Tuesday, October 25, 2011


By Ochieng' Ogodo

The Kenya airways steel bird touched down at the Senou International Airport in Bamako, Mali, almost exactly at the appointed time, 12.45 hr on October 3, 2011. We disembarked and headed straight  to the arrival lounge. According to my original flight schedule, I was to have a six-hour hold on here waiting for connection to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, my final destination in this trip.
Immediately we reached the immigration desk, in the arrival lounge, I realised I had problem, I was unable to communicate easily. As we cruised through the sky, clouds seemingly in a mad race below us, with flight KQ 512 making steady move to West Africa, this had not occurred to me, but it was a reality that I hade to face.
Senou Airport, Bamako
The mean looking police office took my passport, flipped through it and with a wave of his right hand, he beckoned me to his office. 

He fished out a piece of white long rectangular paper with the government insignia on it and moved it across the table towards me. Obediently, I picked it and started filling up the dotted lines beginning with nom (name). The normal official requirement took me about five minutes, after which I gently pushed it back to him. I had missed out on two important areas, date of travel and the name of my professional body, which he quickly brought to my attention. Promptly I did the necessary.
He picked up the passport again and stamped it, meaning I had been granted transit visa. As they do it here, that required I get out of the airport before I could come in again through the departures gate.  It was the first airport personnel I met here that unknowingly gave me a tip that English was not their lingua franca. “Excuse me sir, I am on transit to Ouagadougou and would like to know where to move from here,” I inquired.
He answered, or appeared to have done so but in French. I got lost. It was after this that I decided to approach the police officer who gave me the transit visa. But, other than issuance of the transit visa to me, the officer was not of much help more than that.  I asked him what to do next and he answered back in French. I gathered myself out of the armless chair that was infront of his desk and slowly moved away. I was thinking of what to do next, who to ask what a transit passenger should do, where to get the necessary information.  
Luckily I heard a lean built man of medium height utter some words in English, disjointed though, to another passenger who was facing the same fate. I decided he must be my help. My many years of travels across the globe have taught me not to waste a chance.
“Excuse me sir, I ventured. He stopped and bent over his head towards me.  I explained myself.
He beckoned a dishelved short young man and after conversing with him in French, I was handed over to him. I wanted to know how to move. There was still much time as I believed we were going to depart Senou at 17.50 hrs to arrive in Ouagadougou at 19.10 hrs. The young man went to the baggage belt pointing at each and every luggage hoping for a nod from me.
From Nairobi, I had checked my luggage and retrieval was at the final destination, Ouagadougou airport. Using signs, I told him I can only get my suitcase in Burkina Faso.  With a bright smile he waved me to follow him, which I did promptly. Up to this time I still thought he was an employee of Mali’s airports authority. 
In Ouagadougou
At Senou airport, those on transit are granted transit and must come out through the arrivals exit before you could be allowed into the departure lounge. It is not like other airports I have been to where you are absolutely not expected to get out of the airport.
My guide took me to the transfers’ information desk, just outside the departure gate. I made inquiry and a young medium built lady of chocolate complexion told me the flight had been rescheduled and instead of leaving the airport at 17.50, the flight had been rescheduled to depart airport for Ouagadougou 9.30. So, my waiting hours was extended.
I decided to go and rest on a steel chair, which was close by. It was now time to disengage myself form the guy. As I thanked him, he reluctantly looked at me, and in French said something to the effect that I should pay him.
In airports I have been to, Oliver Tambo, Bole, Mount Kilimanjaro, Heathrow, Schiphol, Atartuk, Indhira Gandhi, Ohare, Dallas, Harare, Dubai, Frankfurt, such information is never paid for and I was not going have an exception here.
Grumbling he went away. I learnt that at this airport, there are many brokers who earn undeserved money from unsuspecting travelers.
I arrived at Ouagadougou airport at about 11 PM for the Africa Region Meeting on RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands that was to commence on October 4 at Splendid Hotel. But one thing had happened, my suitcase was left behind and the next four days I had to struggle to have it with me. Again, here language was an impediment in some of the things that I wanted to do. French is the official language for instructions.
Infront of Splendid Hotel, Ouagadougou
But Ouagadougou was a fine place to be in; generally a lovely and hospitable that would charm you with some rare honest and a somewhat slow and relaxed life you would not encounter in most places you visit.
On October 8, about 8.30 A.M I had to leave for Accra on my way back home and after about twelve hours in Ghana, I was airborne heading to Nairobi, the place I know and understands most, so I believe.