Scary Boda Rides, Visas, and Grumpy Men

August

Kelsey and I plan on staying in UG for one year and research visas. We take advice from a friend of a friend who had a long spent time in Uganda to just renew our visas every 3 months. When you travel to Uganda, you are granted a 3 month visa at the airport. To renew your visas, you can just take a $10 bus ride to Rwanda or Kenya and then come back in and get another 3 months. We decided this sounded pretty good and it would force us to take a mini-vacation every 3 months to leave the country.

November

Our first 3 months come to a close and we travel to Rwanda and back to Uganda the same day. Kelsey and I are both granted another 3 months in Uganda. The following week, we bring home Joellia, Reeja, and Martha to live with us.

January-Feburary

We start looking at other options to renew our visas. We can’t just pack up and go to Rwanda and leave the girls behind. Kelsey and I would have had to take turns and travel separately out of the country then come back. Then we start hearing rumors that immigration is denying re-entry to people after a couple visits.

We look into work visas. It’s a no go. In order to obtain a work visa, you must leave the country for 6 months-1 year while they process it.

We get advice from friends in Uganda. They had applied for an extension for their family and were granted it twice allowing them to stay in UG for an extra 6 months without having to leave. I also do some research and find that they offer mulitple-entry visas to people who travel to Uganda often.

Thursday

Kelsey and I go to the immigration office in Kampala. We get there and find out we are not eligible for a special pass or an extension. For an extension, you have to show proof of a return ticket home and a letter from your host and we have neither. I ask about the multiple-entry pass and the man at the counter tells me they don’t do that. He tells us our only options are to either apply for an extension or leave the country and risk being denied re-entry. Now, this man was pretty grumpy and didn’t like that we were taking up so much of his time. The people in line behind us are starting to get grumpy because I’m taking too long and they’re standing under the hot African sun. Someone even walked right up to the desk and interrupted us. I guess he was tired of waiting. (If you think the DMV in the US is bad, this is worse.) Out of luck, Kelsey looks at me and says, “We’ll just have to fly out this weekend or book return flights home. That’s going to put a dent into our bank accounts.” Now, neither of us just happen to have $1,500 sitting in our bank accounts to book a return flight back to the US. We didn’t even have enough money in our accounts to fly to Rwanda and back. I decided to risk making him really mad and ask one more time about the multiple-entry pass and tell him that I saw on the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ website that they do offer it. And to our surprise, he magically pulls out two applications and hands them to us. I’m still not sure why he didn’t give them to me in the first place. Maybe it’s more work to process?! Maybe he wanted me out of his face?! Probably both.

He tells us to bring back the applications on Friday and we’ll find out on Wednesday if we were approved. We walk away feeling pretty good about ourselves until Kelsey remembers that our visas expire on Monday. So there I go, back to the counter, cutting in front of the entire line (making more people mad) and tell him that our visas expire Monday and we can’t wait until Wednesday. He assures me that as long as my passport and application are at immigration before Monday, we are safe. (Yes, you have to leave your passport at the office. Leave my passport?! In that giant, disorganized stack of papers on his desk?! Ummm…not happening. Luckily, a canadian woman in line senses my panic and assures us that she left her passport there and when she came back they eventually found it.)

Friday

Kelsey and I plan on going to the grocery store then to the immigration office. Instead, we get an urgent phone call and our afternoon fills up. It’s now getting close to 4 PM and the office closes at 5 PM. Kelsey and I rush to fill out our applications and print out letters to the Commissioner of Immigration explaining why he should let us stay in his country. The power at our house is out and Kelsey’s computer dies which has the letters saved on it. My laptop still has battery so she rewrites the letters from memory. We turn on the generator so we can use the printer. Eeeks..it’s now after 4 and the office closes at 5. (Note: This is the last business day to turn in the applications before we become illegal immigrants. And apparently, they don’t like granting visas to illegal immigrants.) I hit PRINT and my computer freezes and Microsoft Word quits unexpectedly. I open back up Word and the document is lost. We type it out again for the third time. I try to save it but the hard drive on my computer is full and won’t save. I hit PRINT. Same thing. Computer freezes, Word quits and loses the document. Kelsey powers up her computer but our printer doesn’t work with it because her operating system is too new. She saves it to a flash drive and gives it to me. I pull up the file, press print, and word shuts down and I get an error message that the title of the document contains an unacceptable character. Now, it’s not like she saved the document as $(&_#&^(@*}{. Get ready for it, it’s saved as:

letter

Just the word: letter. After multiple attempts and getting the same message, Kelsey digs out her old broken down laptop. Now, this poor ol’ Apple has major problems and is R—E—A—L—L—Y slow and it’s now pushing 4:30 PM. She retypes the letters for the 4th time and finally it prints. Hallelujah!

I make a mad dash for the driveway and hail a boda. Hailing a boda is like hailing a cab, except I don’t whistle. You just kind of flick your wrist and they either stop or they shake their head and laugh at you. It’s now 4:30 PM on a Friday. If you’ve ever been unfortunate enough to drive around Kampala, you know that it can take 1 hour to get somewhere that should take 20 minutes because the traffic is GOD AWFUL especially on a Friday. (People leave Kampala to go back to their villages on Fridays. The traffic deserves a blog post of it’s own.) And this is where I make a life-threatening mistake. I tell the boda driver, “Ministry of Internal Affairs on Jinja Road. I have to get there quickly. Drive quickly, but safely.”

Lesson learned: Never tell a boda driver to get you somewhere quickly, but safely. They have selective hearing and only hear “quickly.”

No exaggeration, this was the scariest boda ride I’ve had. And I am a boda boda lover. I ride them all the time because they’re cheap and they can weave in and out of traffic, getting you there faster. I’ve even been in a boda accident and this ride was still scarier. I must have hit him in the back at least five times yelling, “Slow down!” and saying things like, ¬†“If we die, you don’t get paid” and “I want a visa, but I’d rather be alive.” The whole time I was reassuring myself that Jesus wants to keep me alive and I need to get there before the office closes. I make it to the office on time AND alive, tell the boda man that he is a horrible driver, and run my way up to the counter. Seriously, I know I must’ve looked like a hot mess when I made it to the counter. My hair was all sorts of outta whack from the boda ride and I was sweating more than a lady should sweat. I hand the grumpy man (different man but still grumpy) our papers and he looks through them. He starts to laugh while reading my letter, and tells me “You’ve turned yourself in. If you’re volunteering, you need a work visa.” I start sweating more and tell him that I’m just a volunteer and don’t get paid. He insists that volunteering is the same thing as working and that I’m going to be denied. I ask him, “So if someone wants to just come over and hold babies in an orphanage for a day, they need a work visa!?” (Not that that’s what I’m doing. That was just the best argument I could come up with at the time.) He tells me that he’ll still turn our applications in but they would probably be denied and I should come back Tuesday. I walk away upset, still sweating, and hop on another boda.

Monday

Our visas expire.

Tuesday

We drive to Immigration in the morning and I sit in the car with the kids while Kelsey goes inside. A little while later, she comes back and tells me we were approved but that they wouldn’t show her what we were approved for because we have to pay them in US Dollars. We’re elated that we’ve been approved for something even if it’s just another 3 months. So we drive to Western Union and exchange our shillings into dollars. We head back to Immigration and they tell Kelsey that she has to come back Wednesday. You see, it’s now their lunchtime and they’re starting to get grumpy. I’m not kidding, that’s what they said. They make her give them the money but refuse to write a receipt. She argues that she wants proof that she paid. They get angry and tell her to take the money and leave then. Reluctantly, she pays them $200 and walks away empty-handed.

Wednesday

Back to Immigration we go. Kelsey goes in while I stay in the car again. But, this time she comes back, with passports in hand and two beautiful stamps inside.

They granted us both 1 year mulitple-entry visas!!

Praise God!!! No more worrying about getting kicked out of the country! And seriously after all that stinkin trouble and sweating and being told we’d be denied, we were somehow approved!!!!!

I guess the Big Man wants us to stay in UG for a little while longer.

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