The Seventh Circle of Hell, aka, the Juba Arrival “Terminal”

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:

Oh look how nice and laid out that is

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.

Let's make things as inefficient as possible!

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.

There's no other word for this but clusterfuck

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?”

Once you reach the desk, you don't leave

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.”

Push push push

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:

Dante would be proud

Truly a place of beauty*.

*”Beauty” being commonly synonymous with “shithellholecrapwad,” obviously.


18 responses to “The Seventh Circle of Hell, aka, the Juba Arrival “Terminal”

  1. *sigh*… I have reached the “I miss Juba” stage.. having been gone for almost a year… Thanks for the laugh… and memories.

    • Oooh for the days when I’m nostalgic for the Juba airport. I have not yet become even mildly close to that point. I honestly have nightmares about the immigration swarm – it wasn’t this bad back before they put in the bag scanner (which for some reason creates a panic amongst passengers and renders them completely unable to form any sort of proper queue) and started handing out visas. Now it’s just a complete and total free for all clusterfuck.

      *Violent shudders*

      • Ya. I was “pre-scanner” time-frame… except for the non-functioning one in departures. The only arrival free-for-alls were when you retrieved your bag(s) through the magic hole in the wall and gave it to the appropriately stoic soldier to rifle through. 🙂

      • Yeah, the tables and the scanner are new even since I’ve been here this past year. And that scanner in departures only works half the time anyways (and even if it “works” let’s be honest, no one gives a hoot – hence my being able to carry a knife onto the plane multiple times).

        But when I arrived today I noticed a few new changes in the arrivals terminal since two weeks ago even – mainly that they moved the scanner back so it’s less clusterfucky, and also that there’s a new immigration desk. It’s actually sort of amazing, but I have a feeling it’s one of those things that looks shiny and new and in reality is broken and crumbling already. We shall see what happens next time I have to come in on an intl flight…

  2. “proper queue”? I don’t remember that concept even before the bag scanner :). Sounds like a lot of fun added layers to the Juba airport arrival process (and we both know depending on the day… and what important official has arrived that day… departure can be equally as fun)

    • It’s even worse now because you have to go to the right to drop your bag, then to the left to pick it back up, then back to the right to get to the back of the giant mess (that used to pretend to be a queue at least) of people mobbing the desk.

      It’s worse. I know it seems hard to imagine, but I swear it’s worse.

  3. I’m hoping to fly into Juba in a week and a half. Any idea if they’re still issuing visas at the airport?

  4. Just FYI, I got a visa on arrival and it was super easy…they didn’t even want to see my yellow fever card or passport photos or anything like that. Two minutes and $100 later they printed out a snazzy sticker-visa with my photo on it. Only good for a month, though.

  5. What sort of paperwork did your visa entail? I know yellowcard and a fistful of passport photos are standard – but did they want proof of itinerary/proof of funds/signed affidavit stating I Am Totally A Nice Person And Not Going To Set Anything On Fire/etc?

    I’m pondering possibly swinging through there on a trip – and trying to figure out the logistics. If I could avoid spending three days waiting for my passport to be returned from the SSudan Embassy in Nairobi, it would make my life a helluva lot easier.

    • Oh fun! (I love when people come to Juba for “fun”). When I came through you just needed to fill out paperwork and could do it at the airport ($100 in new 2006 series USD). There was a rumor that they’ve stopped letting ppl get their visas upon arrival now though, but that hasn’t been confirmed, so i’d call nairobi and see what they say. Basically the rules change on a daily basis and I’m not sure where they are now :-/

  6. I have just re-read this post. It is THE best description of Juba airport. Except now, take out the scanning machine (because no one has managed to fix it since December) and add 5 overwhelmed customs officials hand searching EACH PIECE OF LUGGAGE. I guess it just adds to the fun.

    • Yeah I keep thinking about how I need to update this. It’s no longer accurate and I should give props to the new parceled areas. And broken scanner (like it ever really worked to begin with).

    • 5 overwhelmed customs officials hand searching each piece of luggage next to the 3×3(m) area of floor where a hundred people crowd around trying to get the bags being thrown in through the hole in the wall, thereby BLOCKING said customs agents. THAT is most definitely the 7th circle of hell!

      On a positive note though immigration is so much easier if you come in with a multi-entry visa now!

  7. Pingback: Juba Airport: Source of Much Frustration, Aggression and…. | The World and I

  8. Does anyone know if they are still issuing visas on arrival in Juba? Trying to avoid having to wait around in Nairobi for a visa. Many thanks,

    • They are, however I’m hearing rumors that if you haven’t previously had a visa, you won’t be able to get one upon arrival anymore. I’m not sure though, the rules change on a fairly daily basis, so check with the embassy if you can.

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