Apparently I’m just a sucker for punishment. As if the first set of struggles weren’t enough to tell me I should take a vacation, round two came out hard and forced me to.
The visa application process in Rwanda has been a giant source of stress for me. As a Canadian, you need to apply for a 30-day visa before arriving in the country. Usually, this takes about three days, and you’re good to go. My application took roughly two weeks, resulting in me having to reschedule my flight and arrive in Rwanda later than intended. And it’s only gotten more difficult since then.
One of the major cultural differences between the Western world and just about everywhere else is our treatment of time – I’m really lucky to have lived and worked in a few other places where time was treated more loosely, so I’ve relaxed a lot about other people not treating time as strictly as I do (which is a serious accomplishment given that I’m the kind of person that arrives to everything 15 minutes early and gets physically uncomfortable with the thought of being late). So, I had wanted to apply for my work permit here as soon as I arrived, given it was December, the holidays were likely to slow things down, and, after having issues with getting an initial entry visa, I wanted to have time to address any problems. The organisation wanted to take things slower, so I deferred to their judgment. My visa wasn’t applied for until a few days before my 30-day visa was to expire, but, as long as the visa is being processed, you’re legally allowed to stay in Rwanda, even if it’s past the initial 30 days.
For roughly 7 weeks, I didn’t have my passport, which meant I was living in a constant state of semi-panic, running through all the worst-case scenarios that could unfold (made worse by legal knowledge and an overly active imagination).
In early February, I got a text from Immigration telling me my visa had been denied, and I should go pick up my passport. I went into Kigali the following day, showed up at Immigration at the indicated time, and was told that they didn’t have my passport. If I thought I knew what panic was before, I don’t know how to describe this feeling. I started shaking, my voice rose several octaves, and all I got for the next hour was, “We don’t have your passport. We don’t know where it is.”
I did not exactly handle that situation as calmly as I would have liked. After loudly proclaiming that Canadian passports were the property of the Government of Canada and that I would be calling the Embassy (we don’t even have an Embassy in Kigali; why can I not move to a country with a Canadian Embassy?), my passport was suddenly procured from a back room. Nothing strikes terror into the hearts of a foreign country’s government officials like the thought of Justin Trudeau riding in on a moose wielding a beaver and a hockey stick and politely asking for his property back, eh.
Nobody would tell me why the visa was denied, and when I asked to speak to someone who could, I was told to wait, which I did for 45 minutes, before someone else came out and said that I would have to write Immigration asking for official reasons for denial, and they would get back to me. Considering the short time allowance on my exit visa, I wasn’t all that hopeful that I would get a response before I had to leave the country.
After an insanely stressful couple days during which the organisation inquired into my visa denial and the possibility of reapplying, we still did not have a clear answer on my deportation day. The organisation had wanted me to hold off on booking a flight until they had an answer, in case it was positive, so literally I did not know how I was getting out of the country until 3pm that day. I don’t know how I didn’t lose it, to be totally honest. Throughout this whole process, the only time I broke down was when I went to the Canadian consular office to ask for their advice – a photo of Justin Trudeau made me burst into tears. I don’t really ever get homesick for Canada, but over the past week I’ve just wanted to wrap myself in a Canadian flag and not come out.
Of course at the airport all my things got searched, because if something can go wrong for me in Rwanda, it will.
So, now I’m in Kampala for an indefinite amount of time. We’re still in the process of figuring out if and how I could more successfully apply for a visa, so we’re going to see where we get on that front and then decide if I try to re-enter or if my #deportationvacation will include a layover in Toronto.
I’m so sorry that I wasn’t able to provide more information as this was going on – I know I had a ton of people asking me what was happening and worrying about me, and honestly every time someone asked me about all this, my stress levels jumped up because I didn’t know anything. This entire situation has been so out of my control and not being able to tell anyone any concrete information was such an awful feeling. A huge thank you to my parents, for not pressuring me with questions and trusting that I’d let them know what was going on when I knew – you two have grown so much since my first solo trip to Mexico at age 20 (they made me text them every night to make sure I didn’t die; I made them pay for my cell phone bill). Honestly, that was the best support I could have had throughout all this – as much as I appreciated everyone’s concern and love (and seriously, I do, thank you all, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to tell you more), just knowing that my parents could pretend to chill (I know they were freaking out, but not in front of me), only send one email the morning of my deportation day, and trust me to sort this out really let me focus on the things I could control (essentially, how to pack my suitcase was the only element I had).
And since I have no idea if I will be back in Rwanda… here are some photos from some of the hikes I did when I wasn’t busy getting stitched up or deported. You can see why I’d want to be let back in.