Why are we still waiting? Congo continued.
I spent around 2 months in Greenland during the early days of the Saga.
Most of that time in Greenland, I was searching for a way to leave. And I left on the very first boat which wasn't going to Denmark. So this Congo nonsense is merely child's play...so far it has only been a month now...
There are times when the Red Cross plays a role within the projects logistics. I don't see a lot of support from the Red Cross in most cases. But every once in a while I meet people within the Red Cross who understand the Saga and try to help. The French Red Cross has been overwhelmingly helpful towards both me and the Saga. And also looking back throughout the Saga I generally remember many kind faces.
The Saga does however pose a slight problem to the Red Cross. I'm taking far too many risks upon myself and thus I become liability. It's at least a theory of mine. I cannot see why else the Red Cross wouldn't take more advantage of a volunteer going through all this trouble to provide a platform for free advertisement? I've been away from home for far more than 2 years and wherever I have gone I have carried a Red Cross collection canister in my bag. There have been 2 national collections in Denmark since I left home. How has the collection canister not been relevant in that context? It is by far the most traveled Red Cross collection canister ever! The answer might be found in the risks I take. I travel without flight...everywhere. I go to every country. I often go with the cheapest form of transportation. Within the Red Cross one must always consider two things in terms of transportation: Safety and cost. Even if a road trip might be more cost efficient, then a flight might be considered far safer in certain situations. And obviously far more practical in some cases as well. So I figure I'm too dangerous for the Red Cross? Sounds exciting - huh? ;)
I have however been tasked, by the Danish Red Cross, with writing a story about each of the 190 national societies around the world during this journey. And since that is a specific task, then I am certainly providing the Red Cross with my labor and time. And doing so unpaid would make me a volunteer? It's complicated...
I'm in Central Africa. Central Africa is complicated! Specifically certain places are notorious like the border crossing from Brazzaville to Kinshasa (the two Congo's capitals). I'm in Brazzaville where I have been for a long time now. The crossing point is called "the beach" and it is dreaded by many travelers. Especially the side in Kinshasa has a particularly hard reputation.
In order to cross you must have your visa. For this you need an invitation letter. You can actually pay a hotel a substantial amount of money and they will provide such a letter. For me it is different. Apart from being on a $20/day budget I'm acting as Goodwill Ambassador for the Danish Red Cross. Which by the way is another reason why I try to keep the Saga as legal as possible. I first arrived in Brazzaville in October 2015 and received such a letter from the Red Cross in Kinshasa. But I was unable to get my visa at the embassy, because I wasn't a resident in Congo where I was applying. In fact I was told to return 9,000 km to Denmark to apply for the visa so that I could return and cross the 3km Congo River?!?
That was however solved when the Red Cross contacted the foreign ministry in Kinshasa. The ministry had a commission and agreed that I could apply without being a resident. Fancy stuff! But the embassy never received that message which caused a lot of concussion. Eventually we put our heads together and decided that it would be better if I returned to Gabon and visited São Tomé and Equatorial Guinea. All of this took place back on October last year.
A french keyboard is almost like a real keyboard, merely more French.
On the day I left Brazzaville I received an SMS letting me know that the embassy had finally received notice from the foreign ministry and that I could now apply for my visa. But I was already on route back to Gabon.
Fast forward to the beginning of February 2016 when I returned to Brazzaville. The embassy had by phone confirmed to the French Red Cross that the decision made by the foreign ministry was still valid. But as I arrived at the embassy they wanted to double check, which they have been doing ever since. Furthermore my invitation letter has expired. I was also waiting for a new invitation letter, which was taking a lot of time because it needed to be signed by the President of the Red Cross in Kinshasa. Unfortunately he was very sick and eventually passed away ,which complicated the case further. I was then told to wait another 14 days before requesting a letter again. Keeping in mind that a two day delay in each country would add more than a year more to the entire project!
On top of that I am required to get a DGM letter signed and stamped in Kinshasa. It's a real "catch 22" scenario:
You: Hi, I need a visa :)
Embassy: Do you have a DGM? :(
You: No, where do I get one? :)
Embassy: In Kinshasa! :(
You: But...how do I go to Kinshasa? :)
Embassy: You can't without the DGM! :(
Taxis in Brazzaville are green - but in other Congolese cities they are blue or red.
Luckily I have a friend I've never met before in Kinshasa. So she is helping me and we might soon see an end to this madness! As I said, sometimes the Red Cross is very precious to the Saga.
Now, let's not forget the Angola visa! Ah yes, more red tape. The Angola visa is commonly ranked as one of the top 3 most difficult visas to obtain in the world (Equatorial Guinea being among the other 2). I had the Angola visa in my passport! I still have! But it was "only" valid for 3 months and has expired. For this I also required a new invitation letter. But the Angola Red Cross wasn't replying for more than 2 weeks, which had me worried! However the Secretary General finally responded that they had been busy in the field administrating yellow fever vaccinations. That was a good day, when I received that notice!!
Angolan embassy in Brazzaville.
You see, it's really hard to know, when you might have done something which has insulted someone around this part of the world. And I was worried that I had unintentionally insulted someone. But the reply was nice and confirming. One week later there was however still no news about the Angolan invitation letter? It turned out that they had been calling, emailing and faxing the Angolan embassy in Brazzaville without any response.
I've been here long enough to have my own shelf!
So I received a copy and went to the embassy on my own. This went fine to begin with and the lady behind the counter recognized me from October last year. She was kind and helpful. But she soon returned with notice that the copy of the invitation was too blurry and that I didn't have enough free pages left in my passport. I have 6 empty pages in my passport...
You don't debate too much with these people. You simply risk having them dig their heals in. So I smiled, relieved my documents and left again.
I remembered that when I applied the first time I was told that my passport photos were not okay, because I wasn't wearing a shirts in them. It's that kind of nonsense I deal with.
And I cook too!!
So the next day I returned with my friend Marie of the French Red Cross. She is super charming and that is very helpful. Apart from that she speaks French. We also brought a better color copy of the invitation letter.
The lady at the embassy immediately said that the issue wasn't the letter of invitation? It was my passport which didn't have enough pages. It went something like this:
Marie: But he has 6 empty pages (showing the empty pages).
Lady: Sorry, it's not enough.
Marie: But you can cover the first visa as it is unused and still have 6?
Lady: He doesn't have enough pages.
Marie: Okay, what is the requirement? How many empty pages does he need?
??? Yup, it's that kind of nonsense.
It's hard to find good internet in Brazzaville. This place wasn't "it" either.
Fortunately Gaëtan, who I wrote about last week, has a friend, who knows someone in the embassy. So we might get around this nonsense.
And that brings us up to today. DRC and Angola are the 2 last countries in Central Africa. After Angola it should be smooth for a while. I'm particularly looking forward to English speaking Namibia where I hope the new James Bond and the new Star Wars movies are still featured in the cinema.
Petit Gäetan has been named after the other Gäetan. He lives downstairs and comes to play with me every day.
Actually visiting DRC can be done with some ease from the other side of the enormous country. From Zambia they offer trekking into the jungle and you are quite easily issued a visa. But then I would loose out on meeting many of the people in Kinshasa who have been so helpful. Some have been helping since October last year. I would also miss out on meeting with the Red Cross which would be a shame. Furthermore I would miss out on seeing the bonobo apes, which I've been thinking about since Thierry put that thought in my head back in Benin.
Angola is a different ordeal. I would need to visit now. And there is no really easy way in. So we'll simply keep on keeping on. Or as they say in French: On est ensemble (we are together).