The Consulate of Sudan accepts applications for Visa three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Applications are accepted until 12:30pm, After this time, those who’ve been approved can retrieve their passports with visas after paying the fee which varies based on citizenship. The Sudanese Embassy is madness. There are always dozens of people crowding the entrance and inside the small “waiting area” is always standing room only. Most of the applicants seem to be Muslim women. Few men. In here I’m eye food for those who are patient enough to sit through the immense waiting period. But I’ve never seen people treated so rudely than I have here at the Sudan Embassy in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. There is no information and people are simple told to sit down and wait. If you ask a question they tell you to sit down or leave.
It’s my third day visiting this place. Each day there’s a cackling crowd of women dressed in the hijab and Niqab scarves and veils worn by Muslim women. The crowd is a bit assuming to a passerby, often spilling out in the street and given the appearance that this is a line to get into the embassy, which sits behind a stone wall with a metal gate large enough to drive a car. Though the entire complex is obscured and in that auto gate is a normal door which is guarded by a gatekeeper. Spotting and recognize me in the crowd of veils, the gatekeeper ushers me inside.
Inside is a shabby courtyard fitted with a free standing corrugated metal shelter adjacent to two buildings. One is a small stone building which serves as the office of the consulate. The door is locked to visitors but, I’m directed to a small two-foot square window loosely fitted with bars – the same place I dropped off my passport and visa application the day earlier.
Under the shelter sits a half dozen deteriorating sofas, a few metal tables and termite ridden chairs. Virtually ever seat is taken save one sofa that sits cockeyed, no legs on the concrete slab of the shelter. It’s a little after 1pm. I’m late. Thirty minutes passes and a man emerges from the locked door holding a handful of passports all red in color. Not a blue one in the pack. He starts calling names that I’d never be able to pronounce. The crowd under the shelter thins by the number of passports. Thirty minutes later the same exercise. But there are still more than 20 people waiting. More chairs and therefore seating options. A husky black man holding a fat but worn file folder has been on his cell phone the entire time. His companions are from Swaziland, the small country sandwiched between Zimbabwe and South Africa. They have a flight to Khartoum at 7am. Like me, they’re anxiously and nervously awaiting status on their visas.
The man, this time it’s the gatekeeper comes out with another handful of passports and calls the names. Then announces the consulate has gone home and asks everyone to leave. “You can come back tomorrow.” The veiled women leave. The man gets off his mobile phone. Loud and angry words are tossed between the gatekeeper and the cell phone man. But gatekeeper walks away. I just sit there. Nobody is holding a gun to my head asking me to leave. So I sit. Inside the small building sits the man who I handed my passport and asked me to return today. I sit. Trying to make contact through the dirty glass and bars. Then a woman carrying a tray of coffee emerges from the other building and knocks on the door. The tray is transferred and she leaves. I sit and wait.
Cell phone man is muttering and yelling on the phone. “We have a flight in the morning for Khartoum, we cannot come back tomorrow.” There’s a conference in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan where these man have been invited to attend. But they will not be able to board the plane without a valid Visa. The four men in this group have been doing everything but pounding there fists on the window. Yelling isn’t getting them anywhere. I decide to try a more subtle approach. I walk to the window, clear my throat and say “excuse me,” the man turns and puts down his coffee but doesn’t move toward the window. “I’m confused,” I say with a light and concerned voice, “you told me to come back at 12:30pm today and it’s now 4:30, I’m supposed to leave tomorrow for Sudan. What do you suggest I do?”
He tosses his arms in the air and shakes his head. “The consulate is done for the day. You can come back tomorrow after 12:30.” I just stare and remain silent. He shuffles some papers. I stand there and make my presence obvious. After 2-3 minutes I say, “are you sure.” He looks up, then at the clock and says, “well, if you want to wait maybe he’ll come back.” On an adjacent desk I notice a pile of 20 or 30 passports. I think I spot mine. “Okay. I’ll just sit over here.”
The men from Swaziland are on the phone again. A man emerges from the other building and more demands and shouting are made. Then cell phone guy is back on the phone. An hour passes. We all are sitting there. For what? We’re not sure. One thing I’ve learned since embarking on this journey that can never be underestimated is the need for patience. Without it, you just whither and waste and get worked up. I’ve traveled with many riders and met a slew of travelers, of which very few would have the patience to be on a journey as long and as tough as this one. But patience pays.
Just after 6pm a man dressed in a suit and tie walks past us and enters the small building. He sits at the adjacent desk while the other man pulls 5 passports out. He goes through each. Some rubber stamps. A few scribbles in Arabic and the other man emerges with our passports. “Follow me,” he says.
We go around the corner to another building where we must pay. Shit. They only accept US dollars. A dilemma that will come to haunt me later. But for now I’ve got a secret stash and hand over the $150 required to pay for my Visa. The man explains, “this is visa for transit,” the accent is a bit tough but I’m following, “only have you for seven days to go Sudan. No more.” I’m thinking and heard this might be the only way I’d get in. “You must register with police in three days when you go Sudan. Don’t forget or you have problem.” More rubber stamps. The men from Swaziland wait behind me. We all leave the complex with our visas and cheers and high-fives.
I’m going to Sudan! But I gotta make to the Egyptian border in less than seven days. This is going to be tough. Remember? Patience. Patience.
I dare take the pictures you see here. Getting caught would mean denial and cancellation of my visa. But I snap some anyway while running away.
In Ethiopia, as in all of Africa, there are many ways to carry your stuff from point A to point B. I thankfully will be carrying my stuff to Sudan!