The guy with the rifle slung across his chest taps me on the shoulder. He doesn't say anything, but just looks at me vacantly and gesticulates. I'm standing in the shade, and obviously a little too close to the ATM he is guarding. I move across and tie my scarf again, a little tighter around my exposed scalp. I'm loitering, waiting for the immigration office to open again. This is my third visit, and I'm well aware of the complicated procedure that is required just to access the building.
The air conditioning has broken down, and the guy at the wooden desk is sweating profusely. He uses a brown dishtowel to wipe his forehead, and he leaves greasy fingerprints all across my certificates, letters of recommendations and everything else. I have printed out an equivalent of a small forest in paperwork, and yet I'm no closer to a work permit I was a month ago. I smile. I am like a small, smiling buddha, seated patiently, silently, in front of this guy who has trouble spelling my name and who is in charge of either sending me home, or stamping my passport. He has reached a verdict, and clears his throat. "You're missing your police clearance. We cannot do anything without it." I reach across the pile of paper spread on his desk; my entire life in neat, white A4 sheets. Suddenly, the pile seems small and almost pathetic. "Here you go. This is it". I point out to the CRB check done in UK earlier this year.
The man's brows knit together as he examines the paper.
"This is done in Britain. But you are Finnish. We need one from Finland". I am, absolutely, determined to be patient, but cannot help a small note of stress in my voice. It rings across the office, clear as a bell.
"I was told last time this is ok. I live in the UK. I have lived there for ten years. And anyway, it's done through Interpol anyway." I have no idea if this is true. But I have noticed that people's main priority in Zambia is to get rid of you. So I insist, but gently, almost flirtingly.
The mans scratches his ear, and looks at the papers again. The air conditioning starts, then stops again. The place is full of all possible nationals, and the heat is oppressing.
We go back and forth, back and forth. I read out my qualifications. I point to the references from the UK. I give him two passport photos of me, looking both red and pale at the same time. Finally, we have an agreement. I obtain a Finnish police clearance, but they will extend my visa for free in the meanwhile, and my application will be logged onto the system. This is huge. My papers are finally in.
I then queue to the cashier, who takes the Barclays cheque from me, and stamps my papers. I then queue back to the same guy, who now has a group of loud Americans to deal with. One of them complains. The man huffs, and pulls me past the queue. The Americans eye me, the evil queue-hopper, and the guy at the desk looks smug- look, if you argue with me, I'll deal with the quiet Finnish girl first. I leave my papers. I queue to get my passport stamped, and when I reach the desk, they tell me I need desk eight, not nine. I join the queue at desk eight. There are six people in front of me. I wait.
I stumble out of the immigration, and am blinking at the strong sunlight in the posh area of Kabulonga; I've been at the immigration for four hours. I sincerely wish I can post my Finnish police check when it comes through.