A couple days ago, I was stopped at the international arrival in Luanda (my first stop before coming to Windhoek, Namibia). The officer flipped through my passport, looked at me, and asked for a transit visa. Of course they would ask me for a visa. It is always the problem with the visa! I stayed calm and told him that Emirates (my airline company) said no transit visa was required of me if I went through Luanda. Well originally I had planned to fly through Johannesburg to Namibia, but I was informed right before boarding that I needed a visa to Johannesburg. So the staff at Emirates immediately switched me onto a different flight transiting through Luanda instead because then I wouldn’t need a transit visa. But there I was, sitting at the entrance of the Passport Check in Luanda and waiting to hear back from the officers about what they wanted to do with me. An hour had passed, all I could see was staff members gathering together and chatting loudly in the hallway. They didn’t seem to be concerned about my situation at all…
Though I was not waiting alone. I met a girl named Reeha who could call me Dada (meaning sister in her language) and laughed at the funny faces I made to her; and I met a Chinese guy who was stopped because he didn’t fulfill his business visa requirements. After a short while, the Chinese guy left; then the little girl left with her parents as well. I was still waiting. I was the only one who was still waiting. But no one had come and said anything to me.
Finally a guy came to me. From his sweater and suit pants, I could tell that he was one of the staff. He walked over to where I was sitting and asked whether or not I could speak English. I thought he was giving me back my passport. But he just asked me some random questions that had nothing to do with my situation. Although, I appreciated the fact that he came over and chatted with me. It brightened me up a little when I heard him saying that I could speak good English and it sounded very understandable to him. If you don’t know me, I can tell you now that I was very flattered by his compliments and stopped complaining immediately. I shared with him that I was going to Namibia to make a documentary with some faculty members and colleagues from my school. He was surprised that I was entering Africa to make a film at the age of 21. He ended our conversation with a laughter and a simple sentence “you are still a child.” He had to go back to work. And I still had to wait.
When I got to the point where I was that I had to sleep in public. It was my first time sleeping on a bench in the airport so I felt a little cautious about it, but I was glad that it didn’t turn out to be a horrific experience. I did, however, wake up from a neck pain for not sleeping in a proper position. When I checked the clock, it was only 9 p.m. So I arrived at 3 p.m., checked in at 3:30 p.m., was stopped by the check-in at around 3:45 p.m., waited for 2+ hours, fell asleep at 6 p.m., and I only slept for 3 hours. My connecting flight to Namibia was not leaving until the next day at 9:45 a.m., which meant that I still needed to wait for 12+ hours in Luanda’s airport. What an adventure I said to myself, and most of it was just waiting and finding things to do while my body was screaming for a nice bed to sleep in.
After counting the time and realizing that I still had a lot of time to kill at the airport, I decided to make a trip to the bathroom. When I returned, there were two staff members sitting by my spot. I thought they had good news for me at first, but then I figured out that they just wanted to chat. They started talking to me in broken English and being very curious about whether or not I was married. I was surprised that I almost got proposed by one. I wasn’t feeling unsafe, but I was shocked because I had never had to deal with a single enthusiastic African man who showed great interest in marrying me, even when he could hardly communicate with me. I didn’t think he was serious, so I just laughed and avoided the marriage topic that was brought up.
Then they left, it was only 11 p.m. I couldn’t be more creative besides sitting there and finding things to do. But my concentration level was poor due to the lack of sleep. I meant to stay awake and be productive to get some readings done, but the hours passed with a terrible slowness. Eventually I waited until 8 a.m. in the morning, but I just forgot how I managed it.
When it was 8am, a new face found me and took me to get my boarding pass. He also handed back my passport, which was the moment when I knew I was finally free. Knowing that I would soon fly to Namibia excited me. But then I was disappointed one last time before I could leave Luanda because the flight was delayed for an hour!
In order to not get bored and fall sleep again, I started doing some people-watching. From what I had heard from Jan, a friend of ours who lives in Africa, all I could see was African women whose hair was elegantly braided and also men in suit jacket, nicely fitting jeans, and polished shoes; even if it was in an airport. It was interesting for me to see how people lived differently in another part of the world, under cultures that were distinct from what I had grew accustomed to in the U.S.
The airplane that was taking me to my final destination, Windhoek, Namibia, arrived after about an hour. I was glad that the extremely long layover in Luanda was coming to an end, but what had just begun that I felt most excited about, was the 3-week adventure I would have in Namibia.
It is about seeing; it is about learning; and it is about growing.