Sep 24, 2021 | Gilbert's Journal

Transiting to Burundi – Friday morning Sept 23 (Entebbe Airport, Kampala).


I was scheduled to leave Kampala last night for Bujumbura in Burundi over Addis Ababa but the visa had an issue. Although the Burundi embassy gave me a  visa with 30 days validity, it seemed to restrict the departure date to “before” September 22 whereas the flight was in the early hours of September 23. The airport officials stood their ground in the face of my multiple attempts to reason with them and that prevented me from boarding the flight. In all my travels, I have never experienced anything like this.

I have had to return home from the airport because the flight was full – another disappointment that was clearly the airlines’ fault. But for a visa that is 30 days valid, issued two days prior to departure to have expired before my trip, that was pretty baffling to me.

Little to mention how stressful and uncomfortable it was to end up spending the night at the Entebbe airport. In the morning, I hired a taxi to take me to the Burundi embassy on the Kololo Hill, in the city centre of Kampala. The driver was very helpful in connecting me to his internet hotspot and that allowed me to inform family and Kampala friends of the ordeal I had experienced with my visa.

The embassy explained that I had a valid visa and could travel any day from September 22, pointing to a cross on the word “Avant” meaning “before” September 22 as the caveat for first entry into Burundi. I was then asked to go see the airline with a given phone number for them to call one of the embassy authorities so the visa can be clarified or properly interpreted.

The airline on their part blamed the embassy and categorically refused to make the call, thereby leaving me even more frustrated and distraught that a mistake that wasn’t mine had resulted in me being tossed back and forth by these two “oppressors”. After all, they had already collected money for the air-ticket and the visa fees. Customer service is truly a missing link in our environment.

I had to return to the embassy on a “boda boda” (local “okada” bikes), leaving my luggage at the airline office to ask for  a written and signed authorization that would enable me board the next flight before my Covid-19 test expired in less than 48 hours.

One of the activities that helped me manage the stress involved was to take a few pictures and video recordings of the beautiful view from the hilltop embassy location. The police official who acted as the security guard at the embassy was very friendly and even offered me some boiled corn. In the midst of our stressful experiences, we always have the option to focus on the good side of life – how key it is to keep open eyes that can perceive those God-sent stress relievers.

With the authorization I got from the embassy, I also had to laugh off the mention of a 200USD charge by the airline official for a change of date on my initial flight ticket. After whispering a silent prayer for strength and discernment, I opted for paying the unjust amount in order to complete the mission for which I left my family and comfort zone to venture on a trip to East Africa in the midst of the pandemic.

As I prepare to board a connecting flight from Addis to Bujumbura, I pray that the sacrifice will turn out to be worth it. If Paul had to deal with shipwrecks and imprisonment in a Roman cell, I think a night at the airport and a 200 USD fine for a mistake that is not mine, brings me closer to Paul’s heart in Philippians 3:10-11.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.


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