An African's Anecdotes and Accoutrements
|I have been to Hell and back during the last three weeks. Firstly the move - packing up my household contents which are now on the sea en route to the ship that will take them to Africa. Secondly - I have very limited email/internet access now until I'm back home in Africa on July 24. As if that wasn't traumatic enough then came the "attempt" by Turkish Airlines to transport my dog to Africa. The details are below.
Shortly after 10 am on Thursday, 27 May 2010 we handed Jabba, our 12 year old Giant Schnauzer, to the cargo department at Turkish Airlines in Izmir. He was scheduled to fly Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, then on to Nairobi before boarding a Kenya Airways flight to Harare, his final destination. Jabba was finally returning home to Zimbabwe after almost seven years abroad.
It took almost two and a half hours to complete Jabba’s export procedures. During this time he managed to charm everyone at Izmir’s cargo department. One of the customs officers, after inspecting his passport, insisted on seeing Jabba before she stamped his papers. Immediately I became concerned she might find a reason to delay his departure. I accompanied her back to the cargo section from the customs offices, but it turned out she found his passport photograph so appealing she simply wanted to see our 12 year old 42 kilogram Giant Schnauzer.
Jabba revelled in all the attention. The customs staff took photographs of him, patted him and admired him. I had brought a small packet of food for his journey and a bottle of water. We taped both to his box. We wrote his name on the box: My name is Jabba. I am going to Harare Zimbabwe via Nairobi Kenya. Please feed me and make sure my water bowl is full. After all formalities were complete we said our goodbyes. Jabba went happily into his box, and lay down as he was loaded onto the trolley to take him to the plane that would fly him to Istanbul. He left at 11.00.
At 15.00 hours that afternoon we boarded a Turkish Airlines to Istanbul, the first leg of our journey back to Zimbabwe. Jabba’s flight to Nairobi was scheduled to depart half an hour before our own flight, booked on Air Emirates to Dubai. Checking the departures listed on the information board we learned the Turkish Airlines flight to Nairobi was boarding at gate 208, next door to our own departure gate 209. We decided to see if we could see him being loaded onto the ‘plane.
Jabba’s box was just in front of the entrance to the plane’s cargo hold. We could see it clearly, and although the wire mesh side to which we had secured his water dish and food bowl was facing us inside the terminal we could not see inside the box. Suddenly the loading team of three men moved Jabba’s box back away from the hatch into the plane’s cargo hold. At the same time a Turkish Airlines car drove up and parked next to the loading conveyor. Two officials got out, and went over to the team surrounding Jabba’s box. There were now five people standing around the box.
One of the original team had a piece of rope, which he held against the box. He then walked over to the opening of the cargo hatch, and again held the rope up against the width of the door. We had no idea what he was doing, but guessed he was using the rope as a tape measure. He moved back to Jabba’s box, and held a brief discussion with the men standing around the box. Two of them then climbed up next to Jabba’s box.
The loading vehicle was moved from the rear cargo hatch and repositioned at the front of the plane’s cargo hold hatch, where they tried to load Jabba and his box again. This failed and the box was brought back down to ground level.
The three men then proceed to upend Jabba’s box, so the wire mesh side was at the bottom of the box, meaning Jabba would have fallen onto his food and water bowls. We stood watching in horror as they then moved the box towards the entrance of the cargo hold, before moving it back and placing the box the right way up. Another vehicle arrived, and two more men came over to the box. This brought the number of people surrounding Jabba’s box to seven.
We were frantic. The box was covered with stickers indicating it contained a live animal and was fragile. There was also a large green sticker indicating “THIS WAY UP” to show the direction the box should always be placed. The man using the rope to measure the box and the cargo hold entrance then bundled up the rope and threw it at the box. He then removed the bottle of water and packet of food we’d taped to the box in Izmir so Jabba could be fed and watered, and threw them on the tarmac.
The box was then turned on its side, and they tried for a third time to load it into the cargo hold. When this effort naturally failed they moved the box back and placed it upright again. We still could not see Jabba, but his blankets and the rubber mat we had placed in the kennel to make him comfortable were no longer on the kennel’s floor. They were on top of Jabba, and we could see him moving as he tried to shake them off. The box was then removed from the loading ramp leading into the cargo hold and placed on a low forklift on the tarmac runway, directly in the sunshine.
Ivan stayed inside the terminal watching Jabba’s box and the loading crew while I went to the information desk for help.
The information desk at Istanbul airport directed me to the transit desk, which is one floor below the terminal on the same level as the runway. I asked the staff if I could go onto the runway to console my dog, but this request was denied.
“As a civilian you have no authority to go onto the runway,” the transit agent told me.
“But that is my cargo you are handling,” I shouted back furiously. “That’s a live animal your cargo crew are handling, and they are disregarding the fragile warnings and the way the box is supposed to be handled. You get out there and tell them that dog’s owners have seen everything they’ve been doing to him to try and load his box.”
She shrugged. “I’ll see what I can do,” she advised, before walking away from me.
I felt helpless. Our flight to Dubai was leaving in 30 minutes, so I rushed back upstairs to our departure gate. When I got there Ivan told me the flight to Nairobi had left, and that Jabba had not been loaded onto the plane.
We immediately contacted our agent, Nicole of Asya International, to tell her what we had witnessed. She promised to investigate Jabba’s handling and treatment by Turkish Airlines cargo crew.
“You can tell Turkish Airlines that the indemnity form we signed at Izmir when they accepted Jabba as cargo is no longer valid after what we have seen,” Ivan told Nicole. “This is animal cruelty, and our dog is going to be traumatized by what he’s just gone through. I want him checked by a vet immediately.”
The Air Emirates flight took off from Istanbul shortly afterwards. I cried for most of the three hour flight to Dubai. The temperature in Istanbul that evening was 30 degrees Celsius, and thinking of my poor dog being thrown around in that box by an unsympathetic, inconsiderate and totally unprofessional crew before being left in the hot sun made me wonder if he would survive the ordeal. Adding to these feeling was the thought that I hadn’t cut his fur for the last six weeks because it was winter in Zimbabwe. I also wanted him to be comfortable in the cool cargo hold.
I barely remember the world-famous Dubai International Airport. We landed there at 02.00 hours – 01.00 hours in Izmir and 00.00 hours in Zimbabwe. We couldn’t call anyone to see what had happened to Jabba. Four hours later we boarded our flight to Johannesburg. The flight was so full Ivan and I were seated in separate rows, one behind the other. I dozed in between the meal and chats to my neighbouring passenger, who ran a Pretoria-based company that services airplane engines all over the world. We had several interesting conversations, especially about airline safety and the merits of Boeing over Airbus.
When we landed at Johannesburg Airport the following morning – 28 May, 2010 – we immediately contacted Nicole, who advised a veterinarian had seen Jabba and advised he was fit to travel. Turkish Airlines had found a suitable, smaller box which would fit in the plane scheduled to fly from Istanbul to Nairobi that Friday evening on the same on schedule. The vet had confirmed the box was suitable for Jabba, and he would be transferred into this box for the flight. We confirmed to Nicole this was acceptable. We then boarded our flight to Harare.
At 19.00 hours that evening, some five hours after our arrival in Harare, we received an SMS from Nicole asking us to contact her urgently. We did so, and Nicole asked us to check our emails urgently because Turkish Airlines would not put Jabba on the flight until we confirmed in writing we would accept their conditions for transporting Jabba from Istanbul to Nairobi.
The email advised there was four hours of oxygen in the cargo hold of the plane. As the flight between Istanbul and Nairobi takes six hours, this meant there was insufficient air to transport a live animal on the flight. Turkish Airlines advised Jabba would only be accepted as cargo if we accepted responsibility for two hours of the six hour flight.
Incredulous we telephoned Nicole who was extremely distressed by this latest situation. In view of the treatment we observed at Istanbul airport the previous day we agreed that Jabba should be removed from Turkish Airlines’ control as soon as possible, and returned to Izmir. In Nicole’s words: “Jabba needs to be with people who love and care about him.” As we have previously boarded our animals at Bafi Kennels at Urla whenever we have travelled away from Izmir we agreed to place Jabba with them on his return from Istanbul.
At 02.30 am on 29 May, 2010 Asya International delivered Jabba to Bafi Kennels’ veterinarian, who inspected Jabba. Turkish Airlines had placed Jabba in the smaller box that would fit in the cargo hold of the plane flying from Istanbul to Nairobi. He had been left in this box for his flight back to Izmir. The box provided by Turkish Airlines was so narrow Jabba had to walk backwards to exit the box – although he was able to stand up he was unable to turn around and could not lie down comfortably. This is in contradiction of IATA’s rules for the size of boxes to be used for transporting animals. An animal should be able to stand up, turn around and lie comfortably in its box.
The vet found Jabba’s pulse and respiration to be extremely high, and he was unable to walk. Blood tests confirmed this was because Jabba’s muscles had been adversely affected due to a long period of immobility. The vet advised Jabba was unfit for travel for at least four days. The next day Jabba was moved to Bafi Kennels.
On Monday 01 June I received an email from Bafi Kennels, advising they now had taken Jabba. They said he was eating and drinking water and was now able to take short walks. They were horrified by the size of the box Turkish Airlines wanted to use for Jabba’s flight. His original box had been returned to Izmir on a separate flight the day after Jabba was sent back from Istanbul.
We told Nicole we did not want Jabba to fly back to Zimbabwe until he was fit, and suggested perhaps leaving him in at Bafi Kennels until our return on June 12. We thought perhaps this would give us a chance to be with Jabba and help him get over the trauma until our final return to Zimbabwe on 23 June. We asked Nicole to investigate alternate routes for getting Jabba to Zimbabwe.
On Friday June 05 Nicole contacted us to say the vet had confirmed Jabba was fit to fly, and that she had managed to book him to fly from Izmir to Istanbul on Wednesday June 09. This meant he would be flying Turkish Airlines, but Nicole assured us Jabba would be collected by an Asya representative on arrival at Istanbul, and would remain with Asya until the next part of his trip, which was to London via British Airways the following morning. He would then spend the night at the kennels at Heathrow Airport before flying to Nairobi via British Airways at lunchtime on Friday June 11. He would be met by AGS, his clearing agent in Nairobi before embarking on the final leg of his flight to Harare on Saturday June 12 via Kenya Airways.
We were hesitant about sending Jabba home like this, partly because we wouldn’t be involved in any part of his journey apart from meeting him at lunchtime in Harare and mainly because it meant we would not see Jabba again until our final return from Turkey on July 24. But we agreed to do it – there is so much paperwork and bureaucracy around exporting a dog from Turkey we didn’t want to put him through the whole procedure again, especially since the initial papers were still valid. Besides, he would be staying at our house in Cannock Gardens with Ivan’s mother, who adores her furry grandson. We told Nicole this was acceptable.
British Airways refused to accept the original box we had built for Jabba, claiming it needed to be ten centimeters longer - how ironic that the box built to the same measurements British Airways used to transport Jabba from Harare to Thessaloniki in 2003 when he was four years old was now too small for British Airways and too large for Turkish Airlines. So Asya built him a new box.
On Wednesday morning Nicole confirmed Jabba had left Izmir and was now with her colleagues in Istanbul. On Thursday he was scheduled to fly from Istanbul to London on the 13.55 flight, and I contacted Nicole half an hour after its departure to check he had finally left Turkey. She told me he was already in London, having flown on the early morning flight. I was with my mother in law when I received this news, and to know that Jabba was no longer in Turkey and far away from the people who had treated him so badly in Istanbul was such a relief both of us cried happily!
On Thursday we managed to change our tickets so we could be in Harare on Saturday when Jabba came home. I contacted Gil, the general manager of AGS in Nairobi to confirm everything was on schedule. He told me he was ready for Jabba, but there was an outstanding amount of $495.00 to be paid.
“Nobody told us Jabba’s original flight was cancelled,” he explained. “So at 2 am in the morning our team and a veterinarian were waiting at the airport for Jabba, but he did not arrive. They were all working out of hours, and we had to compensate them for the time wasted.”
I assured him I would transfer the funds immediately, and emailed him the confirmation after it was done. Friday evening I SMSed Gil to find out if Jabba had arrived, but he did not reply. I began to worry, but did not want to bother Gil so late in the evening. I went to bed at midnight, to be woken by an SMS alert some 90 minutes later. Gil confirmed Jabba was in Nairobi, and the vet had checked him over and found him to be well.
On Saturday morning I called Marie, the girl helping us import Jabba to Zimbabwe. I had wanted to go with her to the airport, but she refused, telling me how complicated importing a live animal can be and how much quicker things go there with just the clearing agent handling the import. She told me the Kenya Airways flight was 30 minutes late, but she would keep me up to date with developments. A series of messages followed… I can see the plane… the plane has landed. Going to customs now… I can see his box…
And finally: he’s cleared. We'll be at your house at 1.30.
Two weeks and one day after we left Jabba at Izmir airport’s cargo section he came home, in a large wooden box on the back of a yellow truck. He was, standing up, looking at me through the mesh side of his box. I found it difficult to speak – to finally see him after everything he’d gone through was pretty overwhelming. He was staring at us, and I moved forward and greeted him.
His eyes lit up, and he began barking – a deep, hoarse bark of welcome. Again I cried, putting my fingers through the mesh to touch him. He was wagging his tail and barking at me, pushing against my fingers. Marie unlocked the padlock on his door, and he walked into the sunshine. I hugged him, and he rested his head against my shoulder. Then Mom and I lifted him off the back of the truck. For the first time since 10 August, 2003 Jabba stood on African soil.
He was very unsteady on his legs as he walked onto the grass next to the driveway. We spoke to him, and called him, but he didn’t respond. His hearing is not very good, and knowing how I feel after flying I understood how he felt. He paused to greet our neighbours Luanne and Kevin, before continuing to inspect the exciting new smells of his new home. When Mom’s housekeeper Judith came out to meet him he hurried over to greet her. Judith hugged him, tears flowing as she welcomed the last of the four dogs she’d known during her time working with me before we left Zimbabwe in 2003. Ivan came home a few hour later, and when Jabba saw him walk through the door his eyes lit up and he rushed over to greet him.
Over the next couple of days his walking improved, as did his hearing. He slept very deeply on Saturday night, on his blankets next to my side of our bed. Ivan and I bathed him on Sunday, and I trimmed his coat. It will take longer to recover the four or five kilograms he’s lost in the two weeks he’s been away from us. Leaving him on Monday morning to return to Izmir for the last forty days of our lives in the diaspora was not easy, but knowing he’s in the extremely loving and caring hands of my mother in law is at least some consolation.
As for the scars left by his ordeal at the hands of Turkish Airlines… well, dogs are incredibly forgiving beings, and with the love and attention and kindness of the people he loves and trusts Jabba has probably already dealt with it. As for us… we might not have experienced his physical suffering, but imagining what he went through is the stuff of nightmares, and I doubt either of us will ever be able to come to terms with what he went through.