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I Nearly Shut down Shanghai Airport and Other Annoying Mishaps

Popularity 1Viewed 2815 times 2015-8-21 22:26 |Personal category:This World|System category:Life| Shanghai, Ethiopia, Bright Mhango

Well, it was easy, first I had a big thick black coat, Black Timberland boots a chipped pair of jeans and I had a hairstyle like Mr. T. And I am African. Then my bag looked like a proper bomb in the scanner.

As required, I dropped my belt, coins, pen, boots into the security- check basket and I passed the scanner without any incident, but my three carry-on bags were not that lucky. The guy from behind the monitor issued one look at me and back to his screen and demanded that it be opened.

The lady attendant lept into action and was on me like an ant. They tore apart my baggage and scanned it piece by piece, turning it around, checking my face for some sort of reaction. I stood there cool and calm and stared at them at work respectfully.

First my power banks, being a field man and hiker, I bought five power banks and the attendant said the rules only allow one person to carry only two across the Chinese borders. I don’t know what rule this was, or why it is not on the Airport website, but I was made to choose only two, they confiscated the rest.

Then my batteries, I am a journalist. Blogger and I make short videos now and then, I had 4 cameras in the bag…one Nikon D70s, one Samsung Galaxy Camera, a small investigative hidden camera and a camcorder. For each of these cameras, I had a spare battery, some very rare and expensive. To the Chinese official, this did not register well, they said I can only travel with two, they confiscated the rest.

Then my fishing gear…. This metal is too sharp, that substance is suspicious, this cutter cannot pass. I kept pouring stuff into their confiscation box. Still kept cool.

Then my laptops, I had a Mac, and five other Windows based ones. Each one was nosed into, I had to switch on my own. I also bought phones for my people from home and they all were scanned and perfectly checked.

Thirty minutes, I spent at the security gate. The line was being held, my flight’s departure was fast impending. The only thing I worried about was the flight.

I caught my flight, as I sat I looked back at my ordeal. I was supposed to get angry or to protest. Why did they just take away my batteries? What harm can I possibly do with a couple of batteries on a plane?

The woman at the checkpoint asked if I had a relative in Shanghai to come pick up the batteries and power banks and stuff, and she pretended to get my details but she knew I had a one way ticket. I felt a surge of hatred but a beautiful flight attendant tapped my shoulder and offered me a really tasty snack.

It was only the beginning. My flight was to be delayed by four hours, right there on the runway…then after an 11 hour flight to Ethiopia, I missed my connection and had to sleep in a chilly hotel room and then get strip searched again and my bags taken apart again at Bole International Airport.

While at the hotel in Ethiopia, Debredamo, they call it, I asked one of the staffers if it was safe to go around the city. He issued one look at me and asked straight into my eyes if I wanted to get a prostitute. I stayed calm and calmly denied, told him all I wanted was to see the city.

Add in the Chinese woman i chatted with, she asked me if i also thought Ethiopian women were prettier than African women because their hair was straighter, skin fairer and their noses almost European... I avidly agreed with her, hiding the fact that I was offended on my my mother and sister's behalf. Some people really need to learn living in a multiracial world. 


Since our flights were delayed, the airline had to reschedule our missed connections, there was like eighty of us and they took all our passports, when they gave back our passports, the Chinese translator with the airline refused o give me back my passport, this was after looking at my face. He quizzed me, my birthday and if I was sure it was my passport. I took off my huge headphones and calmly answered his questions.

One the plane, I got lucky, I had the window seat…I walked up to my seat and there were the fattest Americans you can ask for sitting in the other two chairs. I do not have issues with overweight people, these guys were friendly and were going to my country to do missionary work. They asked for belt extenders because the normal belts are to short for their waistlines. I panicked.

I squeezed past them, got the window seat…but felt squeezed and I wanted to pee, but that meant asking the two huge buddies to stand up again. I felt bad, traumatized is the word. Had a nice conversation with one of the guys.

Rich white guy coming to teach some poor Africans about sanitation, he had notes on hos tablet on how to wash hands and treat dysentery. He said he was establishing a ministry in Malawi and he hoped to change souls. I did not tell him how I wrote about people like him in my thesis.

We had a rough landing, the plane dived too fast for most people, there were shrieks from the German woman in front of me, it was like watching porn where the girl is barely legal and the guy is too big.


The plane screeched into taxi mode, calmed down and a group of European missionaries from Germany clapped like a great show just concluded. They all wore blue shirts and I heard them telling someone that they were going to help build some school for some mission. I did not want to ask why a community needed people to fly from Germany to have some structure built for them. I am sure a single air ticket for each of the 20 or so volunteers could pay a hundred builders. But what do I know.

When I landed at my home airport, the airport staff was all smiles, the guy manning the customs was actually a playmate in college, I was given a VIP pass and outside the airport was this army of relatives waiting to pick me up.

Is a prophet not supposed to be respected abroad? I wondered as I uninstalled the VPNs that were part of my life in China, would my journey be smoother if I was in a suit and with a ‘clean’ haircut or if I was blue-eyed?  Would it be worse if I was Afghan? I will never know.

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)




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