It's Friday afternoon and I'm sitting in a stall of the women's bathroom at OR Tambo Airport, bawling my eyes out and ready to jump on a plane and get the hell out of South Africa, if only it were an option.
The day started off well enough, although I was a bit nervous about driving into the city, navigating into an unknown area and maneuvering the beast by myself. We had just 2 days before we planned to leave for Zimbabwe so Jason needed to stay behind at the house and work. I had to set out on my own to take on Home Affairs and figure out my visa situation before crossing the border. I had picked up my new passport the day before but there of course was no record of my entry into South Africa or my 3 month tourist visa. Anticipating hassles at the border and wanting to quell any fires beforehand, I wanted to sort out my visa with Home Affairs. When I called the week before, I spoke to a woman and she told me all I would need is a copy of my affidavit, my new passport and a form they would give me. Sounded like a simple plan.
Despite my nerves, I made it into Pretoria CBD and even managed to parallel park the beast. Inside Home Affairs is when things started to unravel. I found the right office and when it was my turn to talk to the guy at the window that was when it became apparent that the simple solution was not actually so simple. He told me it would take 30 days to process the information even though I told him I wasn't asking for a new visa, I was asking for proof my of my current visa. The back and forth began, me not accepting that this was a suitable solution and him not understanding that there was a simple way to figure this out. Finally I asked for a supervisor and was stopped by a security guard before I could even argue my case. Frustrated, I called Jason and broke down but before we could even figure out what to do, the man came back and decided to help me. Although thankful for his about face, he still couldn't give me proof of my visa, despite eventually having a print out of all my information right in front of him. He said it was confidential and he couldn't give it me. Huh. He suggested I go to OR Tambo and sort it out there, since that is where I entered the country. He gave me the phone numbers although none of them worked when I tried calling.
I got back to the beast and decided that a trip to the airport would be good and I could say that I tried all possible avenues. I consulted the map and Jason and figured out there is one main route to the airport, R21 I was able to find it pretty easily. Quickly I discovered it's a great idea in theory to have a direct route except when it's under construction, limited to 2 lanes and NO exits if there happens to be an accident. Which of course there happened to be one and I had to sit in traffic for an hour just to get out to the airport - with no ac and a truck that doesn't really love to drive in that kind of environment.
Once I parked, it was relatively painless to find a woman in the Home Affairs uniform. She brought me to the office, only to tell me that I shouldn’t have bothered coming out, I wasn't going to get hassled and the people at the border would know how to deal with it. I looked at her and said I wasn't going to leave without some document stating that in writing. She came back with a torn off piece of paper with the date of my entry and expiry date for the visa and a woman's name and number to call if hassled. If it had been that simple of an answer, why didn't the first person I dealt with when I called Home Affairs tell me that.
And if we're asking these questions, why couldn't the people at ACS (American Citizen Services at the US Consulate) tell me that in the first place - aren't they supposed to be there to help American citizens out? In fact, they couldn't help with any questions I had, about how to replace our driver's licenses and why they charge extra for a stolen passport. We were just robbed! We've already lost so much and still we keep getting hit left and right, even from those that give the façade that their here to help us. I was so angry at all the hoops I had just jumped through and then it turns out I had wasted my day when I could have been doing constructive things before leaving for Zimbabwe!
So I found the first bathroom I could find and let it all out, called Jason and told him it was a good thing we were leaving because I couldn't handle South Africa any more. I needed to get out and put some literal distance between me and these stupid hassles. I calmed down, relaxed and had a nice lunch and then decided to take a different route home to avoid the hassles. Easier said than done, I could only find signs back to the R21 so I again got stuck in traffic, the radio stopped working and then got lost once I got back to Pretoria. Everything just seemed to pile on top of me that day and I was mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted by the time I drove back to the house. An hour long bath with a glass of wine (and the bottle sitting right next to it) and my favorite magazine Body & Soul managed to put me in an immensely better mood and wash away the crap from the day.
And lucky for us, we were staying with 2 amazing people, Leslie and Tommy. Leslie was in Peace Corps with Jason in Ghana and they just moved to South Africa a couple months ago. After the horrible rotten no good very bad day, it was nice to put it behind me, relax and know that I have some pretty amazing friends to help put it all in perspective. An encouraging conversation about possible future jobs, more wine, good food and suddenly the day actually didn't seem so bad after all. Although it's hard when I'm right in the middle of it to get the perspective I need, it's a constant goal to work towards. I'm just happy that I have the supportive family and friends to help keep me going!