Djibouti Day 2: Admin, admin, admin / About to get the Eritrean visa (after enormous effort)

Djibouti Day 2: Admin, admin, admin / About to get the Eritrean visa
Saturday 29 March 2008
Given that I have a lot of admin stuff to do and that offices are open at 7am today (it's first working day of the week in Islamic Djibouti), I got up at 5:50am. Had quick breakfast – cookies and water bought from supermarkets. I now dread paying outrageous sums in cafes in these French countries for a petit breakfast. Then I walked into downtown. Dropped by the tourist office and then post office. Sent the obligatory postcard and then headed for the embassy district.
By 8am when I reached the embassy district, I was already wet with perspire from the oppressive heat. If you have watched that French movie made in Djibouti on love (among men) in the French Foreign Legion, you know what I mean about the heat in Djibouti. It's not quite as humid as Ghana or Benin, but gets one dehydrated fast nevertheless. It is amazing how different it is from Addis Ababa in the Ethiopian Highlands. I miss the cool nice climate, wide range of good restaurants at reasonable prices and in general, big city buzz of Addis.
The embassy/expat district of Djibouti is like its many counterparts in other capitals – huge anonymous bungalows with barb wire, except for occasional national flags outside the buildings. The Eritrean Embassy staff told me I had to meet the consul. I waited for 1.5 hours with a crowd of people all waiting to see the consul that just gets bigger and bigger. Then the staff informed me that the consul could issue the visa but because he had just returned from Asmara (capital of Eritrea) and now overwhelmed with work and visitors, he could only issue the visa on Wednesday. This is no good, as Eritrean Airlines only fly there from Djibouti on Sunday and Wednesday. I can't waste 4 days doing nothing in Djibouti, and that would delay my plans elsewhere in East Africa. I pleaded but the embassy staff would not assist further.
A Mainland Chinese telecom engineer was also told that his colleagues could only get their visa on Wednesday too and he was very unhappy. In a mixture of French and English, he said that he had waited one week for the consul to return from Asmara, and his colleagues had already bought air tickets to fly out on Sunday. I pitied him a little, as he, although being a polite person when he spoke to me in Mandarin, sounded rude in English because he had omitted the use of please and other courtesies. This is common among non-native speakers of languages. Whatever it is, the embassy staff would not hear further. It does not help that one should never try to bribe Eritreans, as they are known to be relatively incorruptible, that being a tradition from their leftwing revolutionary and guerrilla days. .
I told the embassy staff I would go back and think about my options. I took a bus to the Eritrean Airlines general sales agent's office downtown. I enquired about the prices and timing of Eritrean Airlines and Dallo Airlines flights to Eritrea and Somaliland. I once again confirmed that I would be in trouble if I couldn't fly to Asmara on Sunday. So I returned to the Eritrean Embassy to press my case. I explained my circumstances to the embassy officer, showed her printouts of Singapore press reports about me and my travels, and said that it would be a pity I couldn't tell Singaporeans about Eritrea. The Chinese engineer soon arrived as well, this time, with letters from the Chinese Embassy. After close-doors consultations with the consul, the embassy officer told us that the visa would be issued at noon on Sunday.
Hurrah! I returned downtown and booked a Djibouti-Asmara return flight (US$280) and an one way Djibouti- Hargeisa flight (US$145).
Oh yes, I also dropped by the Sudan Embassy. The friendly consul informed me that he would be happy to issue me a visa but the process, given that I do not reside in Djibouti, would take very long. Their rules would also require all sorts of information from me as well as names of Sudanese sponsors. He said that Sudanese embassies of countries neighbouring Sudan would have simpler rules on issuance of visas to non-residents.
Everywhere I go, Djiboutians, among the most polite people I have met in Africa, greeted me either in French or Arabic. I also lost count of the number of times people on the street said to me, "Welcome to Djibouti". Half the Djiboutians are ethnic Somalis and they are proud of their heritage. On at least three occasions, I was asked if I spoke Somali, in a tone that implies that is an international language. One chap even asked if I agreed that the Somali is the best race in the world.
I asked the tourist office if there are tours to the Lake Assal region, famous for its salt lakes and lunar like landscapes. None, but guides and cars can be arranged for DJF 28,000 (US$160). That's too expensive for one person. I would be going to more salt lakes in Libya. Would probably give this a miss.
Broadband internet is everywhere in Djibouti whereas Ethiopia is still stuck with exceedingly slow dialup. Perhaps it's the Ethiopian Government's way to control information flow, like they ban the SMS to prevent the opposition stage demonstrations. The GDP per capita of Djibouti is about US$1000 but less than US$200 in Ethiopia. Ethiopia has lot to catch up.


E.Michael Liu said…
hi there, i must tell you,that you have one of the best blog ever, i have follow your journeys since india, and and everyday i check to see if you have a new entry, thak you so much for taking us a trip of a life time, and looking foward to reading more updates from you.