Thursday, September 09, 2010

Welcome to Nigeria. No, actually we don't want you anyhow, but thanks so much for asking. NOT!

There are those who would argue that my yesterday could have possibly been better spent. Even I would perhaps be inclined to think so, had I not been procrastinating and not doing the things I was supposed to do anyway, and as such the day actually, instead, will now forever epitomize for me the perfect day of pure and utter procrastinatory unaccomplishment.

What in the hell, woman? I mean... what?

Well, as it happens, a coffee with my Capetonian (A person who hails from Cape Town, South Africa. It is too spelled like that, I swear.) friend of Wheatlands News, the lovely and utterly smart journo Lynne (that's her reflected in the glass I think) who I've actually met through this here blogging thing and made friends with since she was in no way a psychopathic killer, a religious fanatic, or a crazed cat lady a la the Simpsons (and that's only bad because she uses the poor cats as weapons), turned into (How do you like my sprawling, to put it mildly, sentence structure? I know, bordering on insanely ingenious, neh?) a day sadly mostly void of coffee and cake, with nothing to eat but sugar free, teeth-whitening gum I had stowed away in my purse, at the Nigerian Consulate in Johannesburg.

After weeks of fruitless phone calls to the consulate (apparently, the whole answering the phone when it rings hasn't really caught on with the consulate staff yet), Lynne had finally decided to fly into Johannesburg yesterday morning and wrestle the visa needed for her travel to Nigeria on Saturday, out of the unhelpful folks herself.

She was giving the match 3 hours tops, and then we were going to be free to procrastinate our day away in the wonder that is the flashy and relatively safe (or so they claim, while I think they're wrong and I personally feel much safer [and more sane] in other parts of Jozi) 'the other' downtown of Johannesburg, Sandton. With plenty of coffee, foreign, air-freight mags that we would read for free at one of the book stores over a rather nicely executed latte, maybe a touch of shopping, some unadulterated people watching (believe me, Sandton is the place for flashier than Paris or any of the drag queens impersonating her put together amongst the Jozi-crowd), and of course lots of catching up and gossip, before Lynne's flight back to Cape Town at five.

Alas, 'twas not to be.

You really are all over the place with the lingo today, dude. What's with that? Plain, good English no longer good enough for ya, or what?


So I spent the morning doing some light shopping (Buying perfume and shoes, and trying on perfumed shoes [who wouldn't want a pair, or two seeing as I already own one, of these babies?] almost doesn't count as shopping, does it now? Everyone nod! Thanks.), and getting through my fill of the UK Vogue for free and some wisdom from the authors of the South African Cosmopolitan (I refuse to pay for the mag. It's just that useless) while waiting for Lynne. She had gotten to the consulate at 9am. Surely she'd have her visa by noon?

Finally, around rolled noon, and she texted me that things weren't quite going according to plan, and that she had been yelled at, treated like shit, accused of fraud, nothing was happening regarding her application, and that she had been told to either withdraw her passport or wait some more. To top it all off, that had been when someone amongst the numerous (and clearly not very overworked, as we later witnessed a clerk take a break for over an hour during their official 'office hours' and go grocery shopping) staff had been kind enough to actually acknowledge her presence in the waiting room, instead of avoiding her gaze and slinking away behind mirrored glass. She asked me whether I'd like to hang out in the waiting room at the consulate.

How could I have said no? Well, I couldn't. It was, after all, the waiting room of the Nigerian consulate. Who in their right mind would say no to that?

So equipped with two bottles of water, Lynne had asked me to bring, I set out to find the place. Time was running out. They were closing the doors at one. The GPS was no help. The lady who lives in it, was unable to locate the consulate, the road that it was on, and in the end Johannesburg as well. She kept asking me to make a left at a stop light in Pretoria, after which she would furiously recalculate before telling me to, what else, make a left at a stop light in Pretoria. I just drove up and down the street I thought the consulate was on until I saw a building that kinda, sorta, looked like an embassy.

I got lucky.

(Note to self: Learn which flag belongs to which country. Might come in handy when the woman in the GPS tumbles down into the wine cellar... Just saying.)

With not a minute to spare I left my car in front of some office's front entrance and dashed into the consulate. Seeing as I always carry in my wallet, when I need to stoop to that mind you, the card which can only be referred to as 'a frighteningly blond and pale woman in heels carrying what looks like whoop-ass in her purse' and in my desperation for entry decided to play it, I strolled right through the exit door, past the sign-in and the guards, straight into a largish but very sparsely furnished room with a counter with no one behind it, and frustrated looking people in various, most of them quite resigned-looking, stances, and found Lynne.

Who was holding a sleeping baby on her lap. Just not one of the grown-up ones she's personally brought into the world, but a tiny, cute, sleeping baby-girl. Not wanting to admit I'd missed her pregnancy, change of mate/ adoption process, and the birth of this little miracle (I really should read y'all's blogs more. I know I should. But really, I'm afraid to find out what I've missed...), I simply ignored the baby, let Lynne in on the bender-ways of my GPS sweetheart (she's really okay, until she hits the bottle or snorts something up her air vent), and how I almost didn't make it and...

And that's when I saw the lady in the corner, bawling her eyes out, the mother of the baby. And the people trying to calm her down. And the clerks quickly swishing by the counter separated from the waiting room by a glass clearly hoping not to be noticed on their way from one side of the offices to the other. I'm sure if food hadn't been involved they wouldn't have moved.

Later that day, after getting no answers regarding Lynne's application, as I was carrying around the tired and hungry baby clearly in no mood to be spending time in any embassy or consulate, her mother, as a last resort to finding some answers (all this poor Nigerian woman needed was a travel document for her Nigerian baby so that she could travel home to Nigeria), threw herself on the floor and pleaded on her hands and knees for one of the passing clerks to help her.

Even after "You want us to die here. In South Africa?" from the distraught woman, the clerk simply shook her grip off of the leg of his pants and disappeared behind the locked door.

From now on, when I think of the words 'undeserved' and 'unjust' what will undoubtedly spring to mind is the way the poor woman was treated by her own countrymen. For no other reason than they could do it, and get away with doing it. No one wanted to help her, instead it was almost as if they wanted to make her misery worse.

But when I think about the word 'smug' the only thing that can come to mind from yesterday on, is the face and the tone of one of the clerks, when she finally, at 4:30pm, came into the waiting room to talk to Lynne, only to tell her "See, this document is missing the sender's information and that's why we can't confirm it. No, you giving us that information would just defeat the purpose. Can't you see how it would defeat the purpose." This was a letter a Nigerian ministry had sent to the Nigerian consulate.

And then everyone went home. But not before one of the people from the bigger upstairs offices came downstairs in an effort to get us to leave too, pretended to be someone else than who he was after it became absolutely necessary for him to identify himself, told Lynne he would otherwise grant her the visa, but the office had been locked up by the visa people who had already left for home, and that she would just have to come back on Monday, because of the four-day weekend.

And then we really were thrown out of the embassy. Politely, but still. Swept right out the door. And Lynne ended up canceling her very necessary mentoring trip to Nigeria and paying double for her flight back to Cape Town.

I want to go to Nigeria now more than I ever did.

Do you think I should apply for a visa now? You know, in case I get to go for my 50th birthday?

My sentiments exactly.


Lynne said...

It was a truly blog-worthy day. Thanks again for being an island of sanity (even though I seriously doubt that is something you are often called, and I'll try not to do it again)
Oh... and in case anyone is wondering, the baby wasn't mine. I had to give it back

julochka said...

but what happened to the baby?