The Easter Angel of Bangui

We met on Easter eve in the police transit office of Cameroon’s Douala airport. Both of us had overnight connections and needed visas to reach our hotels.

I had an easy go of it, she, after exhaustive travel from the US was given the run around because her itinerary was printed on a boarding card and the police a full sheet of paper.

I saw the destination Bangui on her card and didn’t yet know how important that would become.

We both got our visas and were at the same hotel so chatted on the shuttle. Former Peace Corps from Benin, now in public health and epidemiology, she is working for an aid organization in one of the most unfortunate of lands. We had a quick bite to each and would be on the same morning shuttle for our respective flights, me to Libreville, Gabon, her to Bangui, Central African Republic. At one point she mentioned CAR no longer requires visas of US citizens.

Easter Sunday morning I walked Douala and stopped in to a church service. Then headed to the airport to find Camair wasn’t going to operate for the holiday and of the few flights, the best solution looked to be Kenya Airways to Bangui, rather than sit in airport transit for 24 or more hours, denied an extension to my transit visa.

I hustled to the massive check-in line, the airport’s systems down so all was manual. I asked, “So, if I go to CAR, will I get in?” She thought so and I bought the ticket.

On arrival, and this a person who never met me until the day before, and herself was exhausted and needing to get to work, today being the legislative election day and the place on high security, she spared no effort to help.

She talked me through visa-less immigration.

She gave me ride to three hotels until one had a room available.

On the way she and her driver even gave an impromptu tour, including the Muslim area and its until recent DMZ, unblocked in part by Pope Francis’ fall visit where he visited the mosque and the residents marched out behind him to rejoin the city across what had recently been battle lines.

Bangui CAR

At night I was included in dinner with her and a UN worker at a beautiful French restaurant filled with people trying to help a country get on its feet. Listening to their stories and seeing their commitment was humbling and inspiring.

Meeting people such as the Easter Angel of Bangui is the magic and joy of travel.

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  • Wonderful story.

    You’ve hit a few bumps on this trip…glad it is all holding together.

  • Tyler

    I was in Bangui in 2009 for work. It’s a crazy place to visit, and I give you a lot of respect for going. You should have brought Lucky with! Ha

  • Rich T

    Great story and resolution to a frustrating experience. Thank you for sharing it and all the other joys and challenges of your recent Africa travels.

  • Sure enjoyed reading this story. The people we meet when we are traveling are occasionally more special than the actual journey and this surely was the case for you. The fact that it was Easter made it even better. Nice post. Safe travels.

  • John

    A few typos here and there but this post overall captures the essence of traveling extremely well and so much better than those credit card salesmen (and women) who pose as travel bloggers and who would be crying in the transit lounge at the first sign of trouble. If only every day was as enlightening as this.

    Having said that, I have little interest in visiting the countries on your current trip. For better or worse, I have too many personal responsibilities to chase another number that is a country, and too many other places that I want to visit or revisit.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @John – sorry for the typos, in this rapid-fire blogging world and exhaustion from trips, I try to clean everything up but now erring more on getting a post out rather than letting it slip to another day.

    All of these countries except Morocco are specialist. I have met great people and enjoyed myself though can hardly recommend any of them. Africa has much greater highlights, from Namibia to Zanzibar.

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Tyler – I have seen some lounges he may never review!

  • Rapid Travel Chai

    @Nybanker – fewer than expected.

  • gavinmac

    Can you tell me more about your experience entering CAR at Bangui airport without a visa? I’m American and am planning to visit for two days next month. Not sure if I need a visa. How did the immigration officials treat you? Did they agree you didn’t need a visa or was there a lot of hassle?

    Thanks

  • @gavinmac – there was not an issue from what I could tell. My new friend spoke French and talked it through which may have eased it, however that seemed mainly for her to tell them why I was visiting and for them to tell her that I needed to register my stay at some office within X days, which is found in a number of countries, though I never did it and wasn’t an issue when leaving so soon. Many countries with those systems you only need to register stays over something like 72 hours.