Ebola – the forms are killing
Now that we have at least one case of death from ebola and a few more suspected cases of ebola in US, it would be interesting to see how travel to India changes. If it does.
A month back, I had a pretty funny experience getting into India. This was when my inlaws were traveling with me to Kolkata. When we got into our flight from Dubai to Kolkata, they did not have any Indian immigration or customs forms for us inflight. Instead they handed out something that looked like a very hastily printed out, pretty shoddy form. It was the “Ebola Declaration” form.
Let me see if I can give you a rough idea of how the form looked. Imagine a normal letter size (or A4) paper in landscape form. The right half of it was filled up with all sorts of descriptions of ebola and how to detect if you have ebola. It seemed like they had picked it up straight from some wikipedia entry.
The left half of it had two parts. The first part said “Fill this if you are visiting from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria…” and the second part asked for identity information and stay details in India. The instructions also mentioned that before you head out to immigration, authorities will be there to check you for possible symptoms of ebola.
As you can imagine, myself – and I am sure most others filled up the second part of the left side of the form, signed it and then got down from the plane. I was wondering what the check for possible symptoms of ebola might look like and how much extra time that would add to the queue. Fortunately, the whole check comprised of three guys sitting in a corner chatting among themselves as the passengers completely ignored them and ran to the immigration counters!!!
As easy and effortless as that was, getting past the immigration officer with the ebola form was a completely different story. He was more confused than any of the passengers regarding what to do with the form. First, he looked at my form (I was in the front of the queue) and asked me to fill up the first part. I showed him that it clearly stated it is to be filled only if we are coming from West Africa. His answer totally floored me – “How do we know if ebola has spread in other countries after the form was printed?”. That was a good point, all of us agreed. So, all the passengers were back to filling forms. You knew that because half of them were going around asking “Ekta pen hobey?” (Do you have a pen on you?).
That session over, the immigration officer asked me why did I not sign with a little more space so my signature covered the right side of the form too. I was incredulous – I was like “What? Why should I sign outside of the form going to the right half?”. I realized quickly why. Without even waiting for my answer, he had started to split the paper in half and then handed me the right half. Just like they used to do with the old immigration form. At least in the old immigration form, you had to fill in details of yourself on either side and the side that you kept with you needed to be handed back to the authorities when you left the country at the end of the stay. All I had now is a form with some description of ebola from wikipedia. And a might Indian Immigration stamp that he put on it loudly!!! He was looking for some portion of my signature that he could stamp on to vouchsafe the verification!!!
At this point, I was totally going to have fun. So, I asked him “Achha, pherot jabar somoy ki eta dekhatey hobey”? (Do I need to produce this before I leave the country?). “Amader to sir, osob boley daini. Bhalo korey rekhe din. Jodi chay to deben. Naholey pheley deben”!! (I am not sure. They never told us anything. Anyways, keep it safely. If they ask, give it, otherwise just throw it away).
So, I safely put it in my passport and moved on. Here is the really hilarious part. All this time that I was arguing with him – do you know what he was wearing? He had one of those surgical face masks over his mouth!! You know who was not wearing them? Those three guys sitting at the table bored right outside the plane who were supposed to check us for potential symptoms of ebola!!
Fun! Fun! Fun!