Seeing as we now live in a global village, a few years ago I took it upon myself to also try my hand at globetrotting. If Africa can receive millions of foreign visitors upon its soils year in and year out, I saw no reason why I too could not visit foreign lands to broaden my horizons. I will not mention any specific destination, but I recall that upon embarking on one such voyage, the encumbrances I was faced with began even before I left Africa.
The application forms required to be completed for my visa application were easy enough, except I had to provide a lot of supporting documentation. This included furnishing proof that I had a full time job to which I would return after my trip abroad; my bank account statements spanning a period of about three to six months; proof that I had booked accommodation in the country that I was planning to visit; an invitation letter to visit the country from a citizen or organisation in that country; flight itinerary et cetera. For good measure, a friend who had undergone this whole process before told me to even throw in my mortgage statements.
Finally the day of my visa application interview at the ‘certain’ country’s consulate arrived. I made sure that I said my prayers and asked for favour before I left for the consulate. This might be laughable to some, but what is one to do when so many others have had their visa applications turned down? Moreover, people in the age group that I belonged to at the time (18 and 35) most often than not had the least chances of obtaining visas. Would the consulate officials believe that a youth like me only wanted to visit their country and not immediately disappear under the radar as soon as I landed and stay on indefinitely? This and other questions like it dogged me as I turned round the corner and discovered a lengthy queue of visa applicants waiting patiently to get through the gates of the consulate for their applications to be assessed. There were at least a hundred people there!
I could not help but wonder if, by some remote chance, there could be a reverse mirror image at my country’s consulate in the country I was planning to travel to. Once I made it overseas and happened to visit my embassy, would I find people lining up outside the street to submit visa applications to come visit MY country in Africa? Who was I kidding, I thought to myself as I shuffled forward in the queue, there were probably no more than a handful of visa applicants at my country’s consulate – of the handful, most of them would be tourists and business people.
The queue I was currently on, on the other hand, was a motley of students, migrants and work visa applicants. A few minutes after waiting in line under the blazing heat of the morning sun, I was thankful when the queue started moving a little faster and I could escape inside the gates of the consulate before the sun could melt me. To my dismay, I discovered that the queue only snaked on inside the consulate’s courtyard. Just inside the gates we stopped at a security checkpoint where we had to furnish written proof that we all had appointments that morning. A number of people had to turn back in haste to go and print their appointment notes. Luckily I had mine in my well prepared ‘visa application package.’
Thereafter, all our personal belongings were screened, our bodies were frisked and we were let through to again wait as the queue weaved its way towards the building’s entrance. Again at the entrance we had to pass through yet another security barrier with personnel that did not wear any smiles. Would I be blamed if I were to say that at this point I was beginning to feel rather unwelcome even though I was still within the borders of my own country?
Through the second security barrier I went, noticing several security cameras around the room. I was given a piece of paper with a number on it and instructed to wait till that number was called. I found myself a seat and was grateful that I could finally catch some rest after standing in the queue for about forty-five long minutes. I looked around and saw consulate staff interviewing visa applicants behind counters that had glass panels in front of them. I could not help but follow the interview of a lady in front of me as her interviewer was almost screaming behind her glass panel, while speaking in a slow deliberate sort of way, almost as if the visa applicant was hard of hearing.
With a hint of impatience, she barked, “Ma’am, it says on your application that the person who invited you for a visit is your boyfriend, is that right?”
“Yes, he is my boyfriend,” the hopeful visa applicant responded.
“Ma’am how old are you and how old is your boyfriend?” the interviewer continued.
“I am 39 and my boyfriend is 76,” came the reply.
“Don’t you think he is a bit too old for you Ma’am?” was the question that followed.
I heard a few low snickers around me and realised that I was not the only following the loud interview, and to my shame, I was even enjoying the poor lady’s interview as free entertainment.
“No,” came the confident reply. “I love him and he is not too old for me.”
“I see you are applying for a temporary working visa. What sort of work will you be doing when you get there?” another impatient question was fired.
“I will be working in a café.”
“And which café is that?”
“My boyfriend’s café,” the applicant answered, “He has a coffee shop and a wine shop. I will be cleaning tables.”
At this, the chuckles around me grow a little louder and I could feel myself trying to suppress a small giggle that had started to bubble involuntarily.
“I see on the system that about four months ago you tried to apply for a visa but it was rejected. Do you know why?” was the next question. “No, I do not know,” came the despondent answer.
“Ma’am I am afraid to have to tell you that your visa application this time around is again unsuccessful.”
“But why?” the lady, asked, her voice raising a notch.
“Ma’am,” the interviewer explained, “According to our assessment and the assessment of your first application four months ago, it seems that once you are granted your visa, you are not likely to return. Your skills also do not fall within the special skills’ set to be granted a temporary work permit.”
“But why, but why?” the visa applicant went on, “I told you that I have a place to stay and that I will be working in a café for some months. There is nothing wrong with my application. When can I come again to submit a fresh application?”
“Ma’am, I cannot give you a date to submit another application. Besides, if your visa application has been rejected twice before, it is most likely to be rejected again on a third or any other subsequent submission.”
This time there were no more smothered chuckles to be heard around the room. I had the feeling that others were thinking the same thing that I was, would my application be accepted and if rejected once, did that mean an end to any other attempt at traveling to that particular country?
“Can I not try again? Do I need to bring more supporting proof?” the rejected applicant carried on.
“Sorry Ma’am, we do not any further documentation,” was the mechanical reply. “Now if you do not mind, I need to interview other people. Next, number 22!”
“No, is there anything else I can do? I want to try again,” the desperate lady was now almost wailing now.
“Ma’am, that will be all for today, you have had your chance at an interview. If you do not leave the buildingimmediately I will have to call security,” the interviewer told her in a no-nonsense tone.
“No need for that,” mumbled the applicant as she angrily placed her hand bag on her arm and gathered her documents.
She looked around at those of us still seated waiting to be interviewed and shook her head in disgust and disappointment while making her way towards the exit. “I do not understand these people,” she declared loudly..
An uncomfortable hush now fell upon the rest of us waiting to be called for our interviews and I felt a little anxious. What if I when my turn came and I got told in a mechanical bored voice that my application was unsuccessful? Thankfully, my interview which did not even take five minutes was a success. I was told to collect my visa on a certain date and wished a safe trip. After all the preparation I had gone through to get my application in good order, it was a bit disappointing that the interviewer asked me no more than three questions and only skimmed over my documentation. Did he not care that I had spent countless hours standing in line and putting my application together!!??
© Mwanja S. Ng'anjo