Well, we seemed to make some progress on our visa status today! The manager got a phone call this morning letting us know we could go to immigration to get our new visas… with $250 USD in hand.
When I left the US on New Year’s Eve, I figured I would have little need for US dollars since I was going to be gone for a year. Little need, with the exception of the $100 in cash that we needed when we landed at the Kilimanjaro airport for our first visa. So the first step was going into town to a Tanzanian ATM to take out shillings–where I was, of course, charged an international fee by my home bank. Then, we drove to another place in town to buy US dollars–where we were given a poor exchange rate so that the agency could take a cut. All to get $250 that I could have easily taken out at home, if only I had known!
With our $250 USD in hand, we showed up to the immigration office, where we were greeted by the funniest of signs.
“Corruption free zone.” It is funny because it is such common knowledge that bribery is the most effective and efficient way to get anything done within immigration here. Need a visa? Befriend an immigration officer. Or just cough up some extra cash. It’s ridiculous.
Thank God Joost and I both travel with extra passport sized photos. I’ve found over the years that you never know when you may need them! And, indeed, today we needed them. Man, how lucky are we that we have them! We are so smart, I thought smugly. This is going to be a breeze. They had all of our other paperwork, pictures and copies of our passports; now, they just needed the cash. It turns out, though, that whoever our organization had spoken to first had given the incorrect price. It was only $200! What that officer had planned to do with the extra $50 we were prepared to hand over remains in question. Such a pleasant surprise.
Unfortunately, since this is Africa, of course it wouldn’t be as simple as handing them the money and walking away with a visa. Instead, we had to drive to another bank to deposit our cash into immigration’s bank account. We showed up to the bank only to discover a massive queue. We stood. and waited. and waited. and waited. In case you haven’t gathered from our previous blog posts, we do a lot of waiting here. We finally got to the front and went to the teller with our cash and paperwork. Nineteen out of twenty of our 20 dollar bills were fine. The twentieth was apparently ‘too old.’ It was still crisp, but had been printed before 2004.
Okay, self. Breathe. Just give him one of the extra twenties instead. This supposed-to-be-ten-minute visa process has already taken over an hour and a half–what’s another 30 seconds to dig out a new twenty?
That’s what I said inside my head. Out loud, I replied, ‘You are shitting me.’ Keeping it cool and classy, one failed visa attempt at a time.
He then ran our money through a machine that told him that we had, indeed, handed him $400. He gave me a receipt showing proof of a $200 deposit in my name. Then he handed Joost this:
Right. A semi-official receipt that says ‘printer problems.’ Yup. The printer broke, so they couldn’t officially print Joost’s name on his receipt. The teller assured us that immigration would accept it as an official receipt, since it had been stamped.
Back to the immigration office we drove. A man at the window took all of our paperwork and told us that we would get a call when we could come pick up our visa receipt. We weren’t getting a visa today?! Well, whatever. I was just quite keen to leave and started to turn away. Luckily, Joost is far more
distrusting patient and perceptive than I am–he was quick to realize that without any sort of receipt from this officer, it would be quite easy for them to claim that we had never paid. When Joost questioned the officer about this, the officer said we could walk to a nearby store to have them photocopy the bank receipt. Of course he wouldn’t photocopy it at the office for us.
So, we walked to the store. We waited for the girl behind the counter to make the damn copies. Another girl came into the shop and budged in front of us–it’s called a line, sister. Get in it. The copier ran out of paper. The machine wouldn’t accept the new paper. I contemplated slitting my wrists with the nearby office supplies.
When we finally arrived back at the immigration office with copies of our payments, the officer who had refused to give us copies was nowhere to be found. Nor were our visa application papers. The new officer at the window went in search of them while another officer took the original copies from the bank–and then gave us a copy. She. gave. us. a. copy. Just like the now-missing first officer was supposed to have done. Well, at least we now have double the proof that we paid.
We were sent on our oh-so-merry way (so.frickin.merry), with the assurance that they would find our paperwork, process it and call us when we can go pick up our visa–hopefully for real this time!