Amidst a frenzy of packing, the Congolese visa story has managed to stretch over yet another week. Visa applications to both DRC and the Republic of Congo a.k.a. Congo Brazzaville both require an accompanying letter of invitation from a resident in that country, the former signed by a notary, the latter stamped by the Dept of Immigration. Unfortunately, most of the Congolese friends I have in South Africa I met in the Soetwater refugee camp in 2008 when they were displaced by the xenophobic violence of that annus horribilis. Most of their relations back home are not in a position to obtain those easily. One contact was going to be charged $400: $50 for each letter, $100 for the cultural institution and $100 ‘expenses’. This would double our visa costs and, in the same month as forking out R10000 for the Angolan visas, is completely impossible for us.
Finally, thanks to contacts provided by the pan-African civil society Arterial Network, on Tuesday afternoon I finally received both letters of invitation I have been missioning a month to get, from the Liak’ Likumbi cultural centre in Matadi DRC and the Espace Yaro in Pointe-Noire. On Wednesday morning I left Mark and Max loading the truck and drove across the city to the Visa Express offices in the northern suburbs with the kids to submit these letters with the pile of paperwork accompanying our visa applications. Having checked off passports, photos, copies of yellow fever certificates, letters from our employers, letters from the school, certified unabridged birth certificates for the children, adoption papers, itinerary, truck registration papers, truck contents (including a pledge not to be carrying arms), expedition explanation and a letter of endorsement from the minister of the Dept of Arts and Culture, Rayhaan our long-suffering consultant double-checked with his manager – only to be informed that the DRC embassy had changed the rules last week and now a 15 day visa was no longer valid for 3 months from date of issue, but for 15 days. Whaaat?
A 15 day visa costs R780 (plus R530 for the courier service to Pretoria) – at Big Reg’s top speed of 70kph through SA, Namibia and Angola we still wouldn’t make it there within the 45 day visa at R1900. The next option was 6 months at R5900. Each. We tried to call the DRC embassy to check. Their phone was engaged. The entire day.
I went and sat in the car to cogitate. The kids were listening to a beautiful tape recording of ‘Mandela: an Audio History’ which kept things in perspective. Then some good news: a contact provided by DAC at the Congo Brazzaville embassy called to say he could submit the visas for us directly and that Congo have just rescinded visa costs to SADC nations. Hooray for South South collaborative sprit and pan-African solidarity viva!
As there was no point submitting now, Rayhaan from Visa Express kindly didn’t charge us for the service he had already provided, and we made our way home wondering whether we were going to be able to apply for DRC visas in Luanda, the most expensive city in Africa to be hanging around in. I got back to expecting to find the garage empty and was horrified to find that my husband seemed to have spent 4 hours rearranging the contents of the storage box on the roof of the truck. Aaaarrrgh. The house had to be completely empty for the new tenants who were arriving at 8am with a team of industrial cleaners and carpet washers. I knew we were in for a long night, but even I didn’t expect it to take till dawn…
After 2 hours’ sleep, Thursday was particularly surreal. I got through to the DRC embassy at 9am and they were adamant that the visas would still be valid for the dates we had applied for in August. Goodness knows who had fed Visa Express the incorrect information – and charged them extra for extended visas. Doubly fabulous was that our hero Sylvere Youmbah from Congo-Brazza offered to submit both applications for us, saving us another set of fees. He has been so supportive, I only wish we could get to Brazza in time to see the FESPAM music festival in mid-July which he is involved in, especially as South Africa is country of honour this year. I couriered all 8 of our passports to Sylvere (gulp) and celebrated with a 10 hour sleep in the truck.
Friday we were very lucky to get the contents of the last boxes stashed away, the oil pumped out of the holding tank, piles of rubbish in the garden cleared and everything on the roof under a tarpaulin before the rain started hammering down in the late afternoon. The Eckley family breathed a huge sigh of relief to finally see the back of us, as Big Reg went sailing down the Noordhoek Main Rd passing their removal van coming the other way.
I feel incredibly happy and light to be relieved of all our Things. Most people like the security of a home, and the comfort of possessions, but I only feel burdened by Stuff. I’m not sure why, possibly because my family spent their best times on holiday in a combi camping in the south of France, but I am never more content than when freed of ‘appurtenances’ I have to maintain or (worst) dust. We have distilled everything we own into a quarter garage in Storageland, and given away everything else and I couldn’t be more chuffed. Now it’s just us, in the truck, with everything to look forward to. Last night we felt triumphant to have finally pulled it off.