There is nothing worse than not being allowed to board your plane in Dubai. Unless of course you are a young black woman, with dreadlocks, who talks back, not being allowed to board your plane in patriarchal Dubai.
It was the December of 2007, I had just completed my Honours. For once I had opted not to spend Christmas in Dublin with my family but to stay in Port Elizabeth, which was now empty after the mass annual student exodus. By Christmas morning, it seemed I had made the right decision, my marinated lamb was ready to be made and I was enjoying the vacant student digs.
As I roasted my lamb, a hideous odour filled my house. I gagged as I realized that my Christmas meal was off. I wept miserably as I ate the almost mouldy bread and leftover mince I had found hidden at the back of my fridge. I called my mother and begged her to rescue me from my self-imposed exile. She somehow managed to path my way to her. Unfortunately I had the travel itinerary from hell, a bus trip to Cape Town, flight to Dubai, another to London, finally landing in Dublin three days later.
I took the morning Intercape bus and arrived in sunny Cape Town. The 14 hour bus ride was not as horrible as I had expected. Seizing the moment, the taxi driver charged me a whopping R300 for a ride to the airport that I was certain was worth R140. My 10 hour flight to Dubai allowed me to catch up on some needed sleep, I arrived at the airport awake albeit a bit grumpy.
After a four-hour layover, it was finally time to board. Scrambling over the multitude of bodies lying on the airport floor; I eagerly walked up to my boarding gate. A very short man with his forehead twisted into a scowl examined my boarding pass and passport, looking at me skeptically. “Where are you going?” he asked. “Dublin” I replied. “Why so many stops?” he asked. I explained that I got the cheapest available tickets. I was further interrogated on how I had bought the tickets, what my parents did and a whole lot of other irrelevant questions and this was before Nobanda Nolubabalo and others looking like me played drug mules in the global playground.
He finished his interrogation by telling me that nonetheless they had to call Heathrow to inform them that a Non-EU person was on the plane. I would therefore not be allowed on the plane because of the late notice.
Exasperated I explained I had been to London many times before as could be illustrated by the various official stamps in my passport and I had never heard of such a ridiculous rule. I was a mess of anger and nervous energy and when he asked me why I was shaking, it took all I had to contain my anger. He told me that I would have to fly via Paris. As a favour to me, they would kindly take my bags off the plane. My 23 year old self did not know how to handle the situation so I took a seat near the gate, close to tears. I watched painfully as the rest of the passengers sauntered through the gate. My phone was dead and I did not want to offset ripples of panic.
After the last person went through the gate I gingerly approached the gate again. I asked the man if I could board and he politely told me to go away as he rolled his eyes. A colleague of his, hearing my frustration approached us and asked me what was going on. I tearfully explained my situation to him.
The reasonable colleague grabbed and scrutinized my documents. He angrily snapped at the short man and apologized to me, saying I could board as he processed my details. The short man protested but was chased away by the reasonable colleague who I informed I could not board yet as they had removed my bags from the plane. A message was sent out, a search for my bags started. After an hour and after all the bags were hauled out of the plane, my luggage was found untouched in the plane, not as the short man had promised. I dodged the dagger stares I got from the aggravated passengers when I was finally allowed in the plane, hoping that Heathrow would be kinder to me.