Finally, I can say that without fear that I will be denied a visa by some Angolan bureaucrat with access to Google! I had one of the worst experience I've had in Angola upon leaving Luanda. It's a shame, because it was so unplesant that it has really left a negative impression- hopefully it will go away as times moves on.
Many of you might be familiar with my visa problems. (You can read about it here, here, here, and here.) Saturday night I was able to check in just fine and proceeded to the passport/visa control. I never had any problems in Luanda before, so I wasn't expecting anything to happen. If only I had stepped in a different line than the one I chose.
The agent took one look at my visa and immediately declared me not in compliance. I explained to him that my visa was valid for two years and that I had multiple entries of 90 days each. He said I didn't, and that I was in gross violation. I tried once again to explain, and he called over his "supervisor." When his "supervisor" came over, I tried to explain to him and both of them told me to be quiet. Then the "supervisor" left.
The agent came back to me and told me that I was going to have to pay a large fine- US$7,000- and stay in jail until it was paid- meaning I would miss my flight. At this point I lost it and started tearing up. I asked to speak to his supervisor, and in spite of the fact that the "supervisor" had just left, he told me his supervisor was not there. I tried again to tell him, as diplomatically as possible, that he was wrong. I got out my cell phone and tried to call our Human Resources director, the person responsible for these issues, the one who had intervened so many times before. He told me to put my phone away because it was a restricted area.
He said it was my company's fault and not to worry because my company would pay the fine. I explained that I worked for a humanitarian agency- hoping that he would take pity on me- and that they couldn't pay that money by that night. He shook his head and said, "well, then you'll have to go to jail."
Basically I was stuck- and crying. He said he would "help" me. He dawdled a bit then wrote something on a piece of paper and slipped it to me. It had "300" written on it and he just looked at me. I knew what it was, but I didn't want to believe it, so I asked him what it was supposed to mean. He said, "If you give me this then I'll help you go through without any problems." I said I couldn't do that because I would need a receipt. He again said that if I didn't give him that $300, then I would have to be put in jail until I could produce the $7,000.
Finally, I just paid the bribe because the thought of spending any more time in Angola than I had to was physically painful. I was so angry and upset- I really don't think I can find the words to describe what I was feeling. I had never paid a bribe before in my life, let alone paid one in Angola. I felt humilated and violated; not to mention the fact that I was making a scene by bawling my evyes out. Worst of all, I was completely innocent of whatever he was accusing me of. He clearly saw I was desperate and took advantage of that.
It took me over an hour to calm down. Even now when I think of it, I tear up. I know for a lot of people it may not be such a big deal, but to me it is. I've alwayss said that the reason corruption works is because people buy into it, but when faced with it directly, I too caved. Should I have fought it on principle?
I gave a lot to Angola- defended it when others knocked it, stayed to work long after I knew I was unhappy there. I just felt betrayed, to tell the truth. It infuriates me to think that a government employee who makes a good salary and has good benefits is the one who cheated me out of $300. Of course I'd prefer not to be cheated out of ANY money, but if I were to be cheated out any money, I would prefer it to be someone who needed it, like a street kid. (That may not make any sense to anyone but me.)
Like I said earlier, the worst part of this is that it will be my last memory of Angola. I wanted to leave on a positive note, but now that's too hard.