Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Tanzania or Bust.....we went with bust.

For our next blog the goal was to show beautiful pictures of Tanzania's Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.  That was the goal.  We left Nyumbani and Kenya on Thursday on traveled the 6 our bus ride over the boarder into Arusha, Tanzania.  Our first sign of trouble came at the boarder when we were told that a visa into Tanzania for US Citizens is $100 each...not the $50 that they listed online.  We tried unsuccessfully and, with the worry of them not letting us in, half-heartedly to point out that this price is not what was listed online before shelling out the $200 to get into Tanzania.  Upon arriving in Arusha we were soon picked up by Father Ephram who is one of the three priest at the Ngarenero Parish in Arusha, and where we had planned to stay during our travels in Tanzania.  Another priest, Father Simon Tenges, is friends with Father John Frances Mole of Shaw Island who insisted that we visit his parish while in Africa.  Claire and I had also arranged another safari through a director of the Parish, Mr. Kimati. 

Father Ephram showed Claire and I to the hostel on the parish where we would be staying, toured us through the parish, and then left us to explore the town before meeting again at the father's house for dinner.  Arusha is a town of roughly 1 million people (think Everett but with 1 million residents), that has really expanded over the past decade due to tourism (climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Meru & Safari's through the Serengeti, Ngorongoro Crater, and other close Wildlife Parks).  This is a very lively town, with wonderful markets, "tricked out" Dala Dalas (minivans packed with people, subwoofers, neon lights, and air horns that drive specific routs and act like miniature buses, they are called a matatu in Kenya), and residents wearing very traditional clothing while carrying baskets on their heads.  It was a very warm sunny afternoon and Claire and I very much enjoyed touring the city.  After a wonderful meal Claire and I retired to bed with plans of exploring Arusha and the surrounding area the following day.

After breakfast, which in Tanzania and Kenya is instant coffe, milk tea, and white bread with margarine, Claire and I met with Mr. Kimati where we planned to meet after lunch with the safari guides to finalize plans and make the first payment for our safari.  We then toured the St. Elizabeth's Hospital, which is part of the parish, with Sister Phyllis.  At this point Claire and I went back to our room at the parish hostel to retrieve our ATM cards so we could withdraw the needed money to pay the safari guide.  After opening both locked doors into our room we relized that Claire's purse was not where she left it on the desk in the room.  Because we had just passed through the boarder Claire had moved all her valuables into the purse, including her Passport, Credit Card, ATM Card, Drivers Liscense, Health Card, our Bus Ticket back to Kenya, and both Tanzanian Shillings and US Dollars.  Nothing else in the room looked like it had been disturbed.  We searched under the bed, through our bags, in the sheets of the bed, in the bathroom, and every square inch of the room and we could not find her purse...we then looked at the window.....it was barred, but the lock was broken on the glass and it could be moved aside allowing a person to reach a stick in and grab a purse off of the desk.  We found father Ephram, Father Simon, and the Sister in charge of the hostel who came into the room and they came up with the same conclusion of Claire and I.  Her purse had been stolen and all items inside where gone. 

The troubling part of the situation was that this window opened into a small walled/gated courtyard that only a guest or an employee of the parish would be able to get into, and with over 40 beds in the hostel the person had to know which room we were staying in to even consider looking into our room.

After realizing that Claire's purse had been stolen our next concern was my passport and credit cards which were zipped into a pocket of my backpack sitting directly below the window.  They had been left undesturbed.  We also had copies of all of our important documents that Claire could use as proof of identity.

Now the fun begins.  We were returning to Kenya in one week to fly out and the only US Embassy in Tanzania was in Dar es Salam, which is a 9 plus hour bus ride out to the coast.  The nearest US Embassy was in Nairobi Kenya, only a 6 hour bus ride away, of which we had already paid for a round trip ticket (which had been stolen with Claire's purse) but this meant we needed to get through the boarder and Claire had no official documentation. 

Father Simon and the sister in charge of the hostel stayed there and questioned staff and visitors to see if anyone had any information about what might have happened to the purse, while Claire, Father Ephram, and myself went to the Police Station to file a Lost/Stolen Item Report.  Don't worry, all of the stereo types of African corruption were very much evident at the police station.  We never actually bribed anyone while at the police station but Father Ephram said that they were very much waiting for them to help us move the process along.

We had realized that Claire's purse was missing at about 11:30 am and it was around noon before we arrived at the police station.  The first thing you do is tell an officer at the front desk that you need to fill out a Lost/Stolen Items Report and they give you a number and tell you to take it up to the accountant so you can pay a fee (YES, YOU HAVE TO PAY TO REPORT TO THE POLICE THAT YOU WERE ROBBED!!!) of 500 Tsh (something like $.50, nothing to us, but half of a days wage to a Tanzanian).  The accountant's door was locked and we were told that she was at the bank and we would have to wait until she returned. 

At this point we went outside and I called the US Embassy in Dar es Salam to report that Claire's passport had been stolen.  This was around noon on a Friday, they were closed, but I could get through if it was a life or death emergency.  Being that neither Claire or myself had lost a passport before, especially in a foreign country we did not really know what all we needed to do so I put myself through as a life or death emergency and was instantly connected to a gentleman with an Americna accent, finally we are getting somewhere.  "I'm sorry, this line is for people with a life or death emergency, you will need to call back on Monday when we are open and an embassy officer can assist you at that point."  So much for that.  We were planning on being back in Nairobi by Monday so we could go to the US Embassy there, and start the process of getting a passport for Claire before flying out to the UK.  So no point in calling thier embassy at 8 am Monday morning, when we were planning on being at the Nairobi US Embassy at that time.

Back up to the accountant, still closed, now what?  A gentleman outside of the police station suggested to Father Ephram (by the way we could not go more than 5 minutes without father knowing someone) that we go to the Tanzanian Immigration office just down the street.  When we arrived at the Imigration Office Father Ephram instantly struck up a conversation with the gentleman behind the desk (no surprise they knew each other), and he told us exactly what we needed to do in order to get an Emergency Travel Document that would allow Claire back into Kenya.  After filling out the police report we needed to return to the Immigration Office with the following items:  Police Report, Copy of Passport, 3 passport photos (of which we had to get taken because we only had 2 passport pics), travel itinerary (didn't know that we needed it, but when we returned he asked for it and luckily we had it), and 5000 Tsh (under $5).

We then returned to the police station, accountant door still locked.

Back to the parish, passport photos en route, to get a quick bite to eat, call credit card companies (couldn't get through because the parish had not paid their phone bill), and then return to the police station to fill out report and take it to the Immigration office before they close at 3:30. 

We returned to the police station at 2:15 and the accountants door was still closed.  As we began walking downstairs we saw a gentleman exit the accountants office so we quickly walked in and requested for her to take our money so we could fill out a Lost/Stolen Item Report.  The next few minutes were all in Swahili so I can only tell you what I understood from actions, the few words that I know in Swahili, and what Father Ephram told us.  The accountant informed Father that her office hours end at 2 pm and she could not take or money.  Father informed her that we had been there three times between noon and 1 pm and she was not there so she needed to take our money.  She said no.  He told her how Claire's passport was stolen and she needed this report to return to Kenya.  She said no.  Okay...change of plan.  Instead of arguing with her he pleaded with her and she came around, took 20 second out of her busy day (so busy she could spend over an hour at the bank...as you will find out this is actually a very reasonable amount of time to spend at bank) to fill out the receipt and take our money.

We then went downstairs to fill out the report.  A young man found a copy of a blank report document and told father that he needed to go to a market to get a copy made.  We watied at the police station while father ran to get a copy made (you will find out this this is a reacurring theme).  One he returned the officer took us into a room (this room was a mess of files thrown everywhere, falling of shelves, and covering tables.  He then took the report to an office next door where a lady behind the desk seemed to question the report before stamping it and giving Claire the stamped copy (another tense moment).

Now it was close to 2:30 and we booked it to the Immigration Office.  This time another gentleman seemed to question the first gentleman about whether Claire could get the needed document but after some persuation by Father Ephram in Swahili he came around and they filled out some paperwork with an account number that we had to take to a specific bank in order to deposit 5000 tsh into the account and return with the receipt.  They don't have their own accountant (and by the treatment of the accountant at the Police Station this was for the best).  The bank was a 5 minute walk away and it was about 3 pm by this time.  30 minutes before the Immigration Office closes.  We asked the gentleman if we would be able to deposit the money and return in time to finish the paperwork and he seemed less than optomistic. 

As we walked into the bank my fears had been relized.  Banks in Kenya and Tanzania are painfully slow, and there were about 6 lines all with 20-30 people waiting in them.  There was no way that we could deposit the money and return to the Immigration Officed before 3:30.  As we walked in a man with a bank shirt walked up to Father and shook his hand.  Another person he knew.  Father explained the situation, and the man took the paperwork, the 5000 tsh, and returned in a couple of minutes with the stamped receipt. 

We now almost ran to the Immigration Office, returning at about 3:15.  At this point the officer took our paperwork and informed us that we need to go to the market next door and make copies of all documents.  So about 5 minutes, and three trips by Father Ephram to the market, later the Immigration Officer began writing Claire's Emergency Travel Document.

All around us Immigration Employees were closing windows and doors, and leaving to go home as it was now 3:30.  Once the officer had finished the paper work we saw him looking around for the officer who needed to sign the document and she was not in her office.  She had just walked out the door and left for the day.  He ran out to the front of the building by the street, talked to someone, and then slowly walked back into the office.  Had we really just gone through all of that only to not get the document because the one person who could sign the document had just left.  Seriously!

A few minutes later the woman slowly walked into the office, signed the document, and left.  The office then called Claire and I over from the bench where we were sitting, gave us the document and informed us that we can now travel for one month with this document.  Meaning that we can get to Kenya and the UK, but before returning to the states we need to get Claire a new passport.

We all leave the Immigration Office feeling like we are on cloud 9.  So many things had to go right (the accountant letting us pay late, Claire and I having copies of all important documents including travel itinerary, and the bank employee taking our deposit for us) in order for us to get that document in time for Claire and I to get back to Kenya by Monday.

After this everything started to fall into place.  We went to the bus company and they had a record of our ticket and were able to switch us to an earlier bus so we could get back to Nairobi by Sunday, we emailed Nyumbani who graciously have allowed us to return while working on Claire's new passport, we were able to contact our banks and cancel the stolen cards (my ATM card has a different number so it can still be used, and I have two extra Credit Cards that were not stolen that I can use),we spend saturday touring Arusha, the fathers gave Claire and I extremely thoughtful parting gifts, we returned to Nyumbani in time for me, Grant, to play soccer with the boys, on Monday morning sister Julie of Nyumbani needed to go to the US Embassy to add pages to her passport so Claire and I were able to hitch a ride with her, and Claire has been issued a temporary passport, which we pick up on Friday morning, that she can use for three months before needing to replace it (at no extra charge - who ever heard of the U.S. government allow us to do something for free...we figured we would have to pay for the temp passport and a new one).

Anyway, sorry if reading this has taken up a chunk of your day, but I thought it was an interesting story that needed to be told in its full detail.

Claire and I are doing well, are happy to be back with the children and Nyumbani and are looking forward to our trip home via the UK (British Airways strike and volcano willing).

We miss all of you and have you in our thoughts and prayers.

Catch you later,
Grant and Claire


1 comment:

  1. What a tale! I can envision it as a movie--all the running around, dealing with bureaucracy, and then a happy ending.

    You were blessed to have Father Ephram to walk (and talk!) you through it all.

    We will be happy to hear that you have landed in London.

    Love to you both, Janice