Almost two years ago I relocated to embark on a teaching career in the Kingdom of Swaziland. These anecdotes sketch the administrative process to leave one country and enter another. These events did not take place in the friendly kingdom I called Home, but the neighbouring country.
A work permit application for a foreign country requires police clearance, which takes me deep into municipality bureaucracy.
Crowds of people mill about in the local offices. Boldly and decisively I walk in, immediately take a short breath and hold it. There is a repugnant aroma of sweaty people and musty, rotting something. How do people work here? I silently wonder.
I paste a polite smile on my face, hoping to look decisive yet closed, trying to create an invisible wall between me and the swarms of people. This is a No-Go-Zone my body language screams. Most are just curious onlookers but a few leering men, who are not shy nor professional, stare unflinching.
A sticky, touchy- feely cop takes my fingerprints rubbing my hands into the dreadful, black ink. Soap is a tub of grimy, coarse granules. Dip a hand in, lather and wash at the basin. Breathe! I silently chide myself, wishing I was invisible.
The convict in the cell behind me ogles at the white woman having her fingerprints taken. Prominently displayed, tattered notices taped onto the wall read “Do not enter cell alone” and “Do not enter with a firearm”. Dried bread crusts and tossed take- away food packets litter the floor.
I quickly march out clutching my sticky, ink-saturated form.
I stride to a closed office door marked FINANCE, where I am informed that the officers have left to fine speeding motorists. They are not at a Christmas party, I’m assured.
Early on Monday morning I resume my quest. My forms are nowhere to be found. “Friday, Saturday and Sunday is too long, they are lost!” declares the officer on duty. I rewrite, re-stamp, pay and run. Cleanliness, freshness and efficiency please.
Inside a green, corrugated iron structure, I find piles of tatty, yellowed pages, a steel filing cabinet and the portable tea basin.
Perched on the corner of a large wooden desk sits an aging, frail man with his young apprentice. The billowing suit seems to swallow the lean apprentice, who makes no qualms about scrutinizing the woman in the queue. Staring at me intently the elderly gentleman speaks. He moves slowly and intentionally. He walks as though in pain, with a slight limp yet a determination to do this job completely while he still could.
No rush in the world.
He peers at the minute writing on the pages I present and asks me to read the numbers. Either he couldn’t read the small print or simply wanted me closer. I choose to accept the former. Everything he writes, he reads out aloud. Slowly, laboriously. Grateful for an ounce of diligence, I staand patiently smiling gratefully trying not to seem even slightly rushed.
I high-tail out of there hoping for more no more visits to this dreary place and for favour with officials and postal service.
The following morning, after a long, solo journey, I finally arrived HOME. My dogs greet me exuberantly at the gate with big, bounding hugs and tails wagging. My babies, my pups. The country I braved grime, grit and leering looks to be in. Home for now.
The house has been freshly painted fever tree yellow with bushbuck- brown and white trimmings. Builders everywhere!
Mom, chats constantly and trails me everywhere for the first 24 hours, relieved to have her daughter home.
Dad comes home from work to hello hugs and stories to share. My first good laugh in months is in these moments. Dad it seems is the one who can really bring out the laughter and fun in me. Together we joke, laugh and finally relax.
Some stories are to be told, others best left for another day.