how a gas station in oklahoma got me a hotel upgrade in rwanda


Thirty minutes before I was to leave for the airport to begin my journey to Rwanda, I received a text from Chase Visa. “Did you attempt $110.62 at a service or gas station on 07/04? If yes reply 1, if not reply 2.” Since I haven’t owned a car for more than twenty years and unless I had just had a stroke and didn’t remember, it was unlikely I had attempted the charge. After I pressed two, Chase immediately called me and I soon discovered that the attempt was made at a service station in Oklahoma City. Further, there was another charge on my account from a fast food “restaurant” in Oklahoma – ARBYS [America’s Roast Beef Yes Sir!]. We proceeded to close the account immediately and I would be issued a new card. Unfortunately, this was my British Airways Visa I use for traveling because they do not charge any foreign transaction fees and the card has a smart chip which enables me to use it at train stations and other locations in Europe. On this trip I would have to make due with my MasterCard and incur the fees.

My flight from New York to Brussels was uneventful, and after three films and about thirty minutes sleep I arrived. I was to meet my travel partner there, a Punjab Princess from London, who earlier in the year paid the equivalent of $75 to get a few pounds of laundry done in Osaka. After her plane arrived from London, we met and boarded the next flight on Brussels Airlines to Kigali, Rwanda.

Like my prior flight, this one was uneventful, save my close proximity to Jesus [both planes were full of American missionaries from South Carolina on their way to Africa]. Fortunately I only spotted three “WWJD” bracelets among the bunch. A few of these folks were not bad to look at, and I thought that they would be horrified knowing they were in such close quarters to impure thoughts.

The Kigali runway must be very short as the landing was abrupt, but we made it. As I never check baggage I was ready to go. The Punjab Princess, however, had checked her bag in London so we had to wait at the luggage carousel. And wait we did. And wait. And wait. And wait. Unfortunately her bag never surfaced. Since we had arranged for our hotel and a transfer through a local agency we decided that I would search for the driver while she sorted out the baggage claim.

Her bag was not to be found. Neither was our driver. Now 10:00pm at the Kigali airport, I looked for a phone. Since none were to be found, I convinced a very nice local man to make a call for me, to the hotel to ask where our pickup was. After a bit of confusion they said that the driver would be there in five minutes. Forty minutes later, he showed up. Off the Hotel Chez Lando we went.

Hotel Chez Lando was very basic, and giving it two stars would be a stretch. Upon our arrival, my travel partner showed the man at the front desk, Elias, the voucher we received from the local agency after pre-paying the hotel. In bold caps it read “PREPAID. DO NOT CHARGE CLIENT.” Unfortunately this was no good for this particular hotel. After a few times explaining this to Elias, we were not getting anywhere. He said that we could pay for the night then ask the local agency we had used to reimburse us.

Since I had been traveling for about a day at this point, I said “screw it” and I decided to pay for the night and sort it out the next morning. Elias told me to proceed to another counter close by where the payments were taken.

I presented the cashier with my MasterCard and was ready to sign. The cashier looked at me and said “Sorry, we only take Visa.” Since my Visa had been on a tour of Oklahoma without me, we were out of luck.

Mission mode ensued. I went back to Elias, told him to call our local tour company contact and get her on the phone. After her hello I said, “Listen carefully, this is what you are going to do…”

Ten minutes later a car came to pick us up and transfer us to another hotel, a four star called Hotel Lemigo. There we laughed that we were staying at “Hotel Let Me Go,” had some African Tea, hoped that the Punjab Princess would get her luggage before we left Rwanda, and marveled at how a gas station in Oklahoma connected us to our fantastic upgrade.


  1. Perhaps your travel companions are cursed to lose their luggage? 😉

    That British Airways Visa sounds handy. I might have to look into that.