Posts Tagged ‘visa’

A New Computer and Visa Hassles

December 7, 2008

So the new computer finally made it to me here in Kinshasa.  It only took about a month to get here.  I suppose that’s not too bad.  It would have been here last week if the people in Entebbe didn’t think that I was still there.  

While here in Kinshasa I’ve been trying to help get things ready for when the “new” planes finally get here.  It sounds like plans have changed dozens of times and I don’t have any idea of what the timeline actually is.  It sounds like there is also the chance that we will bring the King Air in from Entebbe to use in the mean time.  I think that plan has gone back and forth several times as well.

When I got here to Kinshasa, the nice folks at the DGM (immigration department) told me that I needed to get a new visa.  They now say that since people working with NGO’s are “working” in the country, we need to have “resident visas”.  The process has been a major hassle.  Every time we send in some form they have asked for they ask for another one.  I’ve had to go to the US embassy a couple of times to get some of the documents that the Congolese need.  One was a letter from the Consul saying that I was indeed a citizen of the US and the other was a letter telling them that I would be a good boy while staying in the country.  I couldn’t help but chuckle a bit when I saw what the “important documents” that the DGM wanted actually were.  

The embassy is about a half a mile away from the apartment just past some of the restaurants we frequent and the usual supermarket.  As I walked there, I was expecting to see clean cut Marines in crisp uniforms standing guard at the entrance.  When I was in Kinshasa a few months ago, I met a few of the Marines that worked at the embassy.  American soil…  I could see the flag hanging proudly from its pole moving gently in the barely detectable breeze.  I wished there was a stronger wind.  I was sweating a bit in the stagnant air and tropical sun.  

Once rounding the corner towards the consular office, I was disappointed to see no Marines.  At the door instead was a couple Congolese guys working for a private security company; no, not Blackwater or anything, just the same company that guards the supermarket.  The guard told me that it was lunchtime and that there was no one in the office at the moment but that they would be back in ten minutes or so.  He saw the sweat on my brow and commented that it was very hot today.  I agreed.  The air conditioning in the waiting room felt amazing.  I chatted with the guard for a while as I waited.  He was from Kisangani.  I told him that I had been there many times.  I used the few Swahili phrases that I know, which amused him since the language isn‘t spoken much here in Kinshasa.  

About ten or fifteen minutes later, people began to return from lunch.  I heard, “Patrick Lynch, please come to window one.”

I explained my predicament to the lady behind the counter and could tell she had heard this story before.  She seemed as frustrated with what the DGM was starting to do as I was.  She knew exactly the forms that I would need before I even told her what I needed.  She gave me a few forms to fill out listing contact info and such.  I gave her the forms after I filled them out and was told to return later in the day to pick up the things that should satisfy the Congolese.  

“Habari gani,” I asked the same guard I had met earlier in the day.  He told me that he was doing well but that it was very busy now.  The waiting room was full.  It looked like this was going to take hours.  I sat down in one of the free chairs and saw my new friend pick up the phone and say something.  A moment later I hear my name over the speaker and go back to the window.  The same lady hands me a few more things to fill out.  Then she gives me a manila envelope with my name on it as well as the statement “United States of America, Official Business”.  She hands me the two papers that I came for along with several more.  

The first paper she hands me contains “tips for Americans traveling abroad”.  She said that the second paper would be equally useless to me as I have already been here for so many months.  It was the State Department’s travel warning for the DRC which warns US citizens against travel to the country.  I chuckled a bit when I saw that one.  She said that it was a waste of paper but that she had to give those out to all citizens that came in.  Most countries that have aid workers active in them have a travel warning from the US State Department advising against going there.  She also gives me an emergency contact sheet for the embassy.  I already had the emergency number programmed into my phone as “AAA Embassy emerg” so it would come up near the top of the list in the phone book.  I am not sure how useful the contact would be if things actually got bad here in Kinshasa.  

I gather up all of the papers I have been given and put them in my official envelope and head out.  I pass the guard on the way out and say, “Asante sana” (thank you very much).  I was in and out in 30 minutes when it looked like it should have taken hours.  I think my new friend had something to do with that one.  I hoped that I had all I needed to get the visa sorted out.

I get a ride to the Air Serv office to deliver all the required papers to Henri.  Henri is the massive Congolese guy that picked me up from the airport when I first arrived in Kinshasa so many months ago.  He is generally  the one that gets sent to “take care of things”.  He has many connections with people all over the city and I think his stature helps get things done as well.  He took the documents to the DGM office and returned a few hours later.  I was not surprised to find out that the DGM wanted more than only the two forms from the US embassy.

He had three more forms from the DGM office.  It felt like I was applying for citizenship.  For some reason they needed to know where I was born, where my parents were born, what languages I spoke, countries that I have visited and so on.  Each of the three pages also required a photo of myself.  The next day I have to go to a photo shop to get some pictures taken.  I get four pictures.  The fourth picture will be for my Congolese driver’s license which will involve Henri going to the driving office with $35 and my name, address and photo.  I guess there are a few things that are easier here in Congo.  

Hopefully, by this time tomorrow, I will have my passport back with a fresh visa in it and my Congolese driver’s license.