Rucksack…check, flights…check, visa…check, nerves…erm…

May 19, 2009

Yesterday was the day I had put aside to visit the DR Congo embassy to apply for my visa. Now, along with hundreds of other logistical challenges I’ve been facing pulling this trip together, this was certainly one that has had me nearly chewing my wrists off in frustration.

Back in February I tried to call the DR Congo embassy to ask what they require for a visa application. However, the number listed for them on the Internet as well as on their visa application was ‘not recognised’ every time I tried it. I even contacted various other DR Congo embassies in different countries (like Belgium) to make sure I had the correct number, which they assured me I did. After weeks of ‘not being recognised’ the phone was finally answered by a lovely lady called Eugenie who went on to tell me about her family in DRC and how much she missed them…she did warn me however ‘be careful out there, there are a lot of bad men, but there are good people too’. She kindly gave me her mobile number if ever I have trouble getting through to the embassy again and gave me all the information I required for obtaining a visa, one of them being a ‘letter of invitation’ from the people I will be visiting/volunteering at, stamped by ‘autorités locales’.

When I mentioned this to the nuns at the general Hospital in Bukavu where I will be volunteering they had no clue what I meant or why this is required and neither did Brandi or Virginia and they both had ‘letters of invitation’ without this so-called ‘autorités locales’ stamp and still managed to get their visas. So to avoid making unnecessary trips to the embassy I got a colleague (thanks Sophie!), who speaks fluent French, to call the embassy, read the letter back to them, describing the stamps and signatures of the congregation the nuns are with, just to be sure the letter met their requirements. We even faxed it through to them and again they assured us the letter I have is fine. I also checked that they will be open on the day I intend to visit, which they said they were.

So, yesterday, armed with my passport, yellow fever vaccine certificate and all important ‘letter of invitation’ I set off to London with such excitement I could burst…which I did, but with disappointment…outside the embassy, a notice reading: ‘DUE TO A PUBLIC HOLIDAY IN THE DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONDO THE EMBASSY WILL BE CLOSED ON THE 18th MAY’. Crap!

At least I had the Tuesday (today) booked off from work too but had a dentist appointment at 9am, which I could not cancel without incurring a charge (and it’s work that I do need to get done as I don’t want to be in DR Congo with tooth problems!)….it would be a tight squeeze…going to the dentist then rushing into London again to get to the embassy before 12pm, but it had to be done! Turned out my ‘letter of invitation’ was not correct, but I think dear Eugenie took pity on me (maybe the box of chocolates helped?), especially after I explained that I checked this with them and they approved it at the time. I was then send on my way and told to collect it at 3pm. After 3 hours of wandering the streets of London to kill time, I returned only to be told that it wasn’t ready and that I’d had to wait for 10 more minutes, which turned into 20..30..40…more than a hour later Eugenie finally called me over, returning to me my passport…WITH MY VISA! I almost cried..with joy of finally getting it sorted but also with the pain from having my tooth extracted earlier today at the dentist…turns out the intended root canal could no longer save my tooth and that all that could be done to prevent it from being a problem was to pull it…so I am sans 1 tooth but avec a DR Congo VISA! :) (make that a toothless smiley face!)

All best! Philippa

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