It seems we finally have our affairs in order, though many questions have gone unanswered and the process has been frustrating and convoluted, we recieved our “correct” permit for volunteering and can return to work on Monday (tomorrow) after a week and a half off.
To fill in the events of the past weeks:
Tuesday Oct 11: Immigration officers arrived at our house/office while Vanja, Johanna, and I were at the primary school were we had started our volunteering. They insisted our coordinator, Saumu, give them our passports and go to the immigration office. If we had been home we would have likely been taken to the office and detained for an unknown amount of time.
Wednesday: Violet spent the whole day at the immigration office trying to find out what the problem was with each of our four different visas. We were told to leave the school where we were volunteering immediately in case officers found us there and arrested us for “working” (aka volunteering) illegally. Apparently, someone had reported seeing us working at the school and questioned our visas.
Vanja and Kristonel, the two Swedish volunteers, were told by their volunteer company to get a tourist visa when they entered the country and they would be fine since they’ll both only be in Tanzania for two months. This was apparently completely wrong, so Vanja did actually break the law, but Kristonel had just arrived and had not yet participated in any “work” because he was sick.
Johanna had a tourist visa while her residency permit application that was submitted in July got processed. So techniqually she was in a grey area of legally volunteering.
And I recieved a multiple entry business visa via the TZ Embassy in Washinton DC. I was really the only one of the group who had a visa that explicitly allows non-compensated work. But that didn’t seem to matter.
So with all this in mind, Violet spent the better part of two days getting put through the ringer by the regional manager at the immigration office, trying to figure out what fines were necessary, how to convince them to give us our passports back, what kind of visas or permits we actually needed or should have had, and what to do next. All while we just stayed at home in the office twiddling our thumbs and getting confusing and troublesome texts from Violet.
Thursday: The second day of immigration office madness, Violet is told the only way the regional manager will give our passports back is if we buy plane tickets out of the country. He lumped all four of us together despite very different situations, and gave no other options or clarification. Hard news to hear since we all had just arrived and we’re excited to get started with our assignments.
Friday: We searched for the cheapest tickets out of the country, to Nairobi, and purchased them oneway so we could save money on our return by bus. Even this was a confusing mess, trying to get a straight answer about why we needed a flight as opposed to a bus and if it could be a round trip back to TZ or if oneway was absolutely necessary. With purchased tickets and no clear answers we thankfully recieved our passports without the “marks” the officer was threatening to invalidate them with.
Saturday: Our oneway flight to Nairobi left from the Kilimanjaro Airport, and we had a relatively smooth day of traveling into Kenya. Thus started our forced vacation (aka deportation).
For the weekend and half of this week we stayed in luxurious accommodations at Vanja’s friend’s dad’s house. We each had our own room. The quiet and extra space was luxury enough. We spent our deportation relaxing and doing the tourist thing around Nairobi, a busy African city full of western amenities paired with the noises, colors, and smells of Eastern Africa. Peter, our Swedish host, was beyond generous and even was our private tour guide and driver for an unexpected Nairobi National Park Safari.
After days of reading and site seeing, we finally got the okay to come back and apply for the “correct” volunteer permit, we applied for yesterday for half price ($250) and recieved today. An unprecedentedly speady turnover. We owe Violet so much for her patience and fearless advocacy.
As I said before this experience has shed light on issues of immigration. We held such privilege throughout this experience, even though we seemed to have been very unlucky. It appears that most of the volunteers we’ve encountered in Arusha all have similar visas to ours.
And even though our whiteness here may have drawn negative attention, we had several indispensable advantages. Our local, Violet, has been fighting for us, and knows the complex ins and out of local language and culture that leaves us all baffled and frustrated. We don’t want to spend money needlessly, but I have reserves enough to handle these type of unexpected expenses; this financial setback does not completely derail my plans for the next year. We also had connections in Nairobi which made the unexpected travel very enjoyable, and if we would have had to, we all have safe homes and loving families waiting for us if there was no other option. All privileges that people struggling with immigration as refugees or migrant workers frequently lack.
This has made for a turbulent and uncertain start to my Tanzanian adventure, but it certainly has not been entirely unpleasant. Here’s a bunch of photos to prove it. Hope you are all well! And I welcome comments and questions!