Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The ongoing visa saga

Wow, I’ve neglected my blog. And I hate it when I’m this far behind- where do I even begin? I guess I’ll work backwards. The biggest thing on my mind is getting my visa renewed. Last week Thursday I expired so on my way back from Kampala I stopped in the Lira immigration office to get the stamp. When I was in the States 3 months ago I purchased a 6 month, multi entry for $100.  However, for some obscure reason when entering the country in January immigration only stamped it for 90 days. So, even though I have a valid visa until July I still have to get a new stamp. So Thursday I tried. The officer seemed like he understood and was going to do it until he paused and asked for $50 for 3 more months. “But I’ve paid already $100 for 6  months.” “Just $10 then. You paid them in Entebbe, now you need to give us something here.” Actually, I paid in Washington DC but not wanting to confuse the issue I didn’t say that out loud. He called his boss and after a very short conversation in Lugandan he told me he didn’t have the stamp as his boss had it in her purse and I should come back Monday. This was a crock of lies as I saw it right there on his desk. But as it had been a very long week and I still had nearly two hours drive to get home I just said fine. But I pointed out to him that by Monday I would be expired. He gave me his phone number and told me to call him if when I came back I had problems.  I also pointed out to him that Monday was a national holiday. He said he was ALWAYS in the office. It was getting deep in there so I left. Monday morning as I was loading the truck to begin the more than 3 hour round trip trek to Lira I was inspired to call him. He didn’t answer and the person who did pick up refused to give me her name or give the phone to him but kept insisting in broken English that immigration wasn’t open. “I KNOW immigration isn’t open but he gave me this number and told me to come today for the stamp. Is he around?” “Immigration isn’t open today.” “Right then. Tomorrow?” “Immigration isn’t open today.” So I made the prudent decision to not go and just ask for forgiveness on Tuesday. Which leads to today. I drove all the way up to Lira and went into the office reminding myself the whole way to keep my opinions to myself, just be nice, ask for forgiveness even if I’ve done nothing wrong, etc… I entered the office and they were all there.  There were all talking to each other over tea in a language I don’t speak so I just sat down quietly. Eventually, I got the eyebrows from the boss (a very Ugandan communication) so I passed over my passport. Without pausing in her conversation boss woman started looking over my passport. No joke, 15 minutes later they finally paused long enough to make eye contact with me and told me to go to Mbale. (Easily a 4+ hour drive) “Why?” "Can’t give you the stamp." “Why?!?” “You have to pay.” “I’ve already paid.” “Go back to where you got this and tell them.”  “That was in America!!” “You shouldn’t have gotten this type.” “A 6 month? Why?” “You have to pay every time you come.” “I’ve paid already, I didn’t even want to come.” “We can’t give you the stamp.” “Why?” Let’s just say that after 30 minutes of this conversation the boss lady picked up her purse, put the stamp in it and walked out. Then the second man in the room did the same. I just sat quietly looking at the third guy. He refused to make eye contact. I pulled out the $50 that I keep with my important documents and passed it across the desk. He left the room (presumably to get the stamp back) and finally came back and gave me back my passport. The whole thing makes me mad. It costs $50 every 3 months. $100 for 6. This is fine. But why do they insist on changing my expiration every time I enter? Why this additional bribe every time I go into that stupid office?! I guess it actually isn’t a bribe. Maybe it is more like extortion but it is still corrupt and still makes me mad. But now I’m good until July 10th when I‘ll have to leave the country again. So for now the saga continues….

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