August 15, 2007

A Day in the Life

7:15 – As usual, I’m woken up by the Nyanja ramblings of the guesthouse staff as they shuffle about at an unreasonably early hour. Muli bwanji?! Nili Bwino! Groan.

7:45 – I fumble my way through a shower in the hazy morning light that filters through the dingy curtains of my bathroom window. The light’s burnt out, complicating the fine art of balancing the hot and cold taps; in between scalding and freezing, I cleanse.

8:30 – Go to the internet café to put together a document package to extend my 30-day volunteer visa, only good for two more days, as per the instructions on the immigration office’s website. I also print off handouts for a human rights presentation we’re giving to journalism students later in the day.

9:30 – Mini-bus downtown to the regional immigration office to find that my careful preparations are for nothing: the clerk wryly informs me that my covering letter is addressed to the wrong person, too explanatory and that we need to pay, again, to have our visas extended for just three more months. It’s one million Kwacha ($300 CDN), only payable by certified bank cheque. If the chief officer feels like it, he might let the one fee cover my entire stay, but probably not. It’ll likely be 1.5 million next time. That Sinking Feeling sets in – what kind of country desperately in need of tourism and foreign investment treats visitors this way?

10:00 – We regroup at an Internet café. I call the Canadian consulate, where they proceed to make things worse: they tell me that even though I’m volunteering I have to apply for the more complicated work visa. Better still, I’ll have to leave the country while it’s being processed, then re-enter at the magical date it’s been activated. The closest border to Lusaka in Zimbabwe. Great. Hello Bobby Mugabe!

10:15 – New information leads us to believe we can get our visas renewed at the national immigration office, back in the suburbs we just came from. We cab it back.

10:30 – Signing the registry, we’re ushered into a room entitled ‘Investigations.’ A lady flips through our papers nonchalantly, eventually saying we still have to pay the one million, but that it’ll be good for however long we stay. The only thing is that we still have to get the certified cheque, take it to the cashier and we’re good. We sign another registry as we leave.

11:00 – At the local bank, I withdraw money only to find that certified cheques are only available to account holders, and it somehow takes 48 hours to sign up for one. We’ll be illegal immigrants by then.

11:45 – Desperate and half-convinced exile is imminent, we return to the office without the Hallowed Cheque to try our luck with cash. I’m more than ready to start offering bribes at this point.

12:15 – After a horrendously nervous wait in line, we finally see the cashier. He informs us that yes, cash is indeed acceptable, but only US dollars. Wad of Kwacha purposely in hand, I conspicuously start counting out one million before he can protest. “Give me the money so I can count it,” he laughs, “I don’t steal that much anymore.” Unsure of how much I actually give him, we get a receipt and are sent down the hall to get a temporary stamp while our visas are processed.

12:30 – To our horror, a cacaphonic horde of American peace corps volunteers pack the hallway leading to The Room. We push our way in to see passports already stacked high on the clerk’s desks for processing. If they break for lunch and we have to wait, we’ll probably have to cancel the presentation we’d spent two days preparing for.

12:50 – Mercifully working through lunch, the clerks finally stamp our passports, giving us 30 more days in the country in which to pick up our new visas which are now in the works. We sign a registry for a third time. The name on the front of the book is ‘Goofy.’

13:15 – Hurriedly order lunch at the ill-named LA Fast Foods. It takes 30 minutes to get our food.

13:55 – Arrive at the University of Zambia, to find we’re supposed to give our two-hour workshop in a stuffy computer room. I respectfully request a new space.

14:15 – In an airy, if rundown, classroom, we finally start the presentation. Compared to the rest of the day, it goes well: we don’t bumble too much, students ask insightful questions and we leave the MA students with an assignment to write a human rights article. Done.

17:00 – Arrive back at the guesthouse, just bushwhacked. I contemplate going to a glad-handing cocktail party, the only real draw being free booze. Even that’s not enough to make me dress up and schmooze.

18:00 – Get groceries, Mosi and some fresh peri-peri to prepare a masochistically spicy stir-fry. The burning hurts so good.

20:00 – I sit and wrote this entry, half in the bag, listening to Mwanawasa butcher yet another prepared speech on public television. He’s imploring the Zambian people to “act in their true character: with order and stability,” during an upcoming Southern African summit in Lusaka. The irony isn’t lost on me as I flip the TV off and finish my post, exhausted.

4 comments:

Emilie said...

Much better story than my half-ass, distorted and distracted-by-traffic recounting of the tale to Adriana and Pinchy!

Scott said...

Yikes bikes, Zambian bureaucracy sounds like purgatory only with more stomach ulcers and Mountain Dew Code Red.

Bryn said...

jesus christ, you have to pay 300 CDN to volunteer in a country? I don't know if I've ever heard of a visa costing that much - you sure you're not getting completely hosed?

Chris said...

I hope you're not offended when I say some of this made me laugh... that is, until I remembered that in less than a month I'll have to go through the visa renewal process.

I've already rented a cabin in the woods of South Sudan just in case.