do in the Western World: no road names, no post codes only the odd PO Box that is rarely accessed due to corrupt Post Office workers). I filled it out as best as I could, searching for my Project Coordinator who was supposedly meeting me within the airport. No sign of him after a half an hour wait. Panic set in. Oh God I am stranded. I proceeded to the Visa desk, handed over the $50 and waited. I was previously informed to wait until my coordinator was at the airport to sort out visas, permits, you name it. Nobody had thought to tell me that a CTA permit is not completed in the airport and that is done a few days after you’re settled into your accommodation.
Don’t hand your passport over they say!
In my sheer state of distress, I proceeded to ask the immigration officer if I could check outside the front of the airport to see if I could locate Peter. In my mind, casually breezing through with my passport and waltzing back again to go through immigration seemed totally plausible. Nuh uh. I was advised to hand over my passport, go and check on the outside situation them come back through to collect it again. My mother’s voice was screaming in my ear, whatever you do don’t hand over your passport. Don’t. Jessica, I said DON’T. Well I did anyway, and to my relief I soon found this so called Peter fellow and quickly advised him I would be back with passport and luggage in my hands. Upon returning to the arrivals lounge, Mr immigration man had vanished. Oh he had gone. I started to really panic. Cursing under my breath, calling myself every name under the sun, almost in tears I was frantically searching. I asked the odd member of staff and they had no clue who I was talking about. That’s when I said it: “Gee Jess, you haven’t even been in Tanzania 5 minutes and you’ve already lost your most important possession”. But, for some reason, logical thinking kicked in and I realised that I had to man up and sort it out. I luckily looked up to see the ‘Immigration Office’ sign before me and to my surprise, my immigration friend sat at his desk. I was greeted with a warm hello and my passport was handed back to me with no fuss at all. Furthermore, breezing through immigration to collect my luggage seemed like a dream and I was soon out in the open to begin my one hour journey to Moshi.