This post is not only about the crazy and funny story of getting this visa, but it has also a message. It´s an example of not giving up, even when everything looks like it´s not gonna work… it will work if you really want it!!!
Here is my personal story:
In January 2016 I traveled through some of the East African countries: Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda. I still had a few days left and I had planned to visit Burundi as well. But when I was in Kigali, Rwanda´s capital, so close to Burundi and wishing to continue my trip in this direction, all my friends dissuaded me from doing it. Some of them were Burundian who left their country when the situation there got real bad and haven´t been back home themselves since then. I did some research and decided to listen to my friends and not go there. A civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups in Burundi came to an end in 2005 at a cost of about 300.000 lives. Still, in 2015 unrest was everywhere in the country. Presidential elections were held in July 2015 but there were still a lot of protests. The internet and telephone networks were shut down by the government. Universities were closed. Many people fled away, others were arrested, killed or injured. The borders between Rwanda and Burundi were closed and the headlines in the newspapers were: „Burundi accuses Rwanda of trying to export genocide“ or „Belgium has informed its citizens that those not in Burundi for essential reasons should leave the country“. Hmmm… Would you go to a country after reading all this? I had to admit, it wasn´t the best timing to visit Burundi.
Seven months later I went back to East Africa. This time my plan didn´t include Burundi at all but I added the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and I was going to visit my Ugandan and Rwandan friends again for a few days on my overland way to Goma (DRC) after some days in Kenya.
While I was dancing and teaching at the Salsafari Festival in Nairobi, Kenya at the beginning of August 2016 a friend (Chris) came to me during the Sunday night party and told me: „Do you still want to go to Burundi? This girl lives there“ and he introduced me to Nay Arielle. My eyes opened like a little child in front of a big piece of cake and I spent part of the night talking to her, asking her about the situation there, etc. She told me it´s much better and safer now and she promised to take good care of me if I go to visit her. I trusted her. OMG… I love my international salsa friends.
The day after (Monday early morning) instead of finally resting after 5 days of non stop dancing at the salsa congress, I ran to the Burundian embassy in Nairobi in order to apply for a visa but I found a lot of restrictions. Apart from an hotel booking and a few more things, I also needed an invitation letter that has to be emitted and signed at the immigration office in Bujumbura (Burundi´s capital). If I have no letter, the visa would take few weeks and could also be rejected. With the letter they could give me the visa in 1 day. Problems started… because the only person I knew from Burundi (Nay Arielle who I met the night before) was staying in Nairobi for few more days after the festival and couldn´t do this letter for me in Bujumbura. She called some friends there and asked them for the favor. I filled out the visa application form and left my passport and 2 pictures (which I always carry with me when I´m travelling) at the embassy hoping that the letter will arrive the day after. It didn´t happen (electricity problems in Burundi, the officer wasn´t there at the immigration, the Burundian friends couldn´t do it that day, etc, etc). I went back to the embassy to pick up my passport because we couldn´t get the letter done within 3 days and I was leaving on Thursday at 6am by bus to Moshi in Tanzania in order to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I left Nairobi thinking again, after a second attempt, that I won´t be able to visit Burundi. But then… something extraordinary happened.
The day I went to the embassy to drop my passport off, I met another girl (Martine). She moved back to Kenya from working in Canada but she was originally Burundian and she was flying there a few days later to bring her son to meet her family. He needed a visa because he was born in Canada and that´s the reason why she was at the embassy. I was talking to her for a while and telling her about my passion for travelling and the countries I have been. When I came back to pick up my passport I met her again… what a coincidence! She told me that in the meantime she has been checking my Instagram account and she was impressed by my travel pictures. She said that she will try to help me but I knew it would be difficult as I was coming back from Kilimanjaro to Nairobi the week after but only to pick up my luggage and continue to Uganda.
I spent 7 days climbing the Kilimanjaro (Yes, I made it to the summit and I´m so proud of myself. I´ll write later about this amazing experience too). That means I was 7 days without internet or any kind of communication and of course, no news about any of the Burundian girls. When I came back to the social media world I was looking forward to checking my messages to see if they managed to help me. I encountered my first problem when I realized that I have entered my German PIN 3 times in my Kenyan local SIM card and blocked it. OMG…that was really a nightmare to fix but with the help of a Kenyan friend I got a PUK (Personal Unblocking Key) from the phone company and that permitted me to unlock my card, use the internet again and make phone calls. Although it´s actually prohibited to give those kinds of personal information to a third person, I was happy that they broke the rules this time and I got my phone working again. Of course they couldn´t call me directly to give me the PUK as I was incommunicado, but the bus driver was so nice to lend me his phone for this purpose. Once I got signal again, I checked my messages and I found this from Martine: „I got an invitation letter for you. I´m back from Burundi to Kenya and I brought the letter myself to the embassy. You just need to go there with your passport to pay and collect your visa“ OMG… I was jumping with happiness…
…but wait a minute… check my current situation:
1st: I was still on the bus on my way back from Moshi to Nairobi when I read this message and everybody knows how crazy the traffic in Nairobi is (I have a friend who told me once that he watched a whole 2-hour movie on his iPad while sitting in his car waiting for the traffic in Nairobi to get better to continue driving, haha). Even myself, I took a long nap once in the car of my Kenyan friend when he was driving me to do some sightseeing, haha. So… I knew that the bus would probably not arrive on time.
2nd: I had only a few hours in Nairobi to go to my friend´s place, leave my Kilimanjaro equipment there, pack a small bag, shower, eat and run to the bus station again to catch my bus to Kampala, Uganda.
3rd: And if these previous reasons were not enough to think that I would never get this visa done on time, let me tell you that it was a Friday, which means the embassy closes earlier than the normal opening times.
But ok, I couldn´t stop and leave it just like this, you always have to be positive and try to solve the problems.
So… what did I do?
1st: I called the embassy. The guy remembered me from the previous week and he said: „OMG, you really want to go to my country… ok, we will stay longer and wait for you to give you the visa, but hurry up“.
2nd: I changed my bus ticket to Kampala for the next one available
3rd: I changed my seat and sat near the bus driver (which at that point was already my friend, haha) to explain to him that I really needed to arrive to Nairobi as soon as possible.
A miracle happened, we arrived with just an hour delay.
Well, what else can I tell you? Everything worked perfectly and YES, I got my visa to BURUNDI!! Fortunately I had the $90 cash with me. Even the guys at the embassy were happy about it, haha. I also spent some time making them my friends when I was there the previous week. We were talking about Germany, FC Bayern, etc and you see…it helped! They waited for me when I most needed it. J
And… what happened next?
1st: I booked my flight Kigali- Bujumbura in the night bus on my way from Nairobi to Kampala because my friends told me not to take any bus to Burundi as the borders were closed and there were lot of problems to get inside the country overland. So I had to fly.
2nd: I went to Burundi and spent 3 full unforgettable days that I´ll describe in my next post. All I can say now is that Nay Arielle kept her promise to take really good care of me in her country.
3rd: I came back to Kenya on my last day of this East/Central African trip to pick up my Kilimanjaro equipment and catch my flight back to Munich. But in the few hours I had in Nairobi, I called Martine, asked her for her address and brought her a present for her son. I wanted to say thank you. She didn´t know me, she met me at the embassy and talked to me for only one hour, but she made everything possible by doing the impossible to get me this visa.
I have 2 Burundian angels. One helped me with the visa and the other one showed me the country and took care of me there. I really appreciate it. Thank you, my dears! You both just made possible my country number 81 J (and thanks to Chris who introduced me to one of them)
Don´t miss my next post about my experiece in BURUNDI coming soon
Enjoy it and stay tuned 🙂