Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Leaving for Africa; Packing, Prepping & Arriving

Before I started packing up my stuff to move to Africa, my big fear was renting my apartment. Finding someone to trust is difficult enough, but finding someone who will achieve co-op board approval is a tuff challenge. Although I was moving all of my personal belongings out, I wanted to rent it furnished so I wouldn’t have to afford moving & storage. I love my little apartment, so finding a responsible renter was particularly important to me, especially since I was leaving so much behind. Apologies to my friends in real estate, but in this day & age, craigslist is definitely the way to go. Quick, easy and no cost. I found an investment banker from Chicago who was looking for a small furnished apt to stay during the week…he would travel home to Chicago on weekends to see his family. And he didn't try to negotiate the rent. Perfect. Thank you craigslist. As an added coincidence, he was interested in my last name and wondered if I had relatives on the west coast. It turns out he had worked for my uncle many years ago after he had graduated from Harvard.

Since I already had the craigslist bug, cleaning out my apt was a lot easier than I thought. I was able to sell crap that I would have probably thrown out…bar stools, a settee I never liked, fountain pens, watches, old comic books, even an old album collection. Once you start selling stuff online, it was hard to stop…I sold a few hundred dollars worth of old books on www.cash4books.net; you input the isci codes and they tell you which ones they want and provide mailing labels for you to print out. The same with www.secondspin.com, they paid for 200 used CD’s; why did I even have that .
Preparing to Travel
A lot of the travel prep is taking care of the usual stuff like forwarding mail, switching all of the bills to digital, calling the credit cards and telling them where you’re traveling, ordering extra contact lenses, etc.
Regarding medical, many immunizations necessary for travel can be done through your general physician and should be covered under insurance (typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A&B, etc.). More serious immunizations like yellow fever can be done at Weil Cornell Travel Medicine (WCTM 450 E 69th St, 212-746-1601, call to make an appointment) www.weillcornell.org/practice/wctm/index.html . If you take prescription meds, ask your doctor for a note and make copies of prescriptions. I found this was necessary just traveling through Amsterdam during a return trip.
Then there is getting the visa. Any of the challenges that you hear about living in a 3rd world country extend all the way back to their consulates and embassies in the U.S. You can be denied a visa because of the color of your shoes. Think of it as starting a relationship…call first and explain that you would like to obtain a visa and see when you can come in. Ask their name, because that is probably the person you will meet with and you want to make a good impression. When you go to the consulate, don’t expect to receive a visa right on the spot…leave your NY attitude in the lobby. Act as if you are just stopping by to say hello and inquire about the necessary forms. When you finally come back with all of your documentation, you will hopefully be remembered and taken care of. I received a 5 year, multiple entry visa because I left my NY at home.
Arriving in Africa
I think of myself as pretty well traveled, but arriving in Libreville, Gabon was a complete culture shock. It made me realize what many foreigners must feel like when arriving for the 1st time at New York’s JFK. I just spent 15 of the last 18 hours in-flight. Gabon is a former French colony, originally part of French Equatorial Africa, so nothing is in English. Of course none of the passport and customs agents speak English, they don’t even wear uniforms, and it’s 800 degrees. Thankfully one of the State Dept expediters met me in customs. The custom officers ask a lot of questions, in French of course. They’re not particularly worried about what you may be bringing into the country, they just want a small bribe; especially if you’re a white foreigner…welcome to Africa.

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