Visas in the Congo are a little strange. When we arrived we received a six month visa. In order to stay longer than six months we had to send our passports to Kinshasa and request a long-term visa. With all the travel we did after first arriving we had to wait until the last minute to send our passports to get updated. It took much longer than expected to get approved, and we had to get ‘temporary’ visas in order to travel with President McMullin—which was a nightmare, as no one wanted to accept our temporary visa (even though it was an official government document!).
We finally received our official long-term visas with our passports. We can stay in the Congo for five years now…
There was one problem: the new visa requires you to leave the country within three months, and return, or pay a hefty fine. What they look for is a stamp on your visa showing you have traveled outside of the country. Our trip to Kasumbalesa was, in part, to accomplish this goal.
Kasumbalesa is a small Congolese city on the border of Zambia. We have two sets of missionaries serving in this city—which was the other reason for traveling there: to visit the apartment and the missionaries, which I had not done before. Emanuel had said he would come with us as he wanted to go over the border to shop in Zambia. Since we would be back the same day, it should not be a problem. We were also taking with us the Zone Leaders, who needed to visit the elders as part of the Zone responsibilities. Our going there was good timing for them as they would not have to take a bus or transport to get there.
The trip is about the same as a trip to Likasi (which we have made many times now), and took about 1 ½ hours. The home/apartment is on the outskirts of the city, in a new residential area. It is one of the nicer missionary apartments, but has no water (big surprise…).
It also has a two-room annex that has been used in the past to house a local missionary couple (they finished their mission soon after our arrival). It has gotten rather dusty with no one living there, but perhaps we will use it again in the future.
The home has a water tank that we can fill for storage, but all water must be purchased. We are fortunate that there is a deep well next door, with large storage tanks, and they sell water to our missionaries and the entire neighborhood.
With some investigation, we discovered that there was a well on the property, though it was dry. We intend to hire someone to dig the well deeper to see if we can get a good well on this property again.
I thought going through the Congo airport was an experience…going over the border and back was a nightmare. A classic case of government bureaucracy gone amok—on both sides of the border! We were fortunate to have help in our crossing (like making sure one has help going through airports), for without the help I’m not sure we could have made it through.
There is a member of the Church who worked at the border, who we had contacted, who agreed to aid us in crossing the border. Neither he nor we knew the effort it would take to do this! We picked him up at his home, which was close to where the missionaries lived (he was building a nice home himself).
We left the Zone leaders with the other elders and drove up to the border with Emanuel and our member friend (about a ten minute drive). There was a long line of trucks were parked, waiting their turn to cross. We had learned from other places to ignore the trucks, and just drive past them to the front. He had us go through an employee entrance to go into the parking lot next to a large new building that had been constructed to house the border security and government bureaucracy.
The first thing we did is to get a tour of the building, and to see where he worked. We were introduced to his fellow workers, and went out onto the roof of the building to see the vista (he worked on the top floor of the four story building).
After the tour we began going through the process of getting permission to leave the country. Because we were taking a vehicle across, we had to do almost everything twice! Moving from one station to another we paid fees, got stamps, receipts, paperwork, etc., and finally got back into the car to travel across no-man’s land to the Zambia side of the border where there was another, duplicate building that housed the Zambia border bureaucracy.
Once again we face a long line of trucks slowly making their way, and once again we skirted the line, and even left the road (at the direction of our friend), crossing over the dirt to drive on the road that came out of Zambia. I was sure we would be arrested or something, but they let us in the next gate and we parked in the Zambia parking lot.
As soon as we got out of the car we were accosted by three men trying to get us to pay them to guide us through the Zambia bureaucracy. Of course we said no, as we had our own guide… after about an hour and a half I began thinking we should have paid them for their expertise.
There are four doors going into the building, two on one side and two on the other, each of which led to a specific set of offices and procedures. Little did we know we would have to enter each door, and more, to get through the next gate and into Zambia. The first door was a simple passport verification and stamp. Our local guide, after discussion with the man at the counter, thought we were done, and we left to go into Zambia. When we drove to the gate to get out, they told us we did not have the right paperwork and would need to go back. We went back to the first office and spoke to the same man, who directed us to go outside the building and around to the back to another office.
When we got to the next counter, they directed us to go down a long corridor to an office that dealt with vehicles. They gave us forms to fill out, asked us about selling our vehicle in Zambia, etc., and then sent us to pay fees. The next counter we paid fees for our vehicle and then were sent back to the previous office to get a final stamp. We talked to the man in the office, who told us everything was good to go, so we went out, got in the truck, and headed out the gate again…only to be told for the second time that we did not have the correct documents and stamps.
All this time we had been heckled by the three men who had asked money to aid us in getting across the border! As we went back again, we were directed into a separate, smaller customs building. He talked to us and was not ready to let us go across the border. He felt we would sell the truck, or bring back illegal goods, or something like that. We assured him we were there for one day, and coming back. He finally let us go, giving us a stamp on our paperwork, but insisted that we return to his office and talk to him personally when we returned. We agreed and headed out the last time.
Just a note. Part of the problems we encountered was due to everyone’s disbelief that we were only going over the border for an hour or two, and just to get our passport stamped. Their lack of understanding, especially on the Congo side of the border, was confusing—it was their law and direction that was forcing us to do this! But at each desk as they questioned why we were leaving or entering, we spoke of just going across and coming back and they would squint their eyes and shake their heads or mutter something we could not understand.
The third time was the charm and we finally were permitted to go through the gate and into Zambia. We drove out of the truck maze and down the road to a large roadside market. Emanuel and our member friend left us in the truck to go shopping (they let us know that if they were seen with white people the prices they were charged would increase dramatically!). We were content to wait in the truck, as our purpose in coming was just for our passport stamp.
After about a half hour or 45 minutes Emanuel came back and told us to drive up the road a ways to pick up our friend, who was waiting with all the stuff they bought. Their purchases included two large live chickens! Emanuel bought them for half the price he could find in Congo.
Now we had to go back through the same maze of confusing bureaucracy we had just come through to get there, beginning with Zambia.
Upon entering the gate we immediately went back to customs, to the man who demanded we speak to him directly. He then sent us back to the large building, where we began to go through the exact same procedures, only backwards. Instead of going in the same two doors, we were directed to go to the other two doors on the other side of the building—although we still had to go down the long hall to get paperwork done for the truck, again. And, of course, pay all the fees again.
After completing the process, we returned to the customs office, got our final stamp, and headed back into no-man’s land between the two countries to reach the Congo side of the border. We stopped at the first gate, paid a new fee, just to get into the country, and then parked at the same building as before. We paid the fees, got the stamps (the ONE stamp we actually need to get in the first place, on our Congo visa), and returned to the truck to go out the last gate.
As we returned to the vehicle, there was a female security guard standing there, in a heated argument with our friend and another official. Not sure what was going on—whether we had parked in the wrong place, or something. They kept pointing back to where we had come from, acting as though we had to go back, or come through another gate, or something?
Added to all of this was the fact that our friend that worked at the border was late for work! He was so sure it was an easy ride over and back that he came with us, assuming he would be back in time to start his afternoon shift in security. As soon as we got to the Congo building, he went to work, leaving us to work our way through the final leg—telling us he could ‘watch’ us through the security cameras if there were any problems. When he saw the security officer giving us problems, he got permission to come help us out again.
After some conversation, he and Emanuel went inside the building again, I’m sure for more forms and fees, and eventually came back to the last gate where we were parked. He showed them the new paperwork, and asked us to pay yet another fee (which we were happy to do if it got us back into the country!).
The final gate opened and we said our goodbyes, thanking our church friend profusely for aiding us in getting over and back (we also gave him some money for his time). We all felt a wave of relief as we got through that final gate and headed back to the apartment to pick up the Zone Leaders and head home.
The trip back was without incident. We had left in the morning about 7am and got back about 4pm. It was the end of the week and we were all tired. It had been transfer week, and new missionaries coming in and old ones going home. We had just opened a new apartment in Kakonda (the church annex), and arranged for new bedrooms to be set-up in two other areas for additional missionaries coming in. It had been a good productive week, but we were old and tired and ready for a slow weekend.
The President and Sister McMullin, on the other hand, left today for a one week trip to South Africa for meetings and will return for one day only to leave again for a two week trip to Mwene Ditu and Luputa. Don’t know how they do it! I’m glad I’m just a ‘petite missionaire’!
Terri setting up the medical kit for the apartment, and to teach the Zone Leaders how to test for Malaria. If testing positive, they will have malaria medicine to take.
Meeting with the Kasumbalesa elders prior to leaving for home.