Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Passport pit to hell!

As the title implies, the Ugandan passport office is more akin to the seventh level of hell than any place I would actually like to be on this earth. Monday and today were virtually completely taken up by trying to get people to look for our files at the office.

On Monday we started at the US embassy to try to get the paperwork going. We were not able to wait long enough to meet with the consular representative and had to move on to the wonderful passport office. Once there we waited to meet out contact who had been helping us on Friday. To pass the time we played games such as: count how many times you are called mzungu (white person); see how many ants are crawling on you at one time; count how many people are staring at you at any one time; guess how many weeks it will take to get your passport; etc. In all seriousness, we had a wonderful lady help us on Friday who is very high ranking in the NGO office and with rank in the entire compound we were in. We did not have much direction on where to look for the passport applications and were told to leave and come back at 2pm. We decided to use this time to go back to the embassy.

We went back to the embassy and were told that we could see the consular representative at 2pm. (Note what time we had to be back at passports) They told us that if we could be back by 245pm we could see him but, otherwise, it would have to be the next (Tuesday) afternoon. We went to lunch and proceeded to the passport office at 2pm.

At the passport office we were told to come back at 3pm. We left to hurry to the embassy.

We arrived at the embassy and were eventually able to meet with the consular representative. He had briefly looked over our paperwork and told us that our files and that our rulings were fine. He told us that our attorney needed to include supplemental language in the future but that the rulings we had were fine. GREAT NEWS!!!! That was what I was afraid would be the hold-up. Apparently I had never considered the passport office. Thus we traveled back to the passport for our third visit of the day.

Once at passports we began speaking to anyone that would talk to us, begging for assistance, and trying to track down our files. It is really frustrating when someone directs you to speak to someone, you speak to them, and they yell at you for speaking to them. I cannot begin to count how many times my conversations began with "so and so told me to come and see you. I have no idea why. I cannot tell you how they are. I don't know what you do or who you are and I have no idea what I am doing right now. Can you please help me?" Eventually we were connected with the head of the front office. He was a very helpful man that was able to finally tell us that Melody's file was ready for printing but they could not find Joey's. We were to come back on Tuesday.

Now for Tuesday.
Obviously we began at the passport office at 11am because that is when our contact was set to arrive. Our contact has heart problems so she is unable to walk up and down the hill that we traversed many times, but her assistant, who had been out the prior few days, was in and was at our beck and call. We started out speaking to people about our passports, picked up Melody's for which there was much ooing and ahing from Melody and Joey, and had our newfound friend begin searching for the passports. There is a person called the passport control officer. Someone must have called ahead and told him we were coming because he was rude to us each and every time. He told us the passport went through his office to the strong room. We confirmed by two separate searches it was not there. I went to speak with him again and he assured it was probably in room 6--queries. I told him it was not there either and when Ditte had inquired they yelled at her saying, "why are you bothering me?!" Our search continued.

We came back to various people many times to see if anyone had found anything, each time being assured they have never lost a passport. I beg to differ.

Eventually, after 4 hours there, Ditte suggested we speak with the legal department. We met a very nice man that told us to make a copy of our receipt showing payment, fill out a new application, and take it to my bosom buddy the passport control officer. We did just that. While we were preparing these documents we found out that the file was nowhere to be found and confirmed lost. We went to the passport control officer and I immediately explained to him that the file was nowhere to be found, legal had told us to do this, and that we had no other options. He looked over the papers, scribbled a note to confirm the file number, and sent us to another office. We went to the next person, confirmed the file number was correct and proceeded to yet another office to review our documents. This man was not so nice to begin with.

We spoke with him for a long period of time and he finally gave us the paperwork we needed. He sent us back to the passport control officer with notes on how we should proceed next. Rather than take my paperwork and leave, I exercised a practice I had been using since my first day. I asked this man if he liked candy (sweeties). Of course, like everyone in Uganda, his face lit up like a child and he put his hand out. I gave him some jelly beans, bubble gum, and other candy. He became one of the nicest people we had met.

The Ugandans are wonderful people. They are generally kind, extremely giving, and for the most part meek. When they have authority, however, it seems to make them gruff, impatient, and for the most part rude. This man was initially this way. He barked at me for a response as to why I was in his office. I explained what had happened and that we had a temporary file. He asked who had reviewed it and I told him. Not one to be satisfied, he asked for the person's name--I had no idea. He said that I would need to go talk to this specific person. This is a good time for a brief sidenote on finding someone by name. They give you a first name. You find the first poor soul you can and ask for that person. They laugh and tell you there are four people with that name and begin suggesting last names, which obviously you don't know. You go in circles with them and they begin pointing you to offices of these so-named individuals. So it goes.

Back to the passport control officer. Amazingly, he approved the documents with no delay. He told our friend, however, that we would not get a passport without repaying because the bank's receipt was with the original, now lost, file. Ironically, he told her that we had to repay or find the original file. I cannot imagine how hard this must be for a poor Ugandan to make it through this process without the get the front of the line card we carry because of our skin color. We spoke with legal and he said that was ridiculous. The final place we saw that file was when it went to the strong room where the passports are printed. After this, I literally think I barely missed the step at the passport office that will take you directly to the underworld. It had to be there somewhere because it was sheer torture the entire time.

We were told to come back tomorrow to see if it had been printed. We will be back early because we have to allow time for our visas to be approved and completed.

Thank you again for all of you support and your prayers.


Mandy Kershaw said...

Miriam said that she likes Melody's bow. We're excited for their arrival and will continue to pray for this crazy process.

the Kershaws

suubi said...

Leala here: Kaden wanted me to tell you that he loves you and misses you and I do to! We can't wait to see Mia and Joey! I love you & thank you for wading through this process to bring these little ones home.

suubi said...

Can't wait to get home. Tell the monkey I love him, can't wait to see him, and will make funny faces with him when I get home. Africa is good. I am healthy. God is on the thrown. Things can't get much better. . . oh wait! I have to go back to the Passport pit to hell tomorrow. I take the last part back.

Love you guys.

Amy and Bethany's Ugandan Adventures! said...

Hi Tim, Leala, and kids.

Wow! What an experience. Sounds like your having a blast navigating the passport office! Praying for passports tomorrow!

Amy King

Amy said...

Wow, how much we take for granted living in the U.S. Just when we thought dealing with government officials was close to hell for us...hang in there Tim...this is all for God's glory!