This blog is transitioning from a smattering of permaculture starts and experiments to a tracking of our family’s journey to and in Nigeria. Hopefully, I will be more faithful to recording than I have been in the past few years. (In between homeschooling our children, working part-time at and attending Asbury Theological Seminary, I still did, admittedly, have some bits of free time where I could have written.)
The same week that Mom wrote to let us know the doctor had diagnosed her with stage IV liver cancer and has told her she has about one year to live, my brother wrote and told me he had put one of my dad’s past mentorees, Bishop Larry Mack of Greater Dreams Church, back in touch with me. One of his church members is opening a school in Owerri, Nigeria, and Bishop Mack suggested he call me to be a part of the foundational team. Almost a week ago now, after several conversations and in-person meetings, I received the official offer to be the Education Director.
I would like to document all that is involved in the process of preparing to go and what it is like once we get on the ground (since I will be charged in the very near future with inviting teacher interns and other educators to come and be a part of the work). I will most likely leave out the details of things I am researching in connection with the project and focus, rather, on issues of travel, culture, and life in Nigeria.
Two of the key players in the story so far will be Pastor Uche (a missionary and businessman) and his uncle, Joachim (a tribal chief who lives in the States). These men are starting the school in honor of Pastor Uche’s brother, Collins, who was a priest and died young of an illness.
Step 1: Obtain Nigerian Visas
As recently as last year, applying for a Nigerian visa was simple. Send your Nigerian friend your documents, he or she will send them in to the consulate, and voilà, you get your visa. Not so now. Joachim was stunned and disappointed to find we would now need to drive to the closest Nigerian consulate (Atlanta, GA, in our case) to have biometrics taken in person. My Nigerian brother here in KY, Emmanuel Jatau, cheekily told me, with a great smile and much confidence, this is Nigerian retribution for the way that our government has recently been treating Nigerians (I am assuming this is in reference to the immigration laws changing with the election of our current president).
So, to Atlanta we went this past weekend. Beforehand, thankfully, I heeded Joachim’s advice and Googled the requirements, because I found out, surprisingly, that the consulate no longer handles visa work. They have contracted this out to a company called OIS. At first, I was suspicious, but it all turned out to be legit. I followed the site’s instructions (please note, these are the instructions specifically for the Atlanta office):
- Make sure you already have a passport that has at least 6 months’ validity remaining and that it has at least 2 blank facing pages.
- Have one recent passport-sized photo (can be done at home with a little research and skill and printed at Wal-mart or elsewhere).
- Complete the online application.
- Be sure to print both the payment AND acknowledgement slips.
- Ask your Nigerian contact for a clear photo on a solid background of their passport data page (both facing sides included).
- A letter of invitation from your Nigerian contact that includes: a) top right corner – name and address of your contact in Nigeria, b) beneath and left justified – addressed to the “General Consulate in Atlanta” with their address, c) ask them to state where you will be staying in Nigeria, the duration of the visit, and whether they will be assuming all “immigration” responsibilities for you (or whether you will be paying your own way).
- Depending on who will be financially responsible, that person must include a bank statement no less than three months old. (You may black out your bank account number).
- Book an appointment on the OIS Services appointment booking site.
- Before OIS will confirm your visa, you must have purchased a two-way ticket.
We travelled to Atlanta and arrived only two minutes late for our appointed time. Here are some other tidbits we discovered while we were there:
- If you keep a respectful and warm demeanor, you will be treated well. If you get defensive while insisting ignorance of the requirements (as someone at the next desk did), you could be treated coldly. Save yourself the trouble, and read the website for any updates before you go.
- If you do run into requirements about which you were ignorant, but you maintain a calm and respectful attitude, OIS will work with you and allow you to email the missing documents or even to write up some on their office PC for that purpose. Here are the items we were missing and/or had to correct:
- If you are traveling with children, you must write up a letter that states you give OIS permission to put a Nigerian visa in their passport (not sure what that’s all about).
- Bring a USPS priority mail flat rate envelope (a little over $6) addressed to yourself with OIS on the return address.
- Do have your tickets already purchased, and have your itinerary printed to give to them.
- Be sure the photo of your Nigerian host’s passport data includes both pages, is on a solid background, and is very clear.
- Be sure your host’s invitation letter includes all the information listed above.
- You must give OIS a picture or photocopy of the birth certificate of each of your traveling children.
Though we were missing each of these items, OIS allowed us to email them when we got home to firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line should state, “Missing documents for … (the number they assign to each visa).” I’ll update later on their turnaround time. We travel in two weeks, so let’s pray they’re on it.