I actually enjoy traveling to Nigeria. My work takes me there from time to time and I love the people that live there. There is such an entrepreneurial spirit. Lagos can only be described as chaotic with lots of people crammed into a city all trying to get somewhere with ineffective governance at best.
My usual route is Salt Lake City to Atlanta to Lagos. I’ve traveled it so many times that the 12-hour flight from Atlanta to Lagos doesn’t even phase me anymore.
This particular trip was in the midst of the Ebola breakout and to say my family was concerned for my well-being was an understatement.
I was checking the Delta app and saw that there were at least 6 business class seats open. I,therefore, decided to try and get an upgrade. I approached the desk and sad to the agent “I was wondering if it’s possible to get an upgrade for a Platinum Skymiles number?”. The agent scanned me up and down, lowered her head looking at the screen and started typing. All of a sudden the ticket printed and she handed the business class upgrade to me. I thanked her profusely and headed over to the boarding area.
This was the first time I had traveled in business class on this flight. It was so nice to be able to stretch out and I slept for at least 6 hours on the flight. When I woke up, I had this sudden feeling of having forgotten something.
I started to think through all of the things I usually pack. Suit, tie, shoes, belt, etc. I then realized that I had forgotten to put my yellow fever card in my bag. I had this immediate sense of panic. This was in the midst of one of the worst outbreaks in a long time, the Ebola crisis.
I postulated that I could have my wife take a picture of the yellow fever card and show it to the agent. Surely I could demonstrate that I had been to Nigeria numerous times and here was the proof of my yellow fever vaccination.
The plane landed and I immediately called my wife and told her where my yellow fever card was. I asked her to send over a picture of it which she did.
I disembarked from the plane into the immigration queue. It was different this time as they were checking the temperature of every single passenger. My turn came up and I passed the screening.
I looked around and didn’t see the usual folks asking for the yellow fever cards. Perhaps I had been fortunate?
I started to walk past the check area when I heard the voice, “Sir – may I see your yellow fever card?”. I looked up and there was an officer standing to the right of me. I walked over and started to explain how I had forgotten my card but it was okay because I had a picture of it on my phone. I pulled out my phone and tried to show the images to him.
He was unimpressed. “I need to see your yellow fever card”.
I launched into another explanation as to how he could see all of the stamps in my passport from all of the trips to Nigeria and how they were after my yellow fever vaccination so surely that was proof that I owned the card?
“If you don’t have your card, we’re going to have to put you on a plane and send you back to the United States”.
I was getting really anxious now – I had time-sensitive meetings setup and I really couldn’t afford to be sent back right now.
For some reason, though, I could sense that he really wasn’t going to send me back on a plane. It was just an empty threat and I realized that I was going to have to do what I absolutely loathe.
“Officer, I was wondering if it’s possible to make a donation due to my lack of remembering my yellow fever card.”
His demeanor immediately changed. He looked around briefly and asked me to follow him. We walked over to the side and sat down at his desk.
In a lowered voice he said, “Sir, it will cost you 70 pounds.”
70 pounds? There is no way I am paying that much. Also, why did he think I was from England?
I answered. “Officer, I don’t have any British pounds with me but I would be more than happy to pay a donation of $40.”
“Sir, it will take at least $80.” “We will have to put you back on the plane!” he said without no determination.
I lied. “Officer, I don’t have that much. I am happy to donate $40.”
He looked at me again realizing that I wasn’t going to budge. “Hand it to me under the desk.”
I took out my wallet under the desk, grabbed 2 $20s and handed it to him under the desk thinking that this doesn’t really happen in real life – under the desk?
He took the money, crammed it in his pocket, pulled out some official looking forms, began to scribble and stamped it numerous times with various things. He handed it to me and motioned towards the passport control.
I thanked him and grabbed the paper and headed to the passport control. I was relieved but also crestfallen that I had forgotten my form and had to feed the corruption that is prevalent throughout the country.
I made it through the passport control and to the baggage pickup area. I grabbed my bags and was stopped three times by people “wanting to check my papers”. They whisked me to the side, opened my suitcase, and pointed to various items demanding to see my paperwork on these items and wanting money. I had played this game many times and firmly told them no. They eventually zipped up my bags and sent me on my way into the chaotic arrival hall of Murtala Muhammed Airport.