Okay, so boom.
Our group wakes up early to head to Wilson Airport in Nairobi just to get there and realize it was the WRONG airport (long story). Anywhoo. . . Our driver goes to exit the airport when a guard stops us and in Swahili says something like “pull over.”
Let me back up and say security is HUGE in Kenya. Everywhere you go, there is a security check – even to get in the parking lot of large grocery stores chains!
So in an attempt to get us to the correct airport to make our flight to Mombasa on time, our driver David keeps driving. As we make a U-Turn to head towards the airport, out of nowhere the SAME security officer that asked us to pull over (who also checked us in so he had no more business with us) jumps in front of our moving vehicle! My initial thought was, “Oh sh**. He’s about to shoot us.” I promise it was a scene from a movie. He then struts with his chest puffed out to the passenger side of our van, tells my friend’s dad to get out and sit in the back of the van, then he jumps in the passenger seat, proceeds to curse out our driver David, and tells him that he is arrogant, does not respect the law, and will be charged! Can you imagine the shock?! Seriously, I thought I was a cross between the Twilight Zone and a terrible Kenyan movie.
So our driver David maneuvers back into the airport gates and pulls over. That’s when it got so TREAL (too real). David and the officers are shouting back and forth in Swahili. Quickly, four of the six passengers (including myself) realize 1) we are going to be late for our flight if they arrest David 2) the officer is trying to get a bribe from us 3) Fxck that – we ain’t doing it.
Then we began shouting with the officers about how this is BS; we are going to be late, and this still some mess. Now David is trying to calm down his irate, American passengers who cannot keep our mouths shut and trying to keep his self from being arrested. The officers then make us all walk over to the police station. Now we are thinking– oh hell, “we going to jail Nah!” And still, emotions are high, and we are pissed. “Why are we here?!”, “We are going to miss our fight for this mess!”, “You cannot ‘charge’ people for being ‘arrogant and disrespectful!”, “Who’s the boss ‘round here?!” A few other choice words were thrown in there as well.
THEN the Big Boss comes out – he is enormous, dark, and squared up. He proceeds to say in his thick, burly Kenyan accent, “Everyone calm down. You will make your flight on time. With all this commotion, we will charge everyone.” Silence. Aint NOBODY, and I do mean NOBODY trying to go to Kenyan jail. I know I am not cut out for that life.
After calming down and attempting to have a “civilized” dialogue, we realize the officers were trying to get us to say that we paid our driver already, so they could, in turn, take his money, since we were not going to give them bribe money. Once we mentioned alerting the US Embassy, the tone shifted. After switching up the various scenarios and stories of what our driver would be charged with, and taking his ID, they let us go. And yes, they took his ID and allowed us to get back in the van with him. So they charged him for being “rude and arrogant” but let him drive illegally without identification – because that makes sense, right?! Wrong. Whatever.
Needless to say, thankfully, we make it to our flight within 10 minutes of the gates closing!
The Lesson Here: When traveling, be aware of the political and social climate of the country. Many African countries are known for corruption that everyday citizens can witness and experience first hand.
Before people jump down my throat, let me preface and say that I believe corruption is abundant in most countries, especially in the United States; however, it is not something we blatantly witness firsthand and often. It is very uncommon to have to bribe anyone to let you enter/exit an airport.
With this, be very careful and remain calm in situations, which may involve the law or justice systems. Do not, like us, act like you have no sense and carry on like you can do anything. If you can, do not give bribe money. Lastly, if you have to, pull the “I am alerting the Embassy on ya” card. It seemed to have worked for us!
Anything like this ever happened to you on a trip? Nearly being arrested or being accused of some foolishness?!
Until then. . . Journey on!