I arrived promptly at 9am as the Sierra Leone embassy in Conakry opened to watch the Consul in charge of visa affairs leave in a car. “Never mind, he’ll be back by 11am, come back then”, the gate security inform me. Thanks to the local climate, which combines the less pleasant aspects of a furnace and a sauna I lose a few kilos in body moisture killing two hours in the particularly unremarkable portion of town in which the embassy lives. Returning to find a waiting room full of bored, sweaty applicants I realise I am now at the back of the queue but at least there is a fellow traveller, a Brazilian to chat to.
Some time after lunch the Consul strolls through, “here for visas are you”? And that was the last anyone saw of him for the day. Even at 4pm I had still managed to remain in a Zen like calm, despite wasting an entire day because the rude, ungrateful, brain-dead toss pot of a Consul couldn’t be arsed to inform his staff that he would not be in the office that day. The Brazilian had become increasingly annoyed and the business people, who had also been waiting all day in the hope of discussing making investments in SL had well past the stage of grumbling, “this is not very professional”.
We all greet each other like old friends at 9am the next day and are studiously ignored for the first two hours.
Eventually the Brazilian and I have our interview together as we both need to apply for a tourist visa but do not have a letter of invitation as is usually required. We respectfully explain our situation, in that having been travelling for several months this has been our earliest opportunity to go to an embassy and not knowing anyone in the country we had been unable to obtain a letter but would happily undertake any process or provide supporting documents to facilitate an application. We may as well have been making an application to the wardrobe as his response barely went beyond the jobsworth line of: non standard application, therefore refused. Only one option remained, paying the $100 application fee and appealing to his superior, the deputy ambassador. More waiting.
Returning from a much-needed water buying expedition to the local shops I find the Brazilian seething with anger, raging at the staff. Having just encountered the Deputy Ambassador and politely asked if he could spare a minute to discuss the visa issue he had been treated to a rant about his colonial mentality for having the audacity to approach someone in such an elevated position as himself in such an improper manner. The most cursory view of Brazilian history will reveal that it was in fact colonised by the Portuguese, obviously lost on the official, happy to lump all light skins into the same category. Struggling to find the words in his anger the Brazilian blurted, “the guy’s a total……….mother fucker! To which a polite secretary suggested that, “this kind of language is not necessary”.
I had considered that as the Brazilian had already been wound up by having to wait a day and a half already, he may have inadvertently come across as impolite so when the office manager secured us a word over the phone with the Deputy I took the call, wished him a good morning and thanked him for sparing his time. After a concise explanation the wonderful things we had heard about his country and its people, which was why we wished to visit I said that we would be most grateful if he could consider our application despite the slightly irregular form of application. Taking this in he asked to be handed back to the manager. Progress?
It’s at this point that it would be helpful to explain the reasoning behind the request for a letter of invitation. Unlike dictatorships who use them as a means of controlling access of undesirables to their territory, SL had been asked to do so by the African Union. As they had supplied troops to combat Al Shabab in Somalia, who had threatened counties so doing, there was a potential security risk. As harmless as I am I accept that there are many things I could be suspected of doing: kiddy fiddling; drug running; embarrassing dancing but there is hardly a hot-bed of support for Al Shabab amongst bald, middle-aged, white Englishmen. Also, given that there is an online visa application process which does not require a letter it could hardly be regarded as totally unreasonable to make an application without one.
An hour or so later we are invited to go to the Deputy Ambassador’s office. In the most servile of postures we shuffle in and take our seats, after an awkward silence and some paper sorting by the Consul I quietly greet them and introduce myself to the Deputy explaining that it was me to whom he spoke on the phone earlier. Bad move! It was not the colonial period any longer and one should only speak to someone of such an exalted status once spoken to. After relieving us of the $100 each the Consul proceeded to summarise our situation to his superior and to paraphrase he may have well have said, “these are the two prats who came in earlier on who are wasting all our time”.
This was the cue for the Deputy Ambassador to relaunch his pompous, cretinously irrelevant lecture on the evils of colonialism, wallowing in his white suited oafishness having evidently spent his professional career being surrounded by people unprepared to question to his fatuous remarks. Realising that our sole purpose here was to provide his wallet with $200 and another opportunity to spout his amoeboid wisdom at lowly foreigners I stood up mid sentence,grabbed my passport and shouted in his face, “how dare you lecture me about fucking colonialism, in twenty countries in Africa I have never been treated with such rudeness and disrespect as here…” etc etc including several more swear words.
I stormed out slamming the door to find the polite lady secretary and a guard, “do you know I was going to apologise earlier on for my Brazilian friend’s language about the Deputy Ambassador but not now, he was fucking right”. I continued to shout and swear about the self-important, supercilious dork to staff and visitors as I left the building.
The indignant Brazilian wasn’t going to leave without his $100 and refused to leave. With this and all my noise, it had attracted the notice of the Ambassador himself who, a little while later called us all in for a discussion. Unlike the Deputy he proved to be the master of diplomatic language that his position demanded, so without actually admitting that his deputy was a fuckwit or that shouting and swearing your head off in a diplomatic mission is inappropriate behaviour, he acknowledged that improper payment procedure had been followed and that we were entitled to be refunded.
Despite the Ambassador’s assurance that we would get visas if the appropriate channels were followed it still took the Brazilian the rest of the week and much hassle to get his, time which I could ill afford myself. So Sierra Leone I may never get to see your sandy shores and smiling faces but if there are any more of you like your Deputy Ambassador in Conakry it’s a price I will gladly pay.
Since then I discovered a news item on His Excellency the Deputy Ambassador accusing him of siphoning off funds for a funeral and assaulting a female staff member. His unpopularity is hardly surprising. http://www.standardtimespress.org/artman/publish/article_4510.shtml