Thursday, July 29, 2010

1 - The Pericardium of Darkness

I haven't even left for Angola and the two Congo Republics yet for a gander at Conrad’s
old stomping ground, and I'm already off to a good start - up to my neck in the benighted
bowels of American bureaucracy. At the extortionate cost of some $200 for the return
journey I rushed my passport off to London by UPS to get a visa for the second segment
of my trip to lush and tranquil places – Somalia, or rather the northern section that has
proclaimed itself independent as Somaliland (they have no mission in the US) where one
is less like to get decapitated. Now, on its return journey, it's stuck at Newark Liberty
International airport - in customs. What liberty?

I already had enough trouble getting an Angolan visa (obtaining a letter of invitation,
then a second one to change a few words) and one for the Republic of Congo/Brazzaville (they wouldn’t give it until I got the Angolan one). I still need to get a visa for the Democratic Republic of Congo/Kinshasa, I'm leaving in less than two weeks, and I'm not going to be able to get on a plane without my passport, am I?

The Western Route

View Western Route in a larger map

My 36,000 daily phone calls to UPS are proving somewhat less than fruitful: they read
out verbatim what I can already read on their website tracking system - namely ‘Import
Scan,’ whatever that means.

'It's out of our hands,' quoth they when I breach their electronic messaging firewall (what
would you like to do? You can say prolapsed wombs, expedited coffins… to continue in
Javanese press 9). 'It's in the hands of US customs, they’ve taken it from our brokerage.'

The Eastern Route

View Eastern Route in a larger map

As gentle encouragement and a sort of afterthought, they add: 'They can hold it for 30
days, then they either have to release it or explain why not.'

Thirty days!!!


Passport Held Hostage

I implore them to send off urgent messages to their brokerage to pass on The Word to the US government, US Customs, US Attorney General, any official within 1,000 miles, that it's only a passport, my only passport, that it's not customary, nor within US government regulations might I add, to be able to fly without a passport, that I’m
booked to leave in just over a week (yes, four days have already passed in this useless telephonic ping pong) - and that US Customs had better take their finger out.