Journey Across Africa

Below you'll find stories of my two year experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the small West African country of The Gambia. After my service I traveled solo, with only a small backpack, across West Africa; reaching N'Djamena, Chad after two months. Visa problems for Libya and Civil unrest in the Darfur region of Western Sudan made Chad my last stop.

Peace Corps Service: Aug. 2003 - July 2005

Journey Across Africa: July 2005 - Sept. 2005

Location: Boston, MA, United States

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


Embassies are an interesting sub-culture.

The PC Hostel is right next door to the Canadian Embassy, and the guards share a shack. Whenever I wanted to go back to the PC Hostel I would tell the Taxi Driver to take me to the "Ambassade du Canada". This made an intriguing experience, when, once after exiting the Chadian embassy with a local guide (who saw my American Passport) he was confused when I told him I wanted to go back to the Canadian Embassy. "You mean the American Embassy?" he asked me, thinking I didn't know my own country, and wanted to clarify it for the driver. "No. The Canadian Embassy." I left him on the sidewalk confused as to whether I was an American or Canadian.

Two blocks down the road, away from the center of town, is the Monacan Embassy; not to be confused with Morocco. The former (Monaco) is a small 2 square kilometer country in eastern Spain, the latter a half-million square kilometer country in North-West Africa. Why does Niger have a Monacan Embassy? How many Nigeriens visit a country three times the size of the Washington Mall? I'm interested in seeing what the diplomatic relationship are between these two countries.

[I know of Monaco from Statistics classes, the famous Monte Carlo gave rise to a probabilistic way to determine limiting probabilities. [Flipping a coin a 100 times and counting how many heads to figure out the probability of heads is statistically called the 'Monte Carlo method']

Go a few more blocks down and you reached the ever elusive American Embassy. No cars are allowed to stop within the viscinity of the Embassy and we must walk a block to reach its gate. Armed guards stand by. Across the street is the Ambassador's residence, on the banks of the Niger River. She doesn't have far to go to work! Inside the compound there is a video rental store, baseball field, TV lounge, swimming pool, playground for the kids, and picnic areas. For the kids there are swimming lessons and little-leage baseball games; the adults there are dodge-ball tournaments, baseball games, football games, and language lessons to name a few services.

To have access to all these great things you must 1. Be American; 2. Pay a fee. The fee is waived if you are a student in the American School, which most children are of the Embassy staff. For Peace Corps volunteers it amounts to a dollar for a day pass (cheaper per day for longer passes). Since I was just visiting and not associated with PC or the Embassy my fee was $4 to visit the club for the day. Needless to say the volunteers come here often when they are in town, especially during the weekends when the sports games happen [saturday is baseball, sunday is football]

While watching the game of baseball happening you can order burgers, chips, drinks, ice cream, milkshakes, and pizza along with a long list of other items. The chocolate milkshake I ordered was the best one I've had in Africa!

The Nigerien staff members are discouraged from handling cash. You pay for everything with coupons, although you can buy coupons from the vendors anyway. There are strips of paper, each containing the whole menu on it. You circle what you want, add the total, write down your name, and give them the coupons for the amount. A few minutes later a bell rings and someone yells "Mike!". My lunch was ready.

I would have gone swimming if it wasn't for the doctor's orders!

This was over the weekend. Monday morning I needed to get the Chadian embassy to get my visa. I asked a volunteer where it was. "I don't know. I only know where the white people's embassies are."


Monday morning I eventually arrived (it had moved since the map was published in my guide book). A lone, unarmed, guard stood by the doors and asked what I wanted. A local Nigerien man, who helped me find the place, explained I needed a visa. The guard pointed to a second floor window. We went inside, all empty, not a soul in sight, and went upstairs. There, a lone secretary waited for people to come. His English was understandable. He asked these questions as he's filling out the forms

"What is your final destination?"
"Let me see your passport."
He flipped through each page and eventually put the passport down
"There is no Egyptian visa. I can not give you a transit visa without a destination visa. You have none for Egypt."
[I sat there thinking this was the end of the road for me. I was about the get up and thank him and head out when he looked at my passport again.]
"However, you are not travelling through Chad; right?"
[Huh?] He continued.
"You are visiting as a tourist. Correct? You see, a transit visa is only good for a week and you need a desination visa; but a tourist visa you don't. So I guess you are visiting Chad as a tourist."
[What's happening? Think. What? Oh! He's helping me!] "Yes! I am visiting Chad as a tourist."
"Good. How long are you visiting our country?"
[Give a good answer...] "A month."
"Good! Plenty of time to see our country!"

He helped me fill out the forms, which were written in French. I had no idea what I was writing, he would just say "yes, no, yes, no, no, tourist, [etc.]" and I would write what he said. One question I could make out what it was saying.

"What is your final destination?"

He paused.

Should I put down Egypt, US, or Niger? He looked up.


I looked up "Sudan!"

"Yes. Put down Sudan."
"But I'm not going to Sudan."

I put down Sudan as my final destination.

Ten o'clock Tuesday morning I picked up my Visa for Chad. Good until Oct. 11 with no mention of Sudan.

My seventh week budget was shot. Spent $238 in one week. Had bought two visas, ($40 and $30 respectively), took an unnecessary side-trip to Bobo while in Burkina Faso, had to see a doctor, and pay for the medicine.


Blogger peter said...

A tourist Egypt visa is issued to travelers who wish to temporarily enter Egypt for tourism, to visit family/friend, sightseeing, or a private purpose. An Egypt visa is valid for 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years with multiple entries.

4/22/2008 04:58:00 AM  

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