you need a visa to go to brazil.

you need a visa to go to brazil.

you do.  trust me.  if you don’t have it, you will be sent

back home on the TTC in the snow.  this is a public service


earlier this week I spent most of my day in the Sudanese embassy trying

you need a visa to go to brazil.

you do.  trust me.  if you don’t have it, you will be sent

back home on the TTC in the snow.  this is a public service


earlier this week I spent most of my day in the Sudanese embassy trying

to get a visa to return to the country.  one needs a visa to enter

the country, another to travel within it, and one to leave.  on

occasion, people have waited weeks in Khartoum for an exit visa.

I arrived to the corrugated metal gates of the embassy to a queue of

100 young Ethiopians hoping for a visa to go work in sudan.  most

of them were muslim.  the ones I asked explained their prospects

for work were better in Khartoum than in addis.

being a gringo has its advantages.  I was moved to the front of

the queue and within minutes, I was inside.  I walked to the

chair  in front of the visa window and sat down.  I

waited.  soon the small waiting room was full with people pushing

from one line to another, papers being passed over and around me,

guards pointing people to different offices.  i waved one of them

over, showed them my documents, and was pointed to another line.

after half an hour, I asked the same guard and was pointed to another

line at the front of which people were being weighed.  I could not

fathom the reason.  being a gringo has its disadvantages.

after two hours of shuffling from place to place, getting various

signatures, I found myself at the visa window, face to face with an

indifferent official.  he didn’t look up, only reached through the

window to grab my passport and msf contract, and walked away without

saying a word.   the Sudanese were sorely overestimating my

desire to return to their country.  after all, it wasn’t brazil, a

country for which you also need a visa, even if it is the middle of a

Canadian winter and you had planned the surfing trip for months.

I stood at the window with that butterfly of anxiety that one has when

someone takes your passport without discussing its return.  I

pushed my face against the iron bars of the window to try and see the

next step in the visa process.  it was the “taking tea”

step.   during it, people came and rapped on the door of the

visa office and noone in the office flinched.  he started to work

his way through the passport pile.  mine was on top (gringo

advantage).  he looked at my passport, then my contract, then up

at me.  he stood and walked to the window.  I pulled away

from it, linear bar impressions on my forehead.


“yes.  I work in abyei..”

“abyei.  it is where I am from.  I have family near there.”

the butterfly settled, and its place, a small hope.

“ it’s a nice place”

“yes.  ok.  come back this afternoon.  I’ll have your visa ready.”

“who can I pay”

“it’s gratis.  abyei is my home.”

after three hours, an abyei advantage.  I didn’t realize there were any.

I left the embassy, and organized someone to return and pick up my visa

the next day.  she tried.  “come back the next day”.

she did and queued for an hour or two, then got it. I saw her afterwards, at lunch.  she looked shaken.  she had

my visa, but while she was waiting, she saw a man beaten  by

the guards.  she didn’t know the context.

“here''s your visa.  better you than me.”

I leave addis tomorrow.  I will be in abyei in a few

days.   I must confess it is something I am steeling myself

for rather than anticipating.  i will leave Khartoum from the

domestic airport, trying to find anyone in the chaos who can tell me

when the WFP plane for abyei will leave, then standing up every five

minutes to scan the runway.   the plane will take off, bank

over the nile, and head south over the desert and brush.  we will

climb to 10000 feet in the thin air, and the cabin will rattle.

the hot desert wind will push us from side to side, and drop us like a

stone for a few hundred feet and I will think “is this the end for

batfink?” and turn up my ipod to distract myself.   we will stop in no less than

three increasingly small airports, and fly for miles over land whose

only sign of humans is a pipeline built by the Chinese and shared with

the Sudanese government.  it is powered by rolls Royce engines,

and is the only straight thing for miles.

abyei will come up swiftly.  we will buzz the landing strip once

in an attempt to frighten the nonplussed livestock, then land on

the second pass.  the doors will open, and I will step out onto

the dry, cracked runway and smell the dust, and feel the harsh

unflinching heat.   a cloud of approaching sand will turn

into an msf landcruiser, and I will throw my bags in the back, and

return to my world.  compound 1.  the hospital.

but for now, addis.  last night the moon, my favorite moon.

just waxing.  like someone had taken a pencil and poked it through

the black cellophane of the night sky, letting in only the

smallest sliver of the bright light that lay beyond.  it was

surrounded on all sides by clouds but it stayed there in the centre of the sky, in its gray frame,

for hours.