I delayed the release of this post so it wouldn’t post until I am on the plane to Sudan. I did that as I was getting a lot of concerned people writing, calling, etc, and I needed to pray and think about this one on my own. I appreciate everyone’s concern, but I hope that you all trust that I have planned accordingly and will put safety first in my decision making. Furthermore, the fact that I am going is not a sign of disrespect to those of you who have dissented. Let’s all pray that I have God’s protection throughout.
So now for the story of what it takes to get a Sudanese visa… While I watched a Swedish couple get their visa in a few hours last week, I applied two weeks ago. Starting last Thursday, I have spent anywhere from one to three hours each day at the Sudanese Consulate just to find out if my application has been approved (supposedly by the Sudanese President al-Bashir himself, though I question if that actually happens). Finally yesterday I just stayed around for four hours harassing the consulate guy, Yassir, who has been on a first-name basis with me for nearly a week now. After these four hours he led me to a room in the back of the consulate where a older Sudanese man in a brown tailored suit sat, staring at his computer screen. After a minute of silence (and only a vague acknowledgement of my existence), he fumbled with his printer mumbling, “busy, what?” Turning to me he asked if knew anything about printers.
Seeing that he hadn’t even touched my application, I thought I would take advantage of this moment to pick up some points. A minute later I’m sitting at his desk going through is peripheral settings for his computer and he’s on his cell phone talking to his wife. That’s when Yassir walks back in to find me at the Consulate General’s desk and the CG standing up beside me like nothings out of place. Yassir burst with laughter.
After printing out some sheets I noticed they were blueprints for a house. “My house” he announced with a touch of both hope and pride. Looking over the plans I saw some basic issues caused some dead space in the design (most of you don’t know this, but before I moved to New York I worked summers and weekends/evenings for a few years in construction, saving up for NYU… that was a life-time ago). I respectfully told him, “you know, if you move this wall and this wall, and extended these rooms and move these doors, you could get rid of this dead space and make the whole place more space-efficient.” He bought it. He got so excited that he brought me back over to his computer to show me the location of his house on Google Earth. After buttering him up he began the questioning: “What do you know about Sudan?”
Though I wasn’t sure what the right answer was, I was pretty sure it wasn’t, “well the same government that helps you pay for this house is also sponsoring a genocide.” Irony plays out when for the first time that I could remember, I was trying to be the dumb American. He continued his propagandist remarks about how Sudanese are better than Egyptians, and how Sudan is “the safest country in Africa.” Right. But with childlike naivety I led him to believe that this was great input, and that I had no idea about the country’s history or current dilemmas. “Don’t listen to Western media, Sudanese are the nicest people in the world.” So I responded with, “boy I do wish to get to see that inshallah.”
After that, everything fell into place within a day. More to report from the other side.