Ebola prevention, a genuine measure or just another bureaucratic attempt to make a travelers’ life more miserable?


(Posted 03rd November 2014)

The age of Ebola has again brought out the worst of bureaucratic impositions on travelers, at times giving the impression that those manning or wo-manning the desks are primarily ready to teach their ‘victims, aka clients, customers, arriving passengers and of course all looked upon as potential Ebola carriers’ some tiny little, perhaps envious lessons, apart from or besides doing their jobs. They do so to those who travel because they can, or because they must while they have to do a job many appear to hate, or more likely even fear. Dressed up at times like surgeons in an operating theatre their looks do have a certain alien quality, not welcoming at all for tourists who have come a long way and spent a lot of money to visit our part of the world, the intent of the entire operation notwithstanding.

Herded like sheep into a corral do travelers find themselves in a very confined space, with numbers piling up rapidly when several flights arrive in quick succession, raising the risk to catch a common cold or even faint in the often stifling heat in some of our airports, which brings humanity literally to the boil, with all the side effects the waves of assorted odours wafting by one’s nose may cause.

Arriving passengers, doused in a wide range of perfumes, or not, which mixture alone might induce nausea when suffered in close quarters, I can only imagine what will happen if one might get violently ill when approaching the ‘health desks’. The result would almost certain be shrieking panic and subsequent prompt quarantine for the poor fellow who succumbed to the unpalatable circumstances forced upon him or her.

Those circumstances alone make one shake the head more often than not, when seeing the different ways of how trying to keep Ebola out of East Africa are handled across the region. Arguable the most professional method, a simple handheld temperature sensor held to one’s forehead and then turned to share the result, was seen in Kigali, twice in fact in the space of a few days. This method caused no queues and no forms had to be filled which more often than not end up anyway in boxes stacked in back offices or stores, the writing illegible and containing information which those at the desk have no way of ascertaining to be true, in other words, by and large, a glorious waste of resources and of trees cut down to produce that paper.

Moving on to the way security checks are handled, or mishandled as seen again during recent travels.

Not enough that having to remove shoes constantly at often multiple security checks, in several cases located rather closely together – makes one wonder what the second or third such checkpoints might find what the previous ones had missed, supposing that those checks are carried out properly.

Some of the scenes seen are sure to remind of the dictates of the animal farm, where passengers are turned into herded sheep, made compliant by the often grim looking, arm bearing robotypes, for many of whom the use of common sense surely must have been banned if ever they had it in the first place.

A case in point seen a few days ago, when an elderly nun, wearing what must have been ankle high prescription boots, was compelled to remove them first once, afterwards struggling to maintain her dignity when putting them back on and tying the laces together, before being ambushed by a second security check demanding the same of her again. Inspite of holding her rosary quite visibly, probably praying for journey mercies, her thoughts must have had the security staff’s ears ringing as she stared at them in utter disbelief while the staff at the checkpoint clearly did not give a hoot over the discomfort they caused her. When eventually through the second check point, she then carried her boots in her hands into the departure lounge and sat down at a remote corner, tidying herself up again, once more tying her laces, and probably not aware that when reaching her connecting airport the same would happen again. I felt a great pity for her when, after putting her shoes back on which took her several minutes, she wiped some tears from her eyes, either from frustration or from exhaustion, either way a damning indictment of the security regime imposed on us with no recourse or option of appeal.

Meanwhile are others in the queue subjected to seeing otherwise smartly dressed people ahead of them take their shoes off only to reveal holes in the socks, or as experienced not just once but several times in the past, literally seeing the fumes rise from the shoes when taken off by travelers shy of hygiene who should have a health warning pinned to their backs. Yet others struggle to keep their pants up once the belts are removed, prompting the question why our airports, swimming in money from departure taxes, cannot install the latest technology scanners which no longer require shoes or belts to be taken off.

Come to the next contentious issue, liquids. In some airports security check point staff allow water bottles to be taken through but ask the passenger to drink from the bottle before allowing them beyond the check point. But in most cases does water have to be surrendered at that point, and if then, as does happen, the incoming flight is delayed, passengers can find themselves in the departure lounge for often well over an hour, dehydrating in the process as there is neither a vending machine for water nor a water dispenser. This, especially for elderly travelers, clearly poses a health risk for them, again, not that those who make these ‘rules’ appear to care in the least about the impact this can have. In Europe limits to liquids have been largely removed, but not here in our part of the world.

And dare you to bring with you some duty free shopping from your last transit or departure airport, even if still in the original bags, be ready to either talk your way out of it, purchase receipt at hand, or else risk having the content confiscated.

But then again, wherever and whenever do bureaucrats give a hoot when they have a chance to become little dictators and unleash their tiny, narrow minds on others.

A recent flurry of travel across the region drove these experiences home once again, reminding me that the innocence and joys of air travel are irretrievably lost and turned into a utilitarian exercise with measures in place which serve to impede and devalue travel rather than making it that experience so many are looking forward to once a year when they go on vacation. Security no doubt is important, as it preventing Ebola from spreading, but the way things are often done only serve one purpose, to turn me green in the face.

So when you arrive at some of our airports in the region, do not be fooled by large signs pronouncing ‘Welcome to this or Welcome to that’. A formidable slalom of hurdles awaits you before you are allowed to get out of the airport and enjoy the hospitality of our people, the scenery and the feast of African colours and scents which await visitors to the continent we call home. Make sense of it or not, I rest my case.

One Response

  1. You should include this very amusing description of the state of modern Travel into a time capsule……..Even if found in a few decades it will be hard to believe how far backward we have managed to progress!!

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