Two Months in Juba!
It happened in the most unlikely of places. I knew this day would come but I was hoping that I would be further into my stay in South Sudan. It happened once before, as I was traveling in Africa on my first trip to the continent and I was reminded by friends who have spent time in Africa that eventually this movement would arrive again…and arrive it did! And sadly, the three unsuspecting men working the shop had no clue what was happening and I eventually apologize for my overzealous desire to get what I needed.
The week started with the announcement that the office would be closed on Monday and Tuesday of next week to observe the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha. For those of you not familiar with Islamic traditions and holidays, Eid al-Adha is the holiday to honor the willingness of the prophet Abraham to sacrifice his first born son, Ishmael. God’s instruction to Abraham was a test of his obedience and God provided a lamb to sacrifice instead. As a Christian, I know the story of Abraham but from a difference standpoint. Instead of Ishmael, God’s instruction to Abraham was to sacrifice his son Isaac and instead of a lamb, a ram was the sacrifice. While I have truly enjoyed my time in South Sudan, after two months, all I could think of was taking a trip out of the country to be free from the imprisonment of the compound I live on in Juba. However, there were a few obstacles standing in my way. I do not have a multiple entry visa. So if I leave South Sudan, I will have to pay $160 to re-enter. I was unable to get a multiple entry visa when I arrived because my single entry visa was only a week old. So I inquired on Monday about getting a multi-entry visa before Friday but was told the process takes about seven days. So there went my dreams of escaping South Sudan.
So in anticipation of my new multi-entry visa and the fact that my current passport expires in 2014, I decided to be proactive and get a new passport. I called the embassy and made an appointment and got my passport photos from our staffer who handles all the paper work for immigration. When I arrived at the embassy everything was moving along very quickly and I thought, “Wow this is going to finish up much quicker than I expected and I will be back for my meeting in no time.” But then came those dreaded words, “Mr. Barnes, your pictures are the wrong size.” My response, “are you sure, I got these from my colleague who handles issues like these.” He then proceeded to show me that my photos were too small and suggested that I could go out and get new photos and he would process my application when I returned. It turns out that my photos were sized to South Sudan’s requirements. If I was going to get my multi-entry visa, I would be just fine. So off I went to find one of the few photo labs that are able to print US passport photos. The lab was even recommended by the US Embassy.
When I entered the lab, they quickly took my picture and started to print the pictures. I tried to inform them that the printed size was not US Embassy standard passport photo. After five minutes of arguing with me that the size was correct, the other photographer stepped in to help me. The small studio was extremely hot and the vibration from the music that was resonating from the speakers was shaking the pictures on the wall. I was slowly losing my cool. After two more unsuccessful printings and after my suggestion of checking the US State Department website was ignored, I finally pushed my way to the computer and asked, “how is it that the US Embassy recommends your studio for passport photos and you have absolutely no clue what you are doing.” He mumbled something and suggested that he had it correct this time. He printed the updated photos and I just decided to purchase the photos and leave because I could tell the situation was escalating. I told the driver to take me back to the compound (work) because I needed to calm down and pick up the photo I used for my initial visa. Upon arriving at the office and consulting with the State Department website, I recognized that the photos that I had purchase were as close to US regulation as possible. I decided to go back to the photo lab to print the passport photo that I used for my visa application and to apologize to the staff for my outburst. As it turns out, they were unable to print my photo and I was forced to use the previous printed photo taken by the studio. I returned to the US Embassy and in the matter of 15 minutes, my application had been processed, my money taken and informed that my passport should be ready in 10 days. It was a very stressful day and my patience was tried on numerous occasions, but in the end I got what I needed and was able to renew my passport. I also recognized a business opportunity – to print passport photos for USA expats and those wishing to travel to the US. I am not in it for the money but for the exceptionally service that I will deliver. On my next trip to the US, I will be purchasing a photo printer to start my business…
And the weekend is not a complete lost. I spent an amazing night of worship/fellowship/dinner with some friends and will heading down to Nimule (on the border of South Sudan and Uganda) on Sunday. I will get to travel South Sudan’s only paved highway connecting cities. All roads in South Sudan outside of Juba and the road to Nimule are gravel (or as we say in the American South – dirt).