The hissing continued unabated despite my fervent prayers that it should be otherwise. Folks, this is why they tell you not to bring pressurized fuel aboard commercial flights! I realized that I hadn’t released the pressure of the gasoline cylinder for my portable stove and that now, at 20,000 feet, they were overpressurized and leaking air. I was fit to burst at my stupidity, and apparently, so were the bottles!
My eyes never left the plane altimeter, whenever the plane rose, real or imagined I couldn’t help but hear a more violent hissing escaping from the bottles. “Please don’t kill us all, please don’t kill us all”, I chanted like a mantra. I went over all kinds of scenarios in my mind: when the plane went down, and the survivors were looking for someone or something to blame, would I be the type to gallantly step forward and declare that it was I who had brought down the plane, incur the immediate wrath of all aboard and be shunned until redeeming myself? Or would I be the type who plays dumb, pretending that I knew nothing of the cause until some snoopy survivor puts the pieces together and accuses me, at which point I will be collectively cast off the island, so to speak. Every time an answer came, it wafted away, like the gasoline fumes I imagined escaping from the bottles. It was a 45 minute plane ride, fraught with a lot more danger than any aboard had any idea of. The whole time we passed unspoiled jungle, just mountains and valleys of green. I would have enjoyed the sight much more had death not been my preeminent concern.
Gradually, we approached Georgetown. The stunning vistas gave way to the polluted open channels of the city, and I was glad for it. We descended lower, lower… hiss… hiss… lower…finally we touch down and I nearly pee myself in relief. Weak legged, I fall out of the plane and delicately remove my bag. After paying them for the ride, I part company with the others who hopefully will never know how close to death they came today.
I take a taxi to the guesthouse and more or less collapse and bewail my ill fortunes to my family over Skype. Georgetown is an oven, a concrete jungle, an open sewer…whatever metaphor you use to describe it, it is unflattering. I walk the streets, and decide to take care of business. It’s friday, so I’ve got today alone before the shops and businesses close for the weekend. Be proactive, make your time count (what were the other 7 steps in highly effective people, ah screw it!). My first order of business is to go to the Ministry for home affairs. When I arrived into Guyana, despite my express wishes to be given a 3 month visa as is the norm for commonwealth countries, the immigration’s officer stamped me a 1 month stay. So, now I had to extend my stay through the ministry. Not a problem I think to myself, the ministry is only a 20 minute walk from the guesthouse, I’ll get the stamp and that’ll be that!
Let the nightmare begin!
I arrive at the ministry for home affairs early. It is a secure compound where you are wanded by a burly woman security officer at the gate immediately upon entering. The wand goes off on my metal zippers on my crotch and I beg her not to have to undress. She smiles at me, and says she gets that all the time from her husband and that I can go on through. Next I have to register my passport and am logged in at the front desk. I make my way up to the office for foreign services and meet a petite woman who immediately takes a disliking to me. Whether it’s my scruffy appearance, disheveled passport or the fact that she’s having a bad day I don’t know, but she snubs my every question, hands me a list of requirements that need to be fulfilled to extend my stay and dismisses me. “This is all a mistake”, I say as meekly as possible. “Can’t I just get another stamp? I was supposed to be given 3 months on entering and was only given 1”. She looks at me contemptuously, “this is how it’s done”, and she turns away from me. Walking away, I look at the list in mute stupefaction.
-A photocopy of your ‘entire’ passport- not just the picture ID pages
-A letter of intent as to why you want to stay in the country and for how long
-A voucher or invitation from someone in the country
-Your last Bank statement indicating that you have the means to stay in the country for the length of time you desire
-A copy of your return plane ticket
-A signed affidavit from a justice of the peace attesting that all the information that you have given is lawful and true
“Um…yeah…this…this may take a while” I admit to myself. And my in-and-out dreams fade into the rankness that is Georgetown.
I hurry off first to get my entire passport photocopied, this is the fastest and is done without incident. Next I run down to the guesthouse where they have a printer, I print off my return plane ticket and bank statement. I’m good! Now for the affidavit. Walking around town I see that at the post office they have a justice of the peace! So I decide to kill 2 birds, and go to the post office to pick up a package which was sent by my family as well as get the affidavit. The package, a hammock and Brunton solaris 26 Watt solar panels which was supposed to be delivered to the guesthouse was rejected. “No, Paul doesn’t live here anymore”, they told the delivery man, despite my explicit instructions to accept the package on my behalf for when I come back! So I go to the post office!
I arrive in line, wait for 10 minutes. “Yes, I’m here to pick up a package”. “Over there, sir”. So I line up again. I show my passport to a swarthy woman and tell her I’m here to pickup a package. “Where’s your slip?” She asks. “I was never given a slip”, I say. “Oh, okay…but you need to have your slip”. I can’t help but feel that we’re going ’round in circles here. “Look, you delivered it to the guesthouse I was staying at, but I wasn’t there when it was delivered and they forgot to hold onto it for me. So a slip was never delivered, but I was informed that I could find it here”. “Oh, alright, no problem sir…but you need to have a slip”. “Urrrrrghhhhh”, I shudder. “Is there someone else I can speak to perhaps?”. The lady walks off, and is replaced by a fellow. “May I help you, sir?” “Yes, I’m here to pick up a package”. “Okay sir, where is your slip?” “AAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!!!!” So after dong this dance for a while we finally start to get somewhere. However, they are consistent in reminding me every 5 minutes that I really should have a slip. So, finally they take out my package, it’s visible, I see it! Almost within my grasp! It exists, it wasn’t all for nothing, the bureaucracy does work (kind of)! But seeing my package through a thin piece of glass and actually having it in my hands are two very different things I soon learn. I fill out my name, and sign in half a dozen places on the various forms that I am given and am starting to think that I’ll have to have another copy of that sworn affidavit just to get my damn package! Finally, after nearly 1.5 hours, the woman says “okay, that will be 1000G$, I just need your slip…”
My teeth are bared in a rictus of a smile, my hands are opening and closing as though I had her fat little neck in my grasp. “Yes, yes that one right there”, she points to a little stub that I’d gotten several minutes previously during my run around. So I hand her th estub and she says, “Alright, now just head on down to the cashier’s booth and someone will help you”. I walk over to the booth which is the window next door which is unoccupied and wait. I hear the fat necked woman laughing and joking with her colleagues not 5 paces from where I’m standing. After another few minutes of joking around she walks over to the cashier’s booth, “And how may I help you?” I look at her google eyed like “is this for real, I think I saw this on an episode of seinfeld once!”. “You don’t…right over…” I splutter and point to the other booth. “Just 5 minutes ago…package”. She stares at me blankly. I give her my bill, she looks it over. “Okay, that will be 1000G$”, she says stepping agonizingly close to my package. I root around in my pockets, nothing. “Nooooo!!!!” No money. So I run out to the bank change some money and run back and pay. This time, fortunately she does recall who I am and it is relatively painless until I see some guy approaching my package with a large knife.
He cuts ruthlessly into the package and sifts through the contents. A hammock and a solar panel, like the customs form says. However, he eyes me like I’m from Al-Quaida, turns the solar panel over in his hands and then shoves it brutally back into the package and rewraps it…poorly I might add.
Having concluded my post office business I head to the justice of the peace within the same building. I get the documents signed, I throw them in my bag and I’m on my way. This process is actually quick for once. Incidentally, the justice of the peace also sells cold drinks and chicken wraps which seems to be his main order of business since at least a couple of times while I was getting my forms in order he went to his window leaned out and handed someone food or drink. Finally after paying 4000G$, he signed my form and I was again in the baking georgetown streets. I had all I needed, so I went back to the guesthouse simply to recuperate a little! After an hour or so, I took a few deep breaths and steadied myself for confronting the woman at the ministry. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have walked in with such optimism, I would not have treated her with such respect, I would not currently be facing potential deportation from the country…