So yesterday in Singapore I wanted to buy a local SIM card.
Even after years of travel, I can never get used to the complexities of big city existence.
Russell Saigomi, evil twin #2, was kind enough to stop at a tiny roadside shop where a gentleman of South Asian origin tried to convince me – the already converted – of the value of buying a Singtel SIM.
“1BG data. Free SIM,” he said. Then he asks for my passport.
Then he took some time.
For some reason, his computer didn’t recognise my passport. I peered over the counter and looked at the screen. All the details appeared correct except the country where the passport was issued.
He had written GHANA without even asking!
He assumed I was African and his system was refusing my passport. So, here I am standing there. Looking at the screen. Even the Singtel system was telling him… “Dude… he’s Papua New Guinean” and he refused to believe it.
And you know how you don’t know a language but you know what they’re talking about? It’s because foreign languages have a way of dropping you hints just so you understand. I guess there was a system upgrade that was supposed to have happened after the Tower of Babel incident long ago, but the techs forgot about it. So the bugs are still there.
So the guy was talking to his wantoks and the word that kept coming up was “Africa…” Then somehow, GHANA appeared on the computer as part of my personal details.
It took some time again.
There was me trying to explain that I am from Papua New Guinea:”I am NOT from the great continent of Africa and definitely NOT from Ghana…”
…and Russell telling him to type: P-A-P-U-A N-E-W G-U-I-N-E-A into the system.
It finally worked out. I got the SIM.
In March, I arrived at Male (pronounced MA-LEH) International Airport on the small island nation of Maldives.
It is a beautiful country. The people are nice and very conscious of the impacts of climate change and… cross border threats especially from Africa.
The Maldivians speak Divehi – a blend of languages including Arabic Hindi. It is the result of thousands of years of cross cultural exchanges. I was sent to from one Immigration desk to another while the rest of the passengers proceeded to the baggage collection area.
The rapid fire exchange of Divehi was punctuated by the word “GUINEA” and “AFRICA.”
Immigration guy again assumed I was African and sent me straight to immigration girl at the “Ebola and Yellow Fever” section. This was at the height of the Ebola crisis in Africa.
Again it took some time. Nobody asked. Everyone assumed I was African.
Then I said: “Excuse me Miss, what’s the problem?”
She was she was looking to see if “GUINEA” was on the list of countries associated with the ebola outbreak.
Me: “uuuumm… I am not from Guinea in Africa. My country is PAPUA NEW GUINEA. It is an island nation like yours and we live in the Pacific. NO EBOLA.
They let me through.
Three days later, there was a bird flu outbreak in Male. Four people died.
It wasn’t me.