By Thomas Froese
HURRY up and wait. Why isnâ€™t this Ugandaâ€™s national motto? No, really. Canâ€™t someone get it on the flag, on official documents and on television? You know it is true. Hurry and get to that wedding introduction, and wait; to that business meeting, and wait; to that matatu, and wait. Just hurry up now-now.
And wait. My latest experience, at the US Embassy, was so laughable one could almost cry.
Lamentably, as a Canadian, I normally have easy access to the US. As a youth, near my Ontario home, I once walked across the Rainbow Bridge that joins the two friendly nations at the famous Niagara Falls. But now needing to get into the US (for
some post-graduate studies) from another country â€” Uganda in this case â€” I needed a visa.
So I showed up at the US Embassy on Gaba Road in good time for my 9:40am, so-called appointment. And this very bungled day began. I guess I soon become an irritant. â€œYouâ€™ll have to excuse me, I am from Canada where we do things efficiently,â€ is what I said to Jessica, the Ugandan clerk handling things.
â€œOh we do things efficiently here too,â€ she assured me while everyone laughed.
An hour passed. We all waited. Two hours. Three. Barely an interview. Tick-tick.-tick. People got glassy-eyed. Our stomachs grumbled.
â€œI feel your pain,â€ Jessica assured us.
Past midday, she reluctantly allowed me to violate policy and leave the waiting area briefly. I had to phone and cancel an appointment I had elsewhere.
â€œBut donâ€™t leave the compound,â€ she said. So I ran for it; hopped on a boda-boda and bought some food and flowers to brighten the mood.
Back at the embassy, just outside the compound, I gave Jessica the flowers easy enough. But it took two attempts to get the sandwiches past security. (I
hid them in my bag, underneath my dayâ€™s reading material.)
And so I distributed these contraband ham and cheese and salami on white. Professors from Makerere and Mbarara universities, an agriculture specialist, a UN security adviser all laughed and thanked me sincerely while eating the evidence.
â€œThe irony is that the website says, â€˜Donâ€™t be late or we wonâ€™t serve you,â€™ said the UN security advisor, waiting since 8:30 am.
â€œI canâ€™t believe nobody has ever complained or written about this in the papers,â€ said
Shama Nantumbwe, a diabetic housewife needing a visa to visit Chicago.
â€œAre you kidding me?â€ I said, giving her my card as a freelance journalist.
After finally getting my interview at 4:00pm, I was assured my papers were fine and my visa would be issued the next day. I celebrated with a cold refreshment down the road. Then I got a call saying I needed to return immediately and fill another form, which another Ugandan clerk could neither explain nor produce, and pay $200 (sh400,000) on top of the $150 (sh300,000) I had already paid.
Two days later, I had my visa. And a somewhat humourous column. But, really, is there not a better way? Might this also relate to other issues in Uganda? Apparently the embassy was short-staffed this particular day.
Someone was sick. â€œWhat, you canâ€™t hire extra staff to cover?â€ I asked Jessica.
â€œObama does not give you enough money?â€
â€œWell, it is more than just money,â€ she told me.
Indeed, it is. And isnâ€™t this the real challenge in this otherwise beautiful part of Africa? And so, to Ugandaâ€™s broader development, we are all left saying: â€˜Hurry up, now. And wait.â€™
Donâ€™t Ugandans deserve better?
The writer is a freelance journalist based at Uganda Christian University Mukono