Bureaucracy gone mad – airport faces all round

Getting into Rwanda is no mean feat. It’s hard enough to actually get here from anywhere meaningful, but then you have to deal with the paperwork.

Apply for your Visa online, we’re told – it’s easy! And sure enough a few days after filling in the online forms, two visas arrived by email, which were duly printed out and filed in the travel folder. Hmmmm … No mention of the fact that that piece of paper is just a confirmation that they WILL issue you a visa, on payment of course, of the visa fee (now that wasn’t mentioned anywhere). At least they accepted our VISA card!

And then the forms!

So on the plane, they announce that the Republic of Rwanda apologises for any inconvenience caused by the additional form we need to fill in on arrival as part of their Ebola control programme… No forms handed out on the plane. So arrive, fill in the Ebola forms, have our temperature taken, waved through to passport control, where we present our emailed visas, and our passports.

Must say, I did wonder what they would do if someone arrived with a temperature, despite having been nowhere near West Africa!

No forms, says the man. No, we left the form with the Ebola control people we say. No, another form, says he.

Go back go the forms desk – sure enough, an arrivals form, akin to a mini census! Fill them in, persuade the Ebola man he’s already got our Ebola forms, back at passport control… No visa, he says, need to pay!

So off to the visa payment desk – US$30 each – she hand our visas over to the passport control man sitting beside her, who stamps them so that she can issue another form which she gives us, which we then give him, along with out passports….

At this point I have been travelling for 32 hours, I definitely have my airport face on! Several minutes for each of us while he takes our photo, reads our passports from cover to cover, stamps and dates the visa into each passport, stamps and dates our entry into the country….

Aaaaah, the joys of international travel! In my head I can hear Peter saying “welcome to Africa”, but thankfully not out loud!

BUT WAIT, there’s more….
Departure day: Emmanuel right on time with the pick up at the hotel, who want to charge us for meals and drinks, when all except alcohol was included in the voucher. Need to see our guide to sort it out. Much arguing ensues – I send Peter back in to remind them that we have a plane to catch…

Arrive at airport 90 minutes before departure. Walk up path to airport – man needs to see passports and tickets before he will allow us to even approach the entry doors. Full scan of everything before we can enter the building… Shoes off, laptops out and all.

We walk across the small room – another man at a desk. Passport check again. What is our final destination? How long have we been in a Rwanda… Maybe he was just passing the time of day.

At the checkin desk, all goes well – a final glimpse of that helpful, smiling Rwandan charm. 50kg plus of luggage makes us thankful for the generous Etihad baggage allowance.

Up the escalators – one not working. Passport control… But first, of course, the paperwork. A departure form that rivals the arrivals one, collecting again the same information as before. Consider, peruse, read each passport, stamp, stamp, stamp and we’re through.

We stop in the duty free shop… Cute bangles and beads. How much, we ask? You must ask the other man, the unhelpful woman at the till pronounces. Our flight leaves in one hour… Airport staff come to tell us we must go to boarding, which is within sight. We ignore them.

How much, we ask the man? Bangle US$10, one string beads US$30. Together the combined monthly wage for a secondary school teacher. I laugh. Peter pulls out a US$10 note for the bangle, he really likes it. It’s purple, Izzy’s favourite colour. Man examines the note carefully – not good, he says, pushing it back to us. (They don’t like US notes printed 10 or more years ago, or showing any wear and tear – this one is 2004 and in pretty good nick). Oh well, says Peter, you don’t want my money, this place is a rip off anyway. We walk away. “How much you want to pay” comes the question trailing behind us. If I’d wanted to barter, I’d have gone to the bazaar!

We arrive at the departure gate. Another security screening machine. Shoes, belts, watches…. No check of liquids, aerosols & gels, mind you! My bag gets pulled aside. You have batteries. Yes, I say, camera… Pull out my camera, extract battery. No, he says, other batteries. Starts fishing around the three compartments.

Ah, yes. I pull out a two pack of Energiser AAA batteries – still in the original packaging. He tosses them into the rubbish bin? What??? No batteries, he says. More in bag. Well yes there are – that pack he’s just tossed were the spares for Peter’s noise cancelling headphones. My spares are in my headphone case. I unzip it, but this time hold tightly onto the new battery pack.

Wait I say, I need these. 30 hour flights – I point to the headphones. No, he says, no spares. At this point we are causing major traffic jam, but I don’t care. Okay, I say, you have the old ones. I make Peter unpack his headphones as well, and we put one new battery into each set. I hand the man the used ones. He looks disappointed.

At this stage I notice that the bin is full of brand new batteries, all still in their packaging. Yet another way tourism is contributing to the Rwandan economy I think. Peter’s airport face is thunderous. It’s hot, were sweating. But blow me down – passports please – before we can enter the holding pen.

I’ve lost them, says Peter. I’m exhorting him to stay calm, we’re nearly there. As he hands them over, he bursts forth. “This is fucking ridiculous. I know this is Africa, and they need to employ people, but this is fucking ridiculous”.

No more ridiculous, I think, than allowing me to take as many batteries as I like, so long as each one is already installed in its device… But no spares. I’m sorry, but that makes no rational sense at all!! And don’t tell me it’s for my own good, all in the name of security. You allowed me to (inadvertently, on my part) carry a tube of 80% DEET onto the plane – enough to make everyone feel pretty poorly – and not even in my little plastic baggie!

As we sit in the holding pen awaiting a bus to the plane. I pray that Peter isn’t listening to the conversation going on behind us – an American tourist complimenting the final passport man on their fantastic airport security.

Peter points out a poster of my gorilla, lying head rested on his hands, just like in my photos.


The caption says “Rwandan experiences go with you”. Yes, indeed they do – the good and the bad!

As we sink into our seats on the plane, Kenya Airways is playing one of those TV shows about pranks played on unsuspecting people in a supermarket car park. We can’t help but laugh.

One thought on “Bureaucracy gone mad – airport faces all round

  1. Memories have a way of coming flooding back.
    Whilst I haven’t been to Rawanda specifically, Africa is Africa and border crossings are much the same in that part of the world. More than ten years on I can still feel the stress, the anxiety, the all out frustration and the bewilderment of having too many of these experiences in a short time frame. I actually don’t know whether to laugh or cry!

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