I cried, I swore, I banged my head off the kitchen working top and then lay awake all night worrying, but finally I did get my visa for Niger.
It was a wonderful meeting of bureaucracy, ‘Escroquerie’ as they say, and British officiousness. I should have paid attention to the warning bells when I found a Niger Consulate in London on the internet. Don’t most French-speaking countries have their embassies in Paris? Of course they do, and the £500 hole in my finances is testament to that.
With four weeks to go, and justly proud of my organisational skills, I sent my passport and papers off registered delivery. Yes it was remiss of me to not notice that the address for visas was different to the address of the embassy, yes it was remiss of me not to write my own address on the back of the envelope. The short version is that my passport could not be delivered as the ‘consulate’ was boarded up, so it went into a centralised Post Office system far surpassing the worst of Kafka’s dark imaginings; bewildered beyond belief with the PO’s refusal to tell me when it would come back, I booked an appointment for a new passport (which by the way had to be in Durham because the service in London for providing a new passport in one week couldn’t give me an appointment for two weeks); the head-banging incident came on the night I returned exhausted from Durham with my new passport to find the old one waiting on the doormat; the final shock was the realisation that I then had to spend another £200 going to Paris for the visa. But finally a ray of sunshine – the embassy staff in Paris were lovely and I met the former Nigerien TV star Lestanau Ibrahim. If only I had thought to ask a Nigerien friend what to do in the first place!
Enough, I just wanted to share the tale. And to remind myself that however difficult it was, it was nothing compared to the challenges faced by a West African trying to get a visa for the UK. While in Paris, I popped in to see my Chadian journalist friend who is currently staying at the Chadian embassy. What had happened with her exciting plan to come to the UK for a few months to study English? Fini. The embassy said no.