An unexpected journey…

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.

Here are some zen zebras before I bore you with immigration woes.

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).

The front patio and yard of Peter’s beautiful home found in a small gated compound behind one of Nairobi’s many malls.

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!

Nairobi NP sits right outside the city, and for $50 you can tour the many rough roads and see what animals you can spot.


A family of ostriches scuttled down the road. We enjoyed a cool and still morning tracking down the wildlife.


We finally found tons of giraffes gracefully cruising through the trees. We turned off the Land Rover and enjoyed their silence for a while.
We saw loads of zebras, Impala, ostriches, Coke’s hartebeest, and gazelles scattered across the savanna.
We had one pit stop for lunch, where we examined some animal skulls and fought off monkeys as we ate.
Also at lunch we took an armed guide down to the river were we saw a massive crocodile, but no hippos.
Vanja, Johanna, and I in the NP. Unfortunately, Kris our four deportee stayed home sick and ended up needing to stay at the hospital for several days.
On our way out of the park we stopped at the Historic Ivory Burn Site.
Huge piles of burned ivory stand as Kenya’s testimony that poaching must end. Millions of dollars and thousands of tons of ivory was burned here in 1989 and again this year.
The next day we visited the elephant orphanage in Nairobi.
Here 24 baby elephants, and a random ostrich get paraded out to tourist for one hour each day. They are raised here for several years until they are ready to return to the wild.
Stories are told about each elephant and how old it is and way it’s there. The presentation is also a pointed bit on environmental conservation and anti-poaching.
A popular tourist route is to go feed the giraffes at the Giraffe Center after the noon baby elephant viewing.
A Coke’s Hartebeest stands with Nairobi on the horizon. I look forward to more Kenyan adventures someday.


One thought on “An unexpected journey…

  1. Karen Hill

    What an experience, but fun safari stuff. I wondered, too, when we were told to get tourist visas to “volunteer” in Switzerland. Never had any questions, but it didn’t seem quite legit. However, the mission organization we were with processes visas worldwide regularly, so have great experience. You guys are a bit on your own. Glad it has come together.

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