Embassy Pleasure

When the means of transport – usually trotro, of course – has no radio, the barest minimum for  a little entertainment on the way to work, I resort to looking around at the same route I’ve taken almost every working day for the past two years plus. No, not much has changed over the years (adding the countless times I’ve taken that route before I joined the working world). But sometimes, I notice something that’s been like part of the furniture for as long as I can remember. Foreign embassies.

Taking both routes out of East Legon into account – Accra or Circle – I meet two or three embassies on any given journey: The Embassy of the Kingdom of Spain, the Embassy of the Republic of France, the Royal Netherlands Embassy and the Canadian High Commission. Along with many others, these little enclaves of diplomatic immunity must be among the most foot-trodden pieces of real estate anywhere in Accra.

Ghanaians of all ages, sizes, ethnic groups, social classes, employment statuses, and any other demographic thinkable have congregated there. Each with different reason, true or fabricated, each with a desire to leave the shores of this country. Some for good. Some for our good. One man who went for his brother’s graduation many harmattans ago. He hasn’t breathed Ghanaian oxygen since.

Now, I have to ask, is it by design that the embassies are located at the most inopportune of places in the city? Many times, I have seen people crowded at a small gate at the Spanish Embassy facing the major road. Naturally, a few people have looked uncomfortable, in full view of the long train of spectators passing by in slow moving traffic, most with nothing to do but stare jealously at these privileged ones supposedly on their way to greener pastures. Or at least, with ambitions of going to water that grass greener. Many a Ghanaian’s dream has been fertilized just by seeing the gathered multitude. If I were to observe closely, I’d probably recognize the same tenacious people therein gathered for their quarterly visa application bouncing.

You'd be amazed how many Ghanaians have dreamt of walking these streets.

I have no idea what the queues are like at the British High Commission Visa Application Centre these days. I applied for a UK visa – at the High Commission – once while in the university. I was told that I had to get there before the crack of day if I had any hope of getting my visa. After all, way back in the day you could drop a stone at the entrance at about midnight. If someone came at dawn he’d see stones lined up, each with an owner. Of course, you had to tip someone to make sure the wind didn’t blow your stone away.

I couldn’t be bothered. On both the day of application and the day that I would hear my fate, I waited till almost 30 minutes before the gates closed before I got in. The line inside was so long, I’m glad I had the day to burn. Pity I didn’t carry a book along. Actually, maybe not. I sat observing the faces of Ghanaians with aspirations of stepping out of Heathrow and onto buses, bound for Peckham and Croydon.

There was a chief’s procession, complete with someone carrying his umbrella. There was also a dude I recognized from JSS who the people at the other side of the counter had obviously had enough of. As if bouncing him was not enough, Queen Elizabeth’s representative shouted, “James (not his real name), once again it’s no, and I’d advise you don’t come back for another 30 days at least.” Ouch! One man heard his number. He jumped up with a wide grin and collected his brown envelope. His next action advised my move when my time came. He grabbed it and immediately looked in his passport. The expression on his face … He was mortally wounded. I would only look in mine once I was outside the high walls.

One time in traffic, sitting in the front seat of an unusually comfortable trotro, I saw a few rather polished friends of mine standing in line outside the French Embassy, sticking out like a mismatched tie. Funny. I have seen scores of people outside the Canadian High Commission, early in the morning, lined up in the open like suspects in a police identity parade. Some time back, I heard some embassies had number quotas for the day. Woe betides you if you don’t pick your mat and blanket and go and sleep there.

The mate in my trotro – with no radio – was having a good laugh at people being searched before entering the Dutch Embassy. Secretly, I’ll bet he wouldn’t mind trading places – and never coming back –  if he had just a whiff of a chance of stepping out of Schiphol Airport to breathe the Amsterdam air.

Embassies. Just another point of interest on my way to work.

It’s got me thinking, though. Do foreigners who want to visit Ghana also line up along Belgrave Avenue or International Drive, sometimes in the bleak mid-winter, wearing suits and ties, just to get visas, or is this just an unfair relationship?


About Kwaku Dankwa

By day, I'm an advertising copywriter. That's what I've done all my working life (National Service doesn't count). Husband of Esther, father of Jesse and twin boys Mark and Andrew, and servant of Christ. I previously wrote a blog on the dramatic side of public transport in Accra, "The Daily Commute: From Bridge to Ridge." Enjoy.
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22 Responses to Embassy Pleasure

  1. Just an unfair relationship!

    Well-written, dude.

  2. elorm says:

    Hmmmm. a good point of interest indeed.

  3. Kwadan says:

    Oh my, just happened to see a whiteman standing in line at the Spanish Embassy. Was hard to tell if he was blushing or the sun was too hot.

  4. Francis Adu-Gyamfi says:

    @Kwadan: LMAO. I guess he was blushing from embarrassment.

    @KD: So did you go to the UK or not?

  5. moshi says:

    Love this, not much of a laugh but something serious to think into. Enjoyed it bro. Keep it up

  6. Fo Johnny says:

    Kweku they post their passports to the embassy, the visa stamped in, I mean the kind of stamp u can buy at Makola, and the passport posted back to them.

  7. Raj says:

    Bravo you captured it so well again. Nice piece. Well as usual my contribution. So here we go. The first time i visited the British embassy i had no clue a stone could represent me. I got there in the early hours of the morning though. Unfortunately i was the 64th person and the cut off was 70. The queue moved in batches of 4, so after the 60th person entered (in my count) i definitely knew it was going to be my turn sooner than later. To cut a long story short by the time it was my batch’s turn to enter we were told they had reached the 70th mark and all was over for the day. How did this happen i asked myself standing right at the back of the metal gate feeling so terribly robbed. I left for my house only to come back that evening and use a big stone to represent me for the next day and this time round i was number 13 but on the “D” day by my own count i was the 30th person to enter. Now i got answers to why i could not enter the previous day…lots and lots of ghosts names and person entered the queue either by bribing the then ex-soldier man at the gate who behaved as if he was the one giving out the visas.

    On the account of false chiefs entering visa consulates…. i had a shock of my life at the British embassy, when i saw an ordinary looking guy in a saloon car by the roadside dressing up and a school pupil who was going to be used as fan bearer also undress from her uniform and being clothed traditionally with all the white circles being created on her. After their dressing they all now got out of the car and a horn blower who was barefooted started to blow and shouting out to all to give way in the local parlance ‘nana ei bo, nana bre bre, bre, bre’ i did not know whether i was watching a movie or what. Well for some reason they got pass the security and went inside what happened there your guess is as good as mine.
    Thanks for bringing back some memories. Had a good laugh with your description and choice of language. Like i always say KUDOS!!! and waiting for the next piece.

  8. Ama says:

    Bitter memories of an embassy that shall not be named have been revived. I queued at dawn for 3 days in my suit in full view of all interested passersby on the road that led to my office. The first day I was number 17 and the cutoff was 15. The next day I forced to be number 13 and the cutoff was 10. Who knows what the number really is, I’m sure the people inside were not the ones who were determining it. I wrote my name on a list to be assured of quick entry the next day. I was number 3 on the list. When I got to the embassy the next morning there was another list purporting to be from the day before, but my name was not on it. The look on my face was enough to convince the security guy to let me in nonetheless. And I complained to the lady who gave my my visa that they really had to do something about the cartel that was operating at their gate – not sure they ever listened, as I continued to see long lines of hopefuls as I passed for weeks afterwards.

    And what about the men of God who patrol those lines praying visa anointing upon our heads? Who asked them to? I prayed before I came. But still, I must put something into the cup that they pass down the line after the prayer. Grrr!

    Such humiliation, and yet Ghanaians remain undeterred. That is why the inhumane treatment continues.

  9. Kwaku Dankwa says:

    To be frank, these embassy people have made as fools in this country paa oo. Haaba!

  10. Lordrah says:

    Reading this piece is as though watching a movie. What a picturesque description by Kwaku and the commentators. Kwaku, you did not answer Francis; he asked whether you’ve been able to get the visa after all.

  11. Kwadan says:

    If you happen to be at the Ghana High Commission in London when the doors open at 9am, you will feel right at home. The few obronis, attempt to make a queue which has 3 people max. the rest are all just standing around, as soon as the door opens there is a mad rush for the door, and woe unto you if you are not among the first 10 people, you might as well cancel all your plans for that day as you will be there for what seems like forever.

  12. Ama says:

    Francis/ Lordrah – he got it : )

  13. Sis says:

    Lovely piece. Fortunately I know nothing of the horrors others have faced at embassies. I’ve never queued or been humiliated. Never been bounced either. I thank God that the three times I wanted a visa, I got it.

  14. Guy Lou says:

    the Akans have a proverb which says ohia na ma akan ni ye akoa meaning poverty forces an Akan to be a slave.

    Nice change K.

  15. Ghanawoman says:

    Asomasi…have you ever thought of turning these blogs into a book? email me at ghanawrites@yahoo.com

  16. Mambozoma says:

    You had it from the very title!!

    These embassies … Thing is though that we Ghanaians don’t make it any better with the desperation with which we flood their premises. Especially considering all the funny stories and fake documents we dish up.

  17. sharl says:

    I have never had to experience any of the stuff stated above but this sure does make for interesting reading. I have laughed so hard this morning just reading the comments from your readers Kwaku. Very good writing too K.D. Nice change i must admit and i like that you gave room to your readers to fill in with their own experiences. I gues then you know that K.D aint just spicing things. It does happen and I pray the day I aim for a visa that something would be different at the gates.

  18. Helen says:

    well this is a different ball game altogether. my experience atthe american embassy in 2000 was not exicitng. still remember what the ghanaian security men at the gate made of the whole exercise and to think they only over-emphasised their rather simple role was very annoying. i still remember so many of us in a cagelike structure….

    though we were bounced the first time, letters from senators inviting us for the prayer breakfast had enough weight. well, i was stil at home helping my girl with her homework when my passport was brought with a 5-yr multiple entry visa. that was entirely God’s way out.

    waiting at the entrance of the french embassy was not a welcoming experience especially in the wide view of every one. anyway once my number was mentioned i think the waiting room was much much more comfortable than what pertained at the american embassy.

    i think going through the joint visa collection point for some european visas makes the experience a lot better.

    all said and done you can be sure its not a fair deal at all. ghanaians have a way of making money out of any and every opportunity

  19. Lordrah says:

    Kwaku, I think you should consider Ghanawoman’s suggestion though I won’t be surprised if you’re already on it.

  20. nallie says:

    wow…nice one. it’s been months since i got on here…i’v been receiving the notifications thru email though, but i’v not had long enough sessions of browsing time behind a pc for me to enjoy ur blog. i hav sooo much to catch up on. i luv the new look by the way. great job! I’M STIL A FAN :)) naa lamiley..

    • Kwaku Dankwa says:

      Welcome back, Naa! Don’t you just hate it when life gets in the way of the most important things? Hehehe…

      Well, you know what to do. Block off an hour or two and read away!

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