Remember how a few weeks back I was all, “Ha, let’s hope I can get back into the country?” Well, I wasn’t really kidding. Due to a revolving door of visa/permit regulations, I was giving myself about a 50-50 chance I’d be stuck in Nairobi on the way back for a few days trying to get a visa (as I know several people this has happened to).
Fortunately, I had no problems getting on the plane. Unfortunately that is because they are now giving out visas at the Juba airport.
I say unfortunately only because the Juba arrival “terminal” (coughroomcough) is about the size of a postage stamp, and trying to accommodate 150 people in something that’s not large enough for 3 chickens to inhabit makes things a bit difficult.
While the basic layout of the arrival room seems fine at first:
Let me assure you that the airport was enough of a clusterfuck without the added challenge of distributing visas.
Let’s walk through a journey arriving in Juba, shall we?
After departing the plane and walking across the tarmac, you open the door to the arrival terminal. A haggered looking military officer directs you to put all carry-on luggage through the security scanner. Since there are about a gazillion people and bags, and only about 4 feet of space, this immediately creates a bottleneck. Let the pushing and shoving begin.
This step makes me laugh, because twice I have brought a pocketknife through the security at both arrival and departure in Juba and no one has said a thing. Since this piece of machinery is new here in the arrival room within the past 6 months, I sort of assume that it’s one of those things that’s just for show which was put up for independence.
Once you grab your carry-on, you take one step left and immediately join my favorite part of the hellhole: Immigration.
There’s no escaping the giant crowd of people smashed up against one another, trying to fight their way to the front in order to be blessed with a stamp giving them entry.
This week when I arrived I happened to be standing next to a group of new NGO people. After fighting their way up to the desk, the soldier taking passports asked for $100 for a visa. They tried to explain that just the day before they’d paid for travel and entry permits in DC at the new embassy. Nope, sorry, those are no good anymore, got to buy a visa.
While we waited together for the official to finish writing out our visas (which takes about 5 minutes per visa as each is hand written and then recorded in their records), one of the women asked me if this was standard. I responded, “Well, it’s standard to have the rules change about every week, so… yes?”
The immigration official told me that I should go pick up my bag and then come back for my passport. I just laughed at him. Because there’s no way once you reach that desk that you’re going to swim back through a crowd of people to get your bag only to have to fight your way back a second time – with extra luggage – to pick up your passport. Nice try, but you’re better off waiting in the billion degree heat made worse by a gazillion people crammed next to you for that five minutes.
Mind you that it’s easy enough to just walk through this crowd, pretend you’ve been stamped and go out the door. But really… security, pah, who needs it? (Not that I considered doing this earlier this week…)
So once you’ve survived the clusterfuck (and fight your way out, viewing the envy written on the face of every person still waiting), it’s time for bag claim. Remember the bag scanner you put your carry-on through before? Well, it also doubles as a bag scanner for all the checked luggage, too. Which is a serious upgrade because when I first arrived they just threw your bags through a hole in the wall for you to grab.
But now? Oh, boy! It’s sophisticated.
Once the bags come in (and usually after they spend about 30 minutes sitting on a cart outside the scanner, waiting for some reason to be carried 2 feet to the hole in the wall that leads to the scanner), they begin to go around the room on a bag claim belt.
Except this is Juba.
So by “bag claim belt” I mean, “A series of 3 wooden tables upon which three people work to push the bags along by hand.”
Once you see your bag, you tell one of the officials, and they’ll bring it to you(if you can push your way through the 50 other sweaty, irritated people trying to demand the officials bring them their bag first), mark the bag in chalk, and occasionally require you to open the bag so they can go through everything (as a form of “customs” I suppose).
At this point it’s probably taken you about 45 minutes to traverse about 30 feet into the room, but you’re almost home free! The last and final step is exiting the building… through a crowd of yelling, screaming, pushing people trying to get in to departures, and one lonely looking security official keeping everyone at bay. At this point he could probably use some help, but the 5 other military guys are too busy sitting along the wall by bag claim doing nothing.
So in reality the Juba airport looks more like this:
Truly a place of beauty*.
*”Beauty” being commonly synonymous with “shithellholecrapwad,” obviously.