The manual system

The Burundi airport system has a long way to go. Having done my check-in online I thought I’d be good but I hadn’t printed my boarding passes, only had them on my phone.  I learned this doesn’t count when the electronic system goes out and the manual system kicks in. There was this familiar phrase, ‘the system is down.’

A lot of people were busy running hither and thither, with little progress in the otherwise short line in front of the check in counter.  The Burundi Air guy in charge of the issuing of hand-written boarding passes did not have a discernible routine to deal with the circumstance (which he told me is common). Sometimes he would take a passport and disappear to some official upstairs as he later explained, sometimes he would fill in the blank spaces on a boarding pass, and sometimes he would shake his head and pointed to place where people were waiting for god knows what. One distraught UN lady told me the (handwritten) dates on her boarding pass were all wrong, and her name only had a remote resemblance to her passport name. I saw her again in the plane where she was waiting for her assigned seat on a non-existing row.

There were the usual duplicate security checks, one around the corner of the other. At the first one I had to unpack my bag because they had found something metal: a small tea spoon. Over the years I have had to hand over scotch tape (Afghanistan), a small nail clipper (Rwanda) and now this. But when they realized it was a tea spoon and not a soup spoon, I was allowed to keep it; if it had been a soup spoon I would have had to hand it in. Imagine the havoc one could create with a soup spoon!

We left 30 minutes late, which was actually quite amazing, given the cumbersome manual check in processes. Our first stop was Goma on the far eastern edge of the DRC, bordering Rwanda. This is where I bought toothpaste nearly 3 decades ago for two and a half million Zaires. The flight lasted all of 30 minutes flight and then required an hour for refueling and a crew change as the plane had come from someplace else before picking me up in Bujumbura. Then onwards to Addis.

In front of me was a Sikh family with two year old twins who would cry at the drop of a hat, in synchronized high pitched wails. Next to me was a young man reading his bible.  We started to talk. It turned out his worked on a DAI project. He proudly mentioned that the CEO of DAI was a Christian.

‘Oh,” I said (naively), why is that so important? A mistake. He started to read me all sorts of verses from the bible that showed that only those who had found Jesus were saved. Here was absolute truth. For him the bible was the source of all knowing, all advice and all comfort. “What about the Sikhs in front of us,” I asked? “No, no one can be saved except those believing in Jesus,” was his startled response.

He cosied up to me, moving into my personal space, pointing at this and that Bible verse. He clearly knew his book. With little efforts he found all sorts of passages (mainly from John) which he thought would make me change my mind about why Christians were the chosen – at least those who had found Jesus.

When he showed me a passage about jews I got lost. He started to ramble and I decided it was time to extract myself from his bible-supported monologue. He didn’t give up so easily though and kept asking whether I had found or was searching for Jesus (in the latter case he could help me).  I said I was tired and pretended to take a nap.

It makes me consider the success of the early Christian missionaries in Africa. They produced the kind of results (sustainable, ownership) that we development workers can only dream of. I suspect one of the ingredients in their secret sauce was education.

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