Let me start by saying: Always double and triple check all your personal information when booking flights. I was in Milan, Italy trying to check into my flight for the next day to Tanzania when I kept getting locked out of the online check in. The airline had misspelled my name by ONE letter and it cost me the price of a new flight and several months of back and forth to be reimbursed for the old one. ONE LETTER! In the end I got my flight and my reimbursement. I had a wonderful flight with an entire row to myself easing the nervous knots in my stomach and arrived at the Kilimanjaro International Airport around 2:30 in the morning.
I stepped off the airplane onto the tarmac excited for a new adventure and couldn’t believe I had made it to Africa. With pen in hand I confidently filled my customs arrival card and stepped up to the glass partition sliding it under the window. Reviewing it, she tells me it will be $100 for the visa. I handed her my credit card. The woman looks at me dumbfounded and says “you have to have cash.”
Me: I’m sorry I have no cash on me (yes, my own mistake). Customs Lady: Okay, walk out the airport and there is an ATM and you can withdraw the money there. Me: Huh??? You want me to just walk out the front door of your airport without going thru customs? Customs Lady: Yes. Go and get the cash then come back.
I walked out the front door of the one gate airport and into the ATM, quickly did the exchange rate and withdrew 100 USD worth of Tanzanian Shillings – 220,000 TSH a stack of money that felt like I owned the world. I go back, hand her my wad of cash only to have her tell me, “I’m sorry we only accept USD – you’re American why don’t you have any USD?” Well lady, if you look at my passport I haven’t been around there much.
I leave the airport for a second time and find the woman working the currency exchange desk asleep on the floor, justifiably as it is now 3 am. I gently tap on the window to wake her up, try to get a decent exchange rate for my handful of shillings and I walk back to the desk with a fresh, crisp $100 bill and proceed to the Visa desk.
Ready to get out of the small room I have been in and out of twice, I stand there getting fingerprinted and the 3rd degree from the Visa man.
Visa Man: Why are you traveling alone?
Me: Because I enjoy it.
Visa Man: Why aren’t you married?
Me: I haven’t met my person yet.
Visa Man: Do you have children?
Visa Man: But you are old and pretty. A man would certainly want you to have his babies. You are 35, you should have at least 3 children by now. You would make a fine wife and mother.
Me: How old are you?
Visa Man: 35.
Me: Ah. Same, same. Do you have a wife and children?
Visa Man: Well no, but if you come back to the Customs desk at the Kilimanjaro Airport we can have a date and get married.
Me: I’m sorry, I’m not looking to get married. I am however looking at my backpack that is sitting all by itself on the luggage carousel and would really like to come into your beautiful country that I have already been in twice tonight – may I please have my stamp now?
Lesson: Border crossings = bring fresh, new USD CASH.