Tag Archives: bureaucracy

The essential virtue for a life in Africa

Considering the amount of time and energy I have of late invested into learning the virtue of patience, I thought it would be appropriate to find out an accurate definition of this word that encapsulates so many of my challenges:

pa·tience  –noun

1. the quality of being patient,  as the bearing of provocation,annoyance,  misfortune, or pain, without complaint, loss oftemper, irritation, or the like.

2. an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when  confronted with delay: to have patience with a slow learner.

3. quiet, steady perseverance; even tempered care;  diligence

All 3 of these definitions considered, I think my steep, stumbling climb towards the mountain peak of patience is moving along. Slowly, but I am moving. Of course, all is relative. I mean, how exactly do you define ‘without complaint, loss of temper, irritation or the like’? Such ambiguous terms…

One of the many wonderful things about being in Uganda is the unremitting opportunity I have to work on this virtue. To set up an Organisation from scratch, there are many many registrations, hoops to jump through, walls to scale, and lines to wait in.

I often look longingly (and yes, slightly jealously) at the many foreign volunteers wondering around Kampala, as they enjoy their weekends off of work, a spring in their step from the freedom that comes from knowing the buck does not stop with them. They need not worry about registrations & regulations, of NGO certificates & tax issues and of course the ongoing sagas of legal issues and land boundaries.

Michael and I have lost count of the number of days we have spent waiting in lines, at offices, & searching in vain to find unstipulated officials to sign unstipulated letters.

Last week we spent the week in Kampala attempting to obtain work visas.* The following takes place over the course of the week. We had absolutely all of the documents that were listed, and others that were not, just to cover all possible bases. Nervously, we entered the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where a swirl of mostly defeated looking people were waiting in lines for passports, visas and all manner of documents. By chance, we stumbled upon a helpful office lady. She pointed us in the direction of ‘window B’ which seemed to be the place to obtain visas, which we quickly deduced by the number of weary mzungu standing nervously in line for their n’th attempt at a visa.

Attempt 1: In anticipation, we step up to the window, exchanging greetings in a futile attempt at cracking a smile from the woman that could decide our fate. After a failed attempt (Michael’s charm normally works on Ugandan women, even I was smiling!) we explain that we need the “G” work visa and have all documents. Without even glancing up at us, she declares we need to submit all documents in a folder.

Attempt 2: An hour later, we are back with said folder. However this time, we have the wrong receipt from our NGO registration application. So, we call our Ugandan brother, who has the receipt, and he gives it to us that evening at home. Already, my ability to ‘suppress restlessness’ is waning.

Attempt 3: We now have necessary receipt and come smiling smugly to the counter in the morning. But alas, that is not enough. She now sends us off to get an official signature from the NGO board, where we spend 2 hours talking with the secretary (she was very helpful actually) before returning with the signature.

Attempt 4: It is now lunch time and everyone has knocked off for a good hour or so.  We are told to come back around 2 or 3. Slight ‘irritation’ developing.

Attempt 5: Begrudgingly, we hand over the file, in folder, with receipt to the same woman. This time she does flick through the file, but it seems we need another letter signed by one of the Ugandan board members. We have one, but it doesn’t say exactly the right thing. I do not do this ‘without complaint’. My patience is clearly wavering, and I show it.

Attempt 6: We arrive the next day, our patience becoming more and more compromised as the days pass us by.  We have the letter, as our Ugandan father who we live with in Kampala is on our board. This time, however, we had the wrong type of folder. Apparently this is a serious concern, and she advises us to go and purchase the correct one immediately. I struggle to remain ‘even tempered’ with our interaction this time.

Attempt 7: We come back armed with all documents, receipts, signatures and of course, the special folder. This time, she is happy to accept it – however, only after the photocopy of my passport is rotated 90 degrees within the file to look more ‘suitable’. It is only at this point that she presents us with the main issue at hand. Currently, there is no chairperson to preside over the Ugandan Visa Board, and so we will not be able to get a work permit until such time as they hire someone to fulfil this role. In the meantime, we must apply for a ‘special pass’ visa. In despair, I take the application form for the special pass. By this time, I am past having a temper. Perhaps that is what patience is all about?

Attempt 8: Armed with the special pass application form, we wait in line, praying to God that He may miraculously intervene in this situation in order to prevent us from taking drastic or violent action. It seems He does intervene. The woman takes our documents, the file, our special pass application – and then our passports. In return for the only identity we have in this country, she gives us a little slip of paper from the Department of Immigration that has scribbled on it our names and nationality:

Our current 'passports'

So with fear and trepidation, no passports, & the vague promise of a special pass visa in a week or so, we leave the Department of Immigration, Internal Affairs.

If you are the praying type, pray! 🙂

*Disclaimer: I am ABSOLUTELY aware of the ridiculous difficulty that foreigners are confronted with trying to obtain work visas in Australia, and think that it is equally ridiculous. I certainly don’t want to single out Ugandan bureaucracy, but am merely sharing my experience.