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.
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?