Trapped in Tripoli

Ever seen the movie, The Terminal? Welcome...

There’s nothing like having our own effective airline — and getting our acts together in other areas of existence in Nigeria. I am writing this at breakfast, in the waiting lounge of the Tripoli International Airport — having made a hurried decision to fly Afriqiyah airlines to Geneva for the 3rd PrepCom.

My first lesson from this experience is never to accept the easiest solution when it presents itself. Late preparations meant myself and my colleague had to visit the Swiss embassy on Tuesday September 20, and that in itself is a story for another day — how Nigerians are often subjected to often-inhuman conditions at embassies. Well, it would be good to state here that I met the gentleman in the consular officer on that day as he gracefully agreed to approve a colleague’s visa and print within 10 minutes (mine was approved in 24 hours noting frequency of travel but he had earlier rejected my colleagues application but trust the New Nigerian in me not to be quiet).

Getting the visa on Tuesday meant there was no room for transit visas (which would take another 72 hours from the Thursday I was with the travel agent). So, the only options were 2 African airlines — but one was outrageous and had the wrong travel-times. The other, which we chose, had not-too-good travel dates, but was a better option of the two. But there was a clause — some 25-our wait in Tripoli before continuing to Geneva. Now, that would have been a great thing since the usual experience is that the airline would lodge us, or at least we would have the choice of lodging at a place of choice before coming back to join the flight. To make the story much better, a gentleman at the airline’s office (at the airport) said the bookings were wrong and that the flight would leave for Geneva (from Tripoli) in less than 3 hours.

Off we went.. great flight, with less than 40 people in the entire aircraft. I had 3 seats to myself when the “Fasten Seat Belt” lights were off, and my colleague had 3 too 😉 I could have had the entire roww, but for the beautiful hostesses that were always criss-crossing that region of the aircraft. We arrived Tripoli and the plot began…

First, it was the interesting episode of some smart-looking forrensic-equipment-bearing immigration officials looking into passport and visa pages with what looked like microscopes 🙂 Each person’s passport was scrutinized with great care, since we were all Nigerians (as I was later to discover). About 3 young people (a lady and 2 guys) were accused of either possessing “fake” passports or invalid visas… and as I write this, they are awaiting the actualisation of the deportatation threat (with their passports already seized, and breakfast served to them). Then, I came face to face with the reality of being a Nigerian in Tripoli. We would have been given accommodation but for the fact that we were Nigerians (Ghanaians and Ethiopians are also guilty for being nationals of their countries as far as Libya is concerned).

After a few consultations with the manager and other immigration officials, we were given the option of paying for transit visas — and being responsible for our own accommodation, feeding and transportation. Or another option of staying at the waiting lounge for the next 24 hours and being treated as “Economy VIPs” — breakfast, lunch, dinner and some form of warmth in the evening all promised. Now, talk about being stranded… I moved on to the bank and asked to cash out their local currency from my TCs, and then the shock — they wouldn’t take TCs, not even in any other bank. Could that be true, or is it another, “don’t trust Nigerians, Ethiopians and Ghanaians” experience? As I write this, we’re trying to see there’s any option out of staying here for 24 hours but only time can tell…

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