April 15-August 2, 2014
When we learned that I needed someone to go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Khartoum, we first thought, “No problem.” We knew somebody in Sudan, this should be easy.
A friend of a friend had a Sudanese co-worker who is based in Khartoum. When we asked if he’d be willing to help us out, he answered right away that he could help. Even better, he is a prominent lawyer. Again, we thought this would be easy.
The Sudanese lawyer told us his friends were working on my case and he should have a response in a few days. In the meantime we went back to the consulate to see if there was anything else we could do. The same woman was still firm that nothing could happen until I had my approval, but at least this time we got a flicker of a smile from her.
After a few days we still had no news from Khartoum. I didn’t want to be too pushy so we waited a few more days. Still no news. It was time to send off an email. The Sudanese lawyer wrote back immediately telling us that his friends were still working on it and he would have a response by the end of the week.
Unfortunately, this was a pattern that would continue for the next six weeks. We would be promised a response by the end of the week. I would wait until the beginning of the next week and send off an email, only to be told to wait until the end of the week. It was a little frustrating and began to feel like we were caught in a bad, repeating joke.
We didn’t want to depend only on one person, especially as it seemed to be going nowhere. We called a local fixer, Kamal, to see if he could help us. Instantly responsive, he drove to our hotel and invited us into his taxi cab/office. He called his contact in Sudan, but our only option was to book an expensive tour.
Scott spent hours searching the internet. He discovered the website of a Sudanese cyclist and tour guide, Midhat, and thought maybe he could help. At this point we were even willing to pay a fee to get my visa. We texted and emailed Midhat, but he couldn’t do anything either.
In the meantime, we’d returned to the ferry office to cancel our tickets for the first ferry. Due to a misunderstanding of the ticket agent when we made our first reservation, she thought we had motorcycles, not bicycles, we met the manager of the company, Mr. Saleh.
Tickets were reserved from Monday morning for a Sunday departure. Every Monday we went to the ferry office to reserve our tickets and every Thursday went back to cancel them. After seeing us a few times, Mr. Saleh finally told us not to come back. He promised that as soon as we got our visas, he’d put us on the next ferry, no matter what.
After six weeks, the Sudanese lawyer finally turned up with something. He told us to get in touch with a travel agent who was willing to take care of my visa situation. When I contacted Ahmed Ali, the travel agent, he seemed to be under the impression that he could simply send an email stating that he would act as my sponsor. As much as I tried to explain over email that it wasn’t what I needed, he persisted.
Left with no choice, we printed out the email and went back to the consulate. Of course, it was explained again that I needed authorization from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I asked if someone there could call Ahmed Ali to tell him this. We were shown into a fancy office and an obviously important man pulled out his cell phone and spent a long time explaining what to do to Ahmed Ali. After that phone call we never heard from Ahmed Ali or the Sudanese lawyer again.
Back to square one. We weren’t any further along with my visa than we’d been six weeks ago when we first arrived in Aswan.