OK, so according to the guy at the gate at the Sudan Embassy, it would help if I got a letter (of what content, I have no idea) from the U.S. Embassy about my trip there. So, I got up this morning and went out there by van, now that I’ve figured out how those work now.
I got to the U.S. Embassy around 9:45 this morning. Remember, yesterday I got there after they closed at 3 p.m. As I got to the gate, I showed the guard my passport and told him I needed to see someone about writing a letter for me.
“You know the office closes at 10, right?”
Now I REALLY want a job in the Foreign Service. Turns out the office responsible for helping U.S. citizens abroad is open from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m., then again from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
What a job.
As a U.S. citizen, I got to skip to the head of the line, past the people applying for visas (all dressed far, far better than I was). Quickly got shown into the office dealing with issues for Americans. Through pexiglass, the woman working that desk asked me what I needed. I told her that I was applying for a visa to go to Sudan and that the people there said that a letter from my embassy, since I wasn’t working for an N.G.O., might help. She told me that the United States government doesn’t need to write letters — the passport is all we need — and that the Sudan Embassy knew that.
OK. I tried. Back on the buses to the Sudan Embassy.
I was worried I would make it by the time they closed, but I was determined to make it back there by van/bus. To make a longer story short, I got there at 11 — in plenty of time. The security guard at the front gate recognized me and threw out a very hearty “Jambo! You are back.” I signed in and he pointed me to the office I needed to go to for the visa.
When I got in there, the woman behind the plexiglass handed me two identical applications for a visa. I made sure I was supposed to fill both out. No explanation, but of course I was. It was perhaps the worst designed application I have ever filled out — I had very little idea if I was putting any correct information in the spots they wanted it.
I filled it out as best I could and took the applications and my two passport photos (bring a couple dozen passport sized photos with you if you multi-country travel — it is necessary). She took the application and asked the questions I dreaded: “When are you flying into Sudan?”
“I’m not flying, I will be coming to your country by bus.”
“When will you be arriving?”
“I’m not sure — I’d like a visa for about a month from now.”
“You don’t know your exact plans?”
“No, I am just traveling. I would like to go from Ethiopia to Egypt through Sudan, if I could.”
“Did you get a letter from your embassy?”
“I just came from there — they said they don’t do letters like that.”
“Why don’t you just fly?”
“I am trying to see more of the world. I really would like to see Sudan a small bit, if I can.”
“Why don’t you apply for a visa in Ethiopia?”
“I heard this embassy was the best one to apply at.”
I wasn’t making any progress. She didn’t ask for my application money. She was looking at me like I was an idiot.
“Do you have your Egypt visa?”
“No, I am going there after Sudan. I wanted to get my Sudan visa first.”
“They will want to see your Egypt visa. You are an American. They aren’t going to like this. Why don’t you go get your Egypt visa first and then come back?”
And that was that. She kept my application and told me that she’d put it in a file, until I got the Egypt visa. Given her response, I wasn’t too optimistic.
I went back to my hotel and across the street to an internet cafe. I’d been emailing a tour operator in Sudan as my fallback about getting a visa. He’d previously said he could arrange it for $150 U.S. I re-emailed him and told him about the day. He told me not to worry about it. He said just go to Ethiopia and I’d be able to get both the Egypt and Sudan visa quickly, with no problems.
Here’s the main reason I trusted him — he didn’t want any money. I asked him, if I didn’t get the visa quickly in Addis Abeba whether I could hire him to get them for me. He told me basically, don’t worry about it — you can do it without me for free. No worries. Hakuna matata — a phrase that I totally love, even if it was in The Lion King.
So, I’m off to Ethiopia. I think it will take three full days on buses on the worst roads I’ve yet experienced, to get to Addis Abeba. Hopefully.