It is 2:40am on Sunday. We are taxing. As they refer to it in the aviation sector. It is flight 337 on Ethiopian Airlines from Entebbe International Airport to Addis Ababa. A late night flight is often coupled with coldness. Within minutes, we are airborne. The view from the window is beautiful. That is because Kampala and Entebbe are lit up. It can be viewed as a success of the electrification program of the government. Kudos. It is also beautiful because, during the day, planners would puke at the level disorganization. Soon, we are at cruise level. It is time to listen to some music and read a book. On this 2 hour flight, the only in-flight entertainment is music. My Samsung earphones come in handy.
What are those earphones for? She asks. I want to listen to some music. I answer. She smiles. Do they work in the airline music system? She responds. Yes. I answer. Did you get them from the airline people? She asks again. No. They are mine. I respond. When I make money, I will get myself good earphones too. She says. I am curious. So I ask. Where are you going? Silence. To Oman, she says. I am going to work in Oman. I got a good job there.
Three hours before the flight, I had her seen at the immigration desk. The immigration officer had refused to place an exit stamp in her passport. An airport official was pleading with the officer. I overheard a conversation. The immigration officer didn’t want her to leave the country. They are under pressure to limit the movement of girls from Uganda to the Middle East. There have been incidences of human rights abuses against Ugandan girls working as maids. The immigration officer couldn’t prove that would happen to the young lady aged about 25.
An hour to the flight, the officer had placed the exit stamp in the passport.
She is wearing a black weave, which she holds back using a black hairband laced with green, blue and yellow beads. Her earrings are pink and shiny. I could tell that her lipstick and makeup had faded. Perhaps from the long negotiations with the immigration officer. She was still smiling. Her smile was farfetched though as the late night flight effects started to kick in. She is in seat number 23B.
I got a job in Oman. She explains. I am going to make money for two years. I will be able to buy a new phone and new earphones. Just like yours. She narrates. I smile. Oh! Really? From Oman? I ask. Yes. Finding a good job in this country is hard. She says.
In seat 23A, another girl. Her friend. I had seen her earlier shooting a video of herself on the flight. She had made several phone calls. We are leaving. She tells the other person on the phone. The plane is about to take-off. She continues to talk. She is happy too. She has long braided hair, held together in an upward position. She has no make-up. She is dark skinned. Her friend is light-skinned. Her earrings have two white pearls. She has an extra piercing on the upper side of her ears. There, she has a ring link earring. She is also going to Oman.
There’s three of us on this flight. She says.
I have never been to Oman. I have heard stories. I keep it to myself. Not for long.
We have heard the stories too. Those things are minor incidences. Some people are just unlucky. They explain. Oman was the only opportunity.
Where are you going? She asks. To Ghana. I respond. Do you work there? No, I do not. I am going there for training. Eh mama. She says. I am sleepy. They are sleepy. Our conversations fade as the eyes fail to hold. She leans against the yellow seat 22b in front of her.
Good luck. I say.
They had a six-hour layover at Addis Ababa International Airport. Mine was just three hours. It is cold. My journey is part of a quest to get more knowledge on how I can report the extractives sector better. Hold the government accountable on oil revenues when they come. It is a discussion about the future of this country. The future that includes better jobs for Ugandans.
I hope their future holds in Oman.