This trip started out just like any other. “Do we have our passports? DIRE’s (foreigner residence permits)? Details of any parts we need to source? Charge cords for computer/cell phone/etc? “ When we were pretty sure we had it taped, we headed out on our usual 2 day road trip to South Africa. Not soon after we left, we realized we had left a few things behind. That seems to be the norm with us (are we the only ones??). But by then we were too far to turn back. None of the items were TOP priority anyway. We stopped at our usual little place to overnight near Maxixe.
The 2nd day of this trip is a good 9 hour one and this trip was no different. By the time we had cleared many kilometres of bad patches of road, we were thankful to finally hit the smooth stretch of toll road close to the border. The border is always a bit of a challenge with its long line-ups and chaos, but that’s old hat to us now. Then amid all the familiar routine, we ran into something new. After I handed the immigration officer our passports, resident’s permits (DIRE’s) and forms, she flipped through them quickly and announced, “They haven’t been ‘census certified’”. Oh? What now? She passed our documents to another immigration officer. Apparently it was his job to deal with such issues. “You don’t have the sticker to prove that you’ve been through the census procedure. Your home may have been included (which it was), but there is a separate census for resident foreigners. You’ll have to go back to Maputo (40 min. Drive) and go to the main immigration office first thing tomorrow morning. Don’t worry, it’s a simple thing...” He said this rather apologetically and then smiled weakly. “It’s simple”, when it comes to immigration issues, usually means there are long, dark days ahead! This registration of foreigners had been included in the recent nation-wide census, but since we’re rather isolated out in the bush, we hadn’t received any clear information about it. We were long overdue, and we wondered what we would be told back in Maputo.
We over nighted in our usual Maputo-sleep-over spot, ‘The Oasis’. The missionary lady who runs the place and who has been in Mozambique since before the war, listened to us sympathetically as we explained what had happened. “Well, I hope they’re lenient with you” she said as she went on to describe their own ordeal. We hoped so too. At best Dwight hoped to be breathing at the end of the it all. Seriously, we expected at least to pay a heavy fine and possibly be sent back home. At worst we imagined ourselves handcuffed and deported, involved with our mission from afar! Dwight called our family and asked them to pray.
In the morning we were at the immigration department early. We followed the signs that read something like “Foreigners’ census registration”. When we spoke to another foreigner (who also missed the deadline) and the office secretary, we learned that we would have to produce our working contract plus a letter from the local entity confirming the nature of our work here. Hm, We were on a short time frame on this trip, and this was starting to sound like a fair bit of red tape. Our official working contract was sitting in our house...a 2 day drive away! We were told we would have to see the Sector Head. When we explained our plight to him, he said, “We cannot process your paperwork here since you were originally registered in Chimoio. You can only do it there.” We were at a loss, and then he referred us to the department Director.
The woman in the Director’s office was dressed in a crisp uniform and was very stoic. She meant business! Once again, we went through our story of how we missed the national summons to all foreigners because we live a remote region, etc., etc. Her face was like stone as she listened. Then suddenly she said, “Do you live near Vanduzi?” “Yes!” we said. “It’s a stone’s throw from there to where we are. We’re on the old ADPP farm.” Her eyes lit up and she said, “Oh! My husband is from Vanduzi. His brothers still live there. You’re my family. Come, let me help you!” With that she made a quick call to her superior and told him of our predicament. Her embellished version had the desired effect. When she hung up she said, “We’ll do up a letter for you so you can get through the border this time. It’ll be good for 90 days. You don’t have to pay anything for this service since we are the ones at fault here. If you have problems at the border, just call me and I’ll sort it out for you.” You could have pushed us over with a tooth pick. Thank you God! We quickly exchanged names and phone numbers with her and were out of there so fast you couldn’t see us for the dust (AFTER we got the letters that is).
The border still exacted its toll, but this time only in the form of the sea of humanity=eternally long line-ups. In terms of the paperwork though, it went through without a hitch. Just as if it were usual fare! This is just the first chapter in this whole process of course, we still have to face the process of getting that little sticker on our permits...but for now, we feel as free as birds!