Benin visa trouble – Beirut (Days 11&12)

I don’t quite remember quite what exactly happened because my visa troubles shadowed it all. And because I no longer took minute daily notes as I had done until then.

On Thursday (3 days before I was supposed to depart for Benin, Africa) I got an e-mail from the African office confirming that my hotel and airport pick up will be sorted out by the time I got there. They also assumed that I already had my visa. What visa? Wait WHAT?! Visa? As far as I was concerned I didn’t need a visa to go to Benin. I had checked. Still I checked again and sure enough I needed a visa. Every website I looked at cemented the fact that I needed a visa and I didn’t have one 1.5 working days before I was due to leave. Insert any swear word or a suitable combination here!

What had I looked at about 6 weeks ago, well before I left Bulgaria and London. Where had I looked? What had I read? I was convinced I didn’t need a visa.

I immediately phoned the Benin embassy in Beirut (good thing there was one and I didn’t have to go to a neighboring country) and they recited the list of paperwork they needed from me in order to issue a visa. This list included a Letter of Invitation (not a problem) and a Police Certificate. OK, not too bad, maybe I could still make my Sunday morning flight. Little did I know…

I was a little less hopeful after I had spoken to the Bulgarian embassy in Beirut about the Police Certificate and they assured me it can be issued in…4 months! It would be better to get it from Bulgaria they said. Right.

A phone call to my dad’s wife asking her to find out what the local procedure is. She did and it included a birth certificate which I didn’t have on me and had a slight suspicion that it might possibly be in London (packed away with the rest of my stuff). Also we weren’t sure whether my dad could act on my behalf or I would have to appear in person. My departure on Sunday morning was starting to look more and more impossible.

My dad kept feeding me info from Bulgaria throughout the day and it wasn’t getting any better.

Bill and I were on Viber all day discussing various options and one of them one of them included flying back to London for afore mentioned birth certificate (although I really wasn’t sure whether it was there or not!), flying to Bulgaria, issuing Police Certificate, flying back to Beirut, getting visa and going to Africa.

I thought about calling the Benin embassy in London hoping that their requirements would be easier but they were closed that day and I had to wait until the morning. Meanwhile my dad kept working on getting that Police Certificate. Until we knew more that was the only way.

Have you noticed how I haven’t mentioned work at all? That’s probably because I didn’t do much that day. At some point my preoccupation with other things became so obvious and my Sunday morning departure date so impossible that I had to tell my project manager.

They were all very nice about it and even said that well before the contract was signed all country managers received an e-mail from the centres coordinator to check if I needed a visa for their respective countries. I didn’t hear anything from anyone.

I was feeling extremely embarrassed for not checking the visa requirements properly and very guilty for not having done much work and for messing up the schedule for Africa Rice by being late (at this point I didn’t know how late!).

Everyone’s response was so friendly and supportive and I felt a bit better.

I couldn’t wait for the embassy in London to open on Friday morning. I felt better after speaking to them. The lady was very friendly and said I only needed a passport photo, fee and application form and the visa would be issued immediately.

The plan was clear. I was going to fly to London on Sunday afternoon, get the visa on Monday morning and fly out to Africa on Monday evening. Now all I had to do was take care of the details and inform everyone involved on the change in plan.

I could now inform the travel coordinator in Rome who would change my flight to Benin to leave from London rather than Beirut; I could also let the centre coordinator and the project manager in Africa about the delay (now confirmed), I could let the manager in Beirut that I will be leaving on Sunday and originally planned and that there will be no impact on their budgets, and last but not least I could now buy my flight to London.

At the end of the workday I took my goodbyes with the time who were absolutely lovely as usual and headed back to the hotel. Not sure what happened after that, we must have gone out for dinner because I remember buying the ticket to London after that. When that was done, all I could do was wait and hope that the visa requirements listed on their website and confirmed by them twice over the phone were not mysteriously going to change when I stood in front of them. All in all things weren’t looking too bad, the delay to Africa would only be two days.

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