This is not my passport. It is my husband’s. I thought a passport was an appropriate image for this post but I don’t have mine right now. It is somewhere in the bowels of the DR Congo embassy in Washington, DC.
I hope I will get it back someday. I certainly will not have it by Wednesday, which is the day I was supposed to leave for the DRC.
I haven’t been on pins and needles, wondering if I would get my passport, stamped with a visa, in time for this trip. I actually cancelled the trip weeks ago, after I’d sent off my passport with the visa application and then learned about the long delays in getting visas to the DRC. At least I know now that I made the right call, which involved a quick calculation of risk.
I cancelled the trip because one member of our party of three had been unable to apply for his visa in a timely way. He had been on a long wait list for his yellow fever vaccination, a prerequisite for the visa. By the time he got the vaccination, our trip was only 3 weeks away. Normally that is enough time to get a visa. But just then I learned that visas to the DRC were being held up for more than a month and often denied. I knew that this person had another international trip planned in early July, immediately after our Congo trip. I thought it would have been very risky for him to send his passport off for an unknown period, on the off-chance that he might get his DRC visa despite the delays. The risk was that he might not have it for the next trip, either. I advised him not even to apply and the three of us cancelled our plans.
It turned out I was right. Now none of us have our visas, and we aren’t going to Congo, but at least Ervin has his passport for his next trip. I take very small comfort in having made the right decision.
It was difficult to explain the situation to our friends in DRC, who were greatly counting on this visit. It was a big-deal trip. The two top executives of Mennonite Church USA were to be visiting Congo for the first time, attending parts of two national church meetings there. I was to accompany them as guide, liaison, and French-speaker who knows her way in Congo and among Congolese Mennonites. I made all the plans, connections, and arrangements for the trip.
Perhaps the trip will take place at another time, but the meetings we were going to attend happen only every two years and our visit was scheduled around them.
The reason for what seems to be a virtual halt in the issuance of visas by the DRC is unclear. Speculation is that it has to do with President Kabila’s balking at scheduling elections in November of this year. This has provoked demonstrations and unrest in Kinshasa, which are virtually unreported in international media.
Our friends in Congo knew nothing of the visa delays. I learned about it through the Congo-traveler rumor mill, which proved to be accurate: I sent my application (and passport) off nearly six weeks ago and have heard nothing since. It is stuck in some kind of political/bureaucratic limbo.
To say that I am disappointed about the trip is an understatement. I have been dealing with a great, black gap of sadness around lost opportunity, thwarted plans, hoped-for relationship-building. This trip could have been great. I was really looking forward to it. It doesn’t help much to tell myself that my Congolese friends face this kind of frustration–and worse–all the time.
Perhaps this disappointment is an invitation to something deeper. If so, I’m still fishing for it. It may have to do with holding opportunity, plans, and disappointment–both power and powerlessness–in a lighter, larger space. A space where you can throw yourself into making plans without hanging your happiness on their outcome. Where you can look forward to something great without losing your place in the now.
Give me a passport to that place. Now, please!