So after the past few days I can now add to the ever growing list of things I never thought I would experience but thanks to Africa have……
Detained, imprisoned, and almost deported!!!
First let me say I am writing this listening to the waves crash on amazingly jet black smooth rocks just outside a quaint little house just outside Cape Town with our dear friends Tim and Chloe. We are safe and blessed and although 2 days late we arrived safely here and are enjoying this time more than I can express. I awoke this morning and had my first look at the ocean and tears just flowed because I am grateful in a new way for being here as a family.
It has been a long 3 days to be sure and here is the sorted tale. We traveled from our island to Dar and checked in and boarded the flight from Dar to Jo’burg.
the girls at the Dar airport before the drama began
The girls were too excited to sleep and we were decompressing from the last few weeks so we did not rest much either on the flight to South Africa. After arriving at around 1am in Jo’burg we followed the lines to immigration to have our passports stamped and our plan was to head to a cheap hotel for a few hours sleep and then catch our flight to Cape Town in the morning. The official read and scanned everything and then asked for our yellow fever vaccination cards. Our hearths sank as we specifically left them back at home because we were told all we needed to enter South Africa was our passports. We have lived in Africa long enough to know you don’t walk around with important documents and a tourist target on your back. Nor did the airline ever check for the vaccination cards when we checked in in Dar. We were then told to wait a minute and escorted to “Port Health” with another man from our flight that also did not have a card. We started asking questions and were told to just wait while they filled out paperwork. The other employee surfed facebook and laughed at us while we tried to explain that of course we have yellow fever because we live in Tanzania and have traveled to the US (and it is a requirement there). We asked if we could get re-vaccinated or send proof right then via a fax or scan of the originals. They flatly refused to even listen and said this is a new policy (about 6 months) because of the yellow fever outbreaks in several other African nations. After 20-30 minutes we were escorted up to the immigration office with 2 other guys; a Czech guy living in Tanzania and a guy from the Congo who was working in Chicago (small world eh?). They started filling out more paperwork and asked us just to sit in a room. Still no one was explaining what was happening to us and Jason and the other men were asked to sign a document that said he was an undesirable person. He refused to sign it as we had committed no crime! The portion stating we did not have a vaccination card was hand-written onto the document! It was super shady and we just knew something was not right. The woman then said they would be deporting us on the next flight back to Tanzania and that the decision was already made and we could do nothing to change it. It seriously was like a bad dream and no one would even listen to us. The girls were both crying and I was beginning to come unraveled at hearing that but tried to manage to get myself together and asked if they could get some water and use a bathroom as it was now well past 2 am. They sent the girls and I with a guard to another place in the airport and after using the bathroom I asked a guard there if we could get some water or if there was a place the girls could lay down since they were so exhausted. A man and a woman started yelling at me that I was not even supposed to be there yet and my paperwork had not arrived and that I would be immediately escorted back. I even said I have small children please understand they need sleep and water and she responded “I don’t care, everyone has small children!” I seriously could not believe we were being treated like criminals over a vaccination card. It was surreal and the girls and I just started praying while they took us back to Jason. He was still waiting and trying to reason that at least only he should be deported and then return with the cards so the girls and I would not have to board a plane again but instead we could be kept in custody until he returned. We also tried to explain how long we had saved for this trip and if they deported all of us we could not afford to return. Nothing seemed to matter to the people and after more paperwork and more vague answers we were escorted to a facility in the bowels of the airport where they detain and imprison people that are terrorist threats, break international law, or have fraudulent documents. Our Tanzanian phones did not work in South Africa as we planned to buy sim cards when we got into the shops at the airport- we never made it but in an amazing miracle the Czech guy with us spoke Kiswahili and called his girlfriend who said she would try to get a hold of Hans our team leader and at least let him know where we were and to contact the embassy. After patting me and the girls down and taking mugshots they confiscated all our belongings and told me to say goodbye to Jason as he would be locked up with the other men and the girls and I would be separated from him. We were then taken to a room that had a couple bunk beds and thankfully a bathroom. We had no access to our phones, watches, clothes in our luggage, toothbrushes, even pens! I only had 1 diaper left in my carry-on and they would not get me more or even bring the girls and I water even though Evy was crying for milk. They locked us in and turned off the lights from the outside of the room. It was terrible. Anni was scared and so we talked about what Silas and Paul did when they were in prison (a story we had just read a week ago during family time) and Anni said “They sang to God!” so that is just what we did until both girls fell asleep. We sang praises to God. And of course our reason for being jailed was quite different it nonetheless felt scary and horrible and completely out of our control. After the girls fell asleep I sat on the tile floor in the bathroom and cried for a long while. The girls did not sleep well but morning came and I had no idea what time it was as we had all our clocks taken away and there were no windows in the room. I tried to entertain them and they did put us in a “family room” which meant it a broken rocking horse and two kids chairs. But somehow the fish wearing shoes painted on the wall did not do much to make the situation seem better. Although let me say clearly if I had to chose an African nation to be jailed in it would for sure be South Africa! We were grateful for hot showers which are something we do not have at home so to pass time we took 3 showers that day. They let us out for food and although some other people refused to eat it we actually thought the pasta was yummy.
We were let out of our room and reunited with Jason who did not get a wink of sleep, being worried about what was happening to the girls and locked in with the loudest snorer he’s ever heard in his life! The people explained that we would be deported on the 11pm flight that night. We were beginning to lose hope that anything would work out and as the hours ticked away we knew we were missing our flight to Cape Town and our situation was not looking great. We prayed for favor in this craziness. God was amazing as the day crew brought new workers and one was Riaina; a mother of an 8 month old boy named Mohammed and she actually listened to us, gave us diapers, water, allowed Jason to join us in our room, cereal for the girls, and allowed us to talk to the embassy. The US embassy basically gave us a big ‘pole sana‘ and said they could not do anything; we were on our own. The Tanzania airline never came to see us or discuss our situation and we were told they rarely do help their passengers at all. We talked with Riaina and asked if we could give someone money to buy a South African phone line for our phone and call our island to see if someone could send the Yellow fever cards as that was our only hope of actually being released and able to stay for our holiday. Finally the manager agreed to allow a guard to escort Jason to buy a phone line and even let Anni and Evy watch a cartoon on his TV in the office. Jason spoke with Hans and vaguely and quickly explained where the cards were (hidden in our safe room deep under clothes and the room was locked and the key was somewhere in the kitchen in a drawer b/c we wanted to make if our house was broken into they were well hidden). It would be a miracle if they found them at all let alone got them on the few flights that day and the ONE flight arriving in Jo’burg before the deportation flight at 11pm. The manager also told us we had a right to speak to the airline since it was their fault and they are responsible for us. Our airline refused to come and never sent anyone to help us. The manager also said maybe we could convince a rep from Kenya Airways to come and if by chance we got a women named Dorcas she really cared and has a good relationship with Port Health and knows the procedures. He explained that even if our yellow fever cards arrived Port Health would probably still deny us entry to the country as they assume late cards are forged or faked. Yep, things just kept getting better!
But it was our only shot to not be deported, lose all our money saved for this trip, and end up back on our island with no family holiday. We prayed for Dorcas to walk through that door and about an hour she did. She said she would go try to help us and ask Port Health about accepting our cards if they did in fact make it on the flight arriving at 10:30pm. Amazingly Dorcas returned and reported that the people at Port Health agreed that if our cards made it before the 11pm flight and they were up to date we would be released. So we waited and waited.
That was a long day. We tried to entertain the girls, read, sleep but we never had any idea what was coming next, what time it was, or what would happen. We were wrecked. We were all lying down resting and Annikah said “Mama and Papa, jail is NOT my favorite place ever!” We all busted up laughing. True. So true. But seriously all we could do was pray. It was out of our hands completely and staying would require amazing favor and God intervening in a big way!
J at immigration before they confiscated our stuff
our girls finally at the hotel at 1am after our 24 hours stint in the clink
Anni & her new friend checking out the rocks in Cape Town today
happy & shiny me…I like the gorgeous coast in cape Town WAY better than the jail in Jo’burg!! A few days delayed but here is to a fabulous family holiday….as they say here “Cheers!”