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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

My Love Affair with Visas

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

Still hardly any wifi and I can’t load photos yet…

Please be patient with me. A country with little to no wifi is tough.

Anyone that knows me… either a tiny bit or a whole lot… knows that bad luck never seems to stray far from my side when I’m travelling. I’ve had an ATV flip over me, I’ve had my computer and camera stolen, I’ve lost my passport, I’ve fallen off a bus… and so much more. I’ve even written, and had published, an article of how I regularly travel with stress as my trusted companion.


This trip is no exception to the rule.


Not at all.


Now… I would like to take a moment to speak about Visas. Not the good-times credit card kind… but the fun fun fun, border patrol, customs kind!


Granted, yes, I do know, visas can be an irritating hassle for any country, but for some reason, Africa seems to take the cake.


Seriously.


For Tanzania, I was required to have an A6 Visa.  This visa is specific to volunteering, and without it, I would not be permitted to donate my time to do anything with the IVHQ organization.


Once I arrived in Dar es Salaam, more than 2 months ago now, I stood in line for what seemed like eternity… and when it finally came my turn, I approached the border patrol officer with a smile and kindly said, “Hello! I will be volunteering in Arusha and I need an A6 Visa, please.”


He nodded and took my passport from me.

After a few moments of flipping through the pagers and comparing information with whatever was on his screen, he looked at me and said, “A6?”


“Yes,” I confirmed, thinking how wonderfully easy the process was. I had envisioned quite a bit of hassle.  “Thank you.”

He laid my open passport down on his desk, stamped it on one of the blank pages, wrote something on top of the entry stamp and then handed it back to me.


One more time, just to be sure, I confirmed, “A6?”


He responded with an approving grunt. “A6, No problem.”


Perfect.

That was exactly what I wanted to hear.

“Thank you so much.”


He nodded again and off I went, passport in hand, confidence soaring.

Easy, peasy, monkey squeezy.

Well… by the time I arrived in Arusha and the IVHQ team checked my passport, the goof hadn’t actually written anything at all, apart from some mumbo jumbo which looked like a crappy attempt at a signature. He had left the Visa classification square blank!!! This minor lapse resulted in me having to pay an additional $100US in order to have it rectified.


$100.


Apparently the government official wanted $200 from me, but one of the coordinators talked him down.


I definitely do not have $100US to be throwing around, let alone $200.


The whole thing was absurd. Hope (the main coordinator) asked me if I had ‘proof’ the Border Patrol officer had agreed to give me an A6 Visa.


Oh ya… I made a Tik Tok…


Proof… lol…


I just naturally assume that professionals do their job correctly… especially those in the trusted positions of allowing people in and out of their country.


Who am I to call them out?


Take it from me… you ALWAYS have to check.

Unfortunately I’m not too great at taking my own advice.


So… now, let’s fast forward a few weeks to me standing at the Kenya border and let the games begin…

A couple weeks ago, I went through the entire online process of applying for an East Africa Visa. This visa is a combination of entries for Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. It seemed the perfect solution considering I was planning on visiting all three of these countries.  It was actually more than perfect, as it would also ensure the elimination of any hassle at each of the borders. Or at least, significantly reduce hassle.  For me, less hassle is always a bonus.


The online application was quite the process.


I had to upload photos of myself, my passport, other pieces of identification, as well as fill in quite a few forms. Some of the information they required seemed a little excessive, but who was I to question?  In order to make three African border crossings easier on myself, I was willing to give them all the information I could muster up.


The final step was payment and it worked out to $147 Canadian.

Of course, they make you pay prior to being approved, which I find ludicrous, BUT… it only took a couple days and my visa showed up in my inbox.


A KENYAN ONLY VISA.


Shit.


Hassle… always hassle.


For someone with hardly one iota of patience, I certainly get struck with an abnormal amount of hassle on a regular basis.


Ok… here we go again.


At the Kenyan border, all of our luggage was removed from the bus so the dogs could sniff them out.  Once that was complete, we were all herded inside to conquer the queues.


The thing about Africa is that you have to officially leave one country before you are permitted to enter another one. So the first line up was to have our passports stamped, signifying we were exiting Tanzania. The next lineup was border patrol entry for Kenya.


It’s definitely a process.

Not a fun one… but it’s their thing.


… and that’s cool.


When I finally reached the front of the line, I was fully ready to plea my case.


In my hand, I was ready-set-go with my Kenyan visa, my receipt of payment, and a copy of my East African visa application.


The border patrol lady was nice. She took my passport, instructed me to go sit down and told me she would be with me soon.  I did as I was told… and sat at the edge of my seat, fists clenched, fingers crossed… waiting diligently… The entire border patrol office was glass, so I was able to visibly track each move my passport made… and believe me, I kept my eye on it.


It ended up in one of the back cubicles, with a man who was seated at a small desk.  He flipped through each page, and in the process of doing so, he would occasionally check the information that was in my passport with what was on his screen.


I always wonder what’s on those computer screens.

I intend to get a job at the border, if only temporarily, just to see what information makes the border patrol screen cut.


Seriously.

I have spent so much time staring at border guards, as they stare at their computer screen. I need to know what it says about me?


Anyway - approximately 15 minutes later, I was beckoned back to the desk and  the lady handed me back my passport.


She had granted me my East African Visa.

I was exctatic.


I dolled out a multitude of thank you’s and then made my way back to the bus that was taking me into Nairobi.


All was well.

Finally.

Phewf…

It was a relief to have zero stress.

Yay me!


Then… about a half an hour down the road from the Kenya/Tanzania border, I opened up my passport to have a look at my new stamp. It was a big one, a sticker, and it took up an entire page.


It was pretty cool.

Signed, sealed and delivered.


Then I looked closer…


It was stamped for arrival on 26/01/2023… valid for 90 days…and expiring on… WHAT THE FUCK???


They had written that it expired on 25/01/2023.


Shit.

Double shit.

Triple shit.

Quadruple shit.


They granted me an East Africa Visa and made it valid for minus 1 day.

Instead of putting an 04 for April, they accidentally put a 01.



Man…

And once again, in a complete tizzy.


I was on a bus to Nairobi… and there was absolutely nothing I could do but laugh about my new situation… and hope & pray that the Uganda border would be kind to me.


Talk about pain in the ass.

I considered turning the 01 into a 04 by myself, but considered the potentially detrimental consequences of tampering with an official government visa.  Jail and deportation crossed my mind.


What a conundrum.


Seriously.

Why me???


I made a small Tik Tok video to record my current disaster… and one person made the comment that I had come to Kenya with a bad attitude and bad intentions.


Not true.


In fact, I don’t agree at all. I have only come to Kenya with my usual bout of misfortune… and humour is helping me work my way through it all.


Ugh…


Ok… out of my mind until I reach the Uganda border…

The bus from Arusha to Nairobi was cheap… and because it was so cheap, I do feel bad complaining, but man, it was cramped. Beyond cramped. Online, I had booked the solo front seat, but by the time I boarded, some girl had claimed it. I was hardly going to start a fight in Arusha about a bus seat.  So I squished myself in beside a larger man who took up the entire arm rest and left me nailed to the side of the bus.


He ended up being quite nice and was very empathetic about my sudden visa conundrum. He wanted to try to turn the bus around for me, but considering we had already travelled more than 30 minutes away, I didn’t think that would make me a very popular mzungo doing that.


While we barralled towards Nairobi, I asked for a recommendation on a cool place to dine for the evening. I wanted something close to my hotel, so that I wouldn’t have to concern myself with dala dalas and tuk tuks. When he found out I liked sushi, he recommend seafood restaurant and always appreciative of local suggestions, I decided to take up his advice.


Well.. well… I don’t know if I misrepresented myself as rich… or what.

I can’t imagine I did.

I was dressed like a hobo, carrying a dirty backpack… and sitting on a cramped $25 bus to Nairobi.


This place was posh.

Posh beyond my wallet.


It was one of those places that you have to be scanned by security before you enter.


There was a pool in the middle of the dining tables… and men hobnobbing and  smoking cigars. I had a waiter to myself, and although it was quite funny at first, it was a little overbearing and unnecessary. He was always standing nearby, unless I actually needed something. Then he was nowhere to be found!


I had a sushi roll, a glass of wine and a slice of coconut cheese cake… and then made my way back to my hotel room. Not sure if hotel is the right word. It was more like a motor inn…


Ghetto.


My bathroom window was a view of the hotel stairwell. My main bedroom window looked directly into another room. It had those tinted snowflake-style  windows, so it was difficult to see details. The toilet ran incessantly and the front door wouldn’t lock properly. When I brought this up at the front desk, the lady brushed it off.


“Doesn’t matter,” she told me. “No one will come in.”


Ok…


I wasn’t as confident.


She assured me I didn’t have to worry, but I’m not such a fan of going off nothing but pure trust that no one will walk into my room and take all my belongings.  Ugh…


To be honest though, no one would want my shit.  And my computer doesn’t leave my side.


But the room was mine for the evening, like it or hate it.


The toilet seat cover was a gel-style seascape.  There were no light shades. The room was so small, I was seriously baffled at how they managed to get a mattress in there, let alone a bed frame. The lady actually gave me the choice of two rooms… and they were absolutely identical. I could not tell the difference. When she gave me the option of Door #1 or Door #2, I automatically chose Door #2 for the mere fact that I was standing in that room at the moment of the question.


Never give options. It’s too confusing.

I took a little video footage of  the room, and then made the mistake of posting it on Tik Tok.  For someone with only 154 followers, I certainly managed to cause a stir.  I thought I was being funny. In actual fact, I WAS being quite funny. But some didn’t take it that way.  I did get a lot of love for the video, with some people even offering for me to come stay with them… but on the flip side, I also got a lot of “you get what you pay for”… which is true.


No denying that.


One person went as far as to write, “if you don’t like Nairobi, get out,” which I thought was rather extreme… I had no idea that my little video ditty would become so controversial, but why not?



Turns out I was safe, my possessions were safe, and I slept through the night with no issues.  I actually had to ask if I was the only person there, as when I came back from dinner, all the lights were turned off. It was so dark, I couldn’t even find my floor.


I had to go back downstairs and request lights on!


Ghetto.


But… you get what you pay for. I always have to remember that.

And no, I don’t base my entire opinion of Nairobi on this accommodation…


God forbid!


I only had a small amount of time in Nairobi, as I was set to catch the bus for my tour at 7am the following day.  In my limited time frame, I managed to find a bank machine, got myself some snacks & supplies and I even got myself a Kenyan SIM card.


… bring on the Gorillas tour!


Eeeekkk… beyond thrilled.


Two weeks of Nomad Adventure camping ahead of me… and a trek into the Uganda mountainside to spend the day with the endangered Silverback Gorillas. If anyone is unsure as to which gorillas I will be hanging out with, just put on Gorillas in the Mist with Sigorney Weaver.


Well worth the watch.


Gorillas… I’m on my way!


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