How to almost NOT be allowed entry into South Africa

Having worked for over 5 months back in Berkeley, we were all super excited to head to South Africa, a place which none of us had previously visited. The entire journey to JoBurg was fairly good, except for the Delta flight from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. (try and fly another airline, if you have a choice!) Well, you may think we got into the country and all was well. Nah, that wouldn’t really justify a blog post. It wasn’t that easy. We had a bit of an adventure at the airport.

When I was about to exit immigration and basically enter SA, the immigration lady opened my passport and when she did, the lamination on my front page came off. It had been loose since a few days (12 year old passport; won’t be in the best condition, right?), but I never imagined it to come off entirely. Basically, when the lamination came off, it had my photo and signature stuck to it and other details below. This was, what the immigration officials termed “a case of a damaged passport” and this meant that I could not enter the country. I was pretty shocked to see that and explained that it had been perfectly fine until then and it came off when she opened it. But they wouldn’t listen. The official gave my passport to some other authorities and while the rest of the team were waiting at the other side of the counter, I was soon escorted to the “immigration chamber.”

Next thing I know, I’m in a room with few other (pretty shady) people who had various issues with entering the country. It was super late (10:15 pm), I was completely exhausted and jet lagged and the whole environment seemed very very sketchy. The person in-charge there was some lady, who probably had a fight with her spouse half an hour ago and was super unresponsive and for no logical reason annoyed at everyone and everything. She just said in her broken english “go and sit there and wait”. I waited for almost 35 minutes after which she said, this passport won’t work and just left. I said to myself, “Great, what now?” Then some men from the immigration department came and said that they’ll look into it. Through out this, barring a few moments where i was shocked and concerned what my next steps would be, I was pretty calm (a little bit surprising!) and thought rationally about it. Then Philip arrived there (to my great relief) with another officer who was a bit friendly. After some thinking, he told me that he wouldn’t be able to allow me to enter the country. I said, that’s fine, just tell me what my options are. Should I go back to India or to SFO; can I visit an Indian Embassy in SA? And in my mind I was thinking “No! I’ll miss Cape Town! The Shark Diving. Please let me in.” (Oh yeah the project was definitely important too, but was surprisingly the last thing on my mind then) He didn’t know what the protocol was, so he said, “let me talk to main supervisor and get back”.

After about 20 min (it’s been more than 2 hours now) his junior comes and says, “You. Come.” I was wondering what the next steps were and imagined catching a flight back home or to India. And this guy tells me “It’s all fine, you can enter the country.”

I was a bit surprised and felt it was pretty miraculous! No reason given at all for it. He said, make sure you go to an Indian embassy ASAP and get it fixed. So in a few minutes my passport was stamped and I was allowed to enter SA!

Whew! Strange start huh?

Next day I went to the Indian embassy and it was the most chilled out and laid back embassy I had ever been to. (Not that I’ve been to lot) They had a look at my passport and re-laminated the first page right away. And it was like a brand new one. Problem solved. Whew! I was free to travel across South Africa now!

So that’s my little adventure getting into South Africa. Of course, besides this one single little hiccup, the experience here has been AMAZING.

– Archit Bhargava

Cape Town Baby

After an eventful arrival in Joburg that Archit will blog about, we spent two days getting settled in the office and working on interviews.That, however, is not the subject of this blog, rather it is the fortuitous position that we fell into. Because Wednesday, May 18th was a national holiday for the country to vote, and the entire loveLife leadership team was going on a retreat the following Thursday and Friday to revise the vision for the organization, we were told that the team should take the time off.We decided to head to Cape Town, and had an amazing time!

Day 1: Arrived in Cape Town and went hiking on the Table Mountain which is a plateau, where lots of tourists go to the top for great views. There’s a cable car that goes to the top, but we hiked up, which was good fun, but a bit winding after none of us had gotten off our asses for the previous months. That surprisingly ended up being basically the only exercise we would get the entire trip. After that we took a city bus tour for the rest of the day and stopped all along the coast and in the city. One great stop was Camps Bay, which is the poshest area of Cape Town along the coast.We got some drinks, enjoyed the sunset and climbed around on some big rocks on the beach.

Day 2: Woke up at 4:30 am and left for shark diving (this was our normal wakeup time due to jetlag). It was a really amazing experience. Some 20 of us were on a big boat and went out to the sea where there is the highest density of great white sharks on the planet.This is because seals must swim the channel every day.

We were really lucky, because 6 sharks between 2 and 3.5 meters long came and stayed for quite a while. There was a cage in which 4 – 5 ppl could get in and basically just go a bit underwater to see sharks. Even in wetsuits, it was freeeezing cold!Since the sharks were floating very close to the surface, we could see them from the boat too.We had a close encounter with a shark when the 4 of us were in the cage; it caught the bait and was struggling to release it from the line and in the process thrashed right at the cage. Since the bars are really quite wide and open, it got its nose got inside the cage and freaked everyone out.It was a surreal feeling being less than a foot away from such a huge freakin’ shark. That was definitely the highlight of the entire experience.

The dinner was also a highlight as we got to eat Kudu, Crocodile, and Springbok, which were all surprisingly delicious.The culinary culture is really geared toward red meat, which is part of every meal.

Day 3: We also did some work on the trip.We went to loveLife’s (the NGO we’re working with) Youth center, 2 schools were they educate children on AIDS and other issues, and one of their clinics. We interacted with a lot of the people who make loveLife work on the ground, and it was a pretty great experience seeing the real Africa. It was remarkable to see the disparity between slums and poverty in the townships and the completely westernized and modern downtown.

Another highlight of the visit was that we got to go to Mzoli’s, which is a super well known butchery in the township outside of Cape Town.We got to pick our own meat and watch them grill it.Then we acted like real carnivores and tore at the meat with our hands and teeth.Archit can attest to how disgusting this was to a vegetarian, but to Pablo, Stuart and me, it was glorious.

That evening we met a girl who is joining Haas this coming year. She works at an NGO in Cape Town and took us around to a nice club where we got to dance to Dynamite and then to the shady bar district of Long Street at 4am.It was a lot of fun, and we’re looking forward to seeing her again around Haas!

Day 4: We rented a car and drove to Cape of Good Hope, which is almost the southernmost tip of Africa. We all thought it was the southernmost tip, but it turns out it’s not, which was devastating to Pablo, who had gotten very excited about being so far south.There were no people and it was a really beautiful, calm and peaceful place.

We also stopped at one place before getting there to see the crazy penguins that only live in South Africa. Look at these crazy little bastards sitting on top of their chicks:

From there we went to the wine country in Cape Town which was really beautiful. It’s just like Napa Valley in California, but much cheaper.

Cape town is HIGHLY recommended!

—Phil Dawsey