Hoops to Harvest
Jumping hoops. Sounds like a childhood game and it is. However, as we grow older, we realize how difficult some of these items we considered fun are. We grow progressively unwilling to take them on. Take for example the fun of walking in the rain, wading in puddles of water knee high, sliding down a hill on a sled whose entirety is a piece of an old plastic bucket. Or just running. Indeed, jumping hoops is not fun. Even less so when when stated metaphorically. However, this was my story in attending the Harvest 2019 event in Kampala Uganda.
The plan for the September event was communicated to us in January 2019 at the start of the inaugural fearless bootcamp, of the itself recently founded Fearless Institute. The idea was that we would all fly return to Uganda for the event and we were all to take leave on time. However, I was jobless at the time and therefore it didn’t matter so much.
God’s favour, as always, was upon me and so it came to pass that I got a replacement job for the one I had lost in March of 2019. However, it meant that I moved to Bungoma. Bungoma is 42km from the border to Uganda. I immediately sought an exemption from the flights plan. I asked to go by bus as it made no sense that I had to travel 420 km East to Nairobi while Kampala was just over 200km West. At the back of my mind I was also celebrating a saving on the cost of travel that had been made mandatory for all the class participants. My ever so reasonable and understanding facilitators were happy to grant me the exemption. So when my colleagues were making early return flight bookings for $240, I was nonchalantly planning my $25 return trip by bus.
The plans of man are many but the almighty God orders our steps. He spots our devious schemes before they come to our sometimes mischievous hearts. So it came to pass that one week to the planned date, I got informed of the requirement to travel to Nairobi for a work-meeting on the day preceding the event. Great! The whole event was in jeopardy. I could easily miss the fearless event itself. The only way I could make the trip was by flight out of Nairobi. There was good and bad news. The good news was that there was still space available on the flight. The bad news was that booking last minute painful financially. I was paying for a one way ticket almost the entire amount it cost my colleagues for a return flight. So much for my cost saving! Still, I was glad that things worked out in way that I would meet the class requirements.
A reasonable schedule for traveling to Nairobi by bus for official meetings would require that I travel the preceding day, attend the all day meeting on the material day then travel back to Bungoma the following day. However, I had set myself an unhealthy precedent of working the preceding day in Bungoma, traveling at night, doing the full day meetings in Nairobi, then traveling back to Bungoma at night by bus, in time for work the following morning. Unfortunately after doing this a few times, it became an expectation. Those who know me also know where I place integrity. Regardless of the expectation, if I were to travel judiciously and safely, I could choose to travel back to Bungoma on Friday or travel Thursday night and still be off the entire morning after travelling eight hours. Whereas it was true that going to work in the morning after traveling overnight was always a personal choice and my extra mile. I wasn’t travelling by bus to Bungoma in this instance. I was flying to Kampala. I therefore felt compelled to request leave for the day. Never mind that it was at the last minute. I trusted that it would be accepted. It’s a one day leave request for a day that I wouldn’t necessarily be at work except for my diligence. That notwithstanding, my new boss said no. The reasons are complicated. There was nothing I could do to get him to accept my leave request.
On one weekend prior to this trip, I had crossed over into Uganda at the Malaba border crossing. It was the easiest thing in the world (I later realized, putting two and two together as you will see from my third crossing that it was because I had accepted the services of a “guide” at the crossing). I got an interstate pass stamped and there was no talk of any form of vaccines. I was advised that I would require my original logbook and a COMESA vehicle insurance, if ever I wanted to go for longer than a day. That was it!
Thus you can guess my shock when I arrived only to discover that I was required to have my yellow fever card. Well, I prayed and pleaded, pulling my “I’m one of you (read doctor)” card and they allowed me through.
And so I arrived at Entebbe, hiked a lift to Kampala, and found a bus to Bungoma leaving at 11pm. The following morning I was at work. Worked as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, the only bust Kampala was not until the following day at 3.00am. At about 4.00am, we were at the Malaba border crossing. I went to the immigration desk.
“The interstate passes are over. You have to go print a temporary passport,” said the immigration officer.
“Where can I do this,” I asked.
“You take a boda boda back to the Kenyan side and you’ll get a cyber. They are open.”
“Ok thank you.”
As I walked out, I run into a few of the “guides.”
“Give us two hundred we get you the pass.”
“But he has just said they are finished?”
“We know. That’s what they say, but if you give us two hundred, we’ll get it for you.”
And true to his words, other passengers were there receiving the interstate passes from them for two hundred. And you could see the young men go into the immigration officer’s booth, hand him something, and receive something in return, and they continued to serve the people.
I went back to the officer.
“Kindly give me an interstate pass.”
“I have told you I don’t have any! Don’t you understand?”
“Then where are all these boys getting theirs from? They’ve asked me to pay two hundred to get one.”
“I don’t know where they are getting them from. If they have told you to pay them any money, they are trying to con you. You are not required to pay anything.”
And even as we had this conversation, the boys kept coming but this time, he told them that he didn’t have anything for them. They looked at me puzzled at the officer’s answer then walked away. This kept happening with different boys. And they came to me urging me to go and get a temporary passport to “not waste my time and money” by missing the bus. To cut the long story short, the officer remained adamant that he didn’t have any. I refused to go pay for a temporary passport and I refused to pay the boys for the interstate pass. Consequently, my bus left. I gave them my blessing as I couldn’t keep all the passengers there. I tweeted and tagged the immigration department. I don’t know whether such tweets do anything but at 8.00am as the shifts changed, a new officer came with a new set of interstate passes from the Kenyan office and gave me one. It’s a free document to which all Kenyan citizens are entitled. This time there was no yellow fever card requirement. Perhaps that is for flying passengers who are more likely to afford paying about 4,000 Kes should they not have their cards.
I eventually got to Kampala at 2.00pm and of the two day event, I got the last session and the awards. I made it, but had to jump through quite the hoops. Should I have paid the two hundred? It certainly cost my much more than that to take another bus to Kampala, it cost me several hours, and I missed the meat of the event. For me that answer is a clear no. In any case, I am grateful for the experience. It is easy for us in Nairobi or in privileged positions to be blind and oblivious to the suffering of our fellow citizens in other areas. I did call a friend at EACC to find a way to report formally but never quite did. However, as I write this, I realize that it is time to revisit this and so I will share this experience formally with the Ministry of interior, department of immigration and see what the response will be.
All in all, it was quite the experience.