Zimbabwean writer Novuyo Rosa Tshuma who by now should be in Nigeria for the Farafina Trust Workshop, is in far away South Africa not believing what's happened to her, due to the immovability of visa officials who, having extracted (or extorted) a huge amount in visa fees, ensured she could not get on her Wednesday flight to Lagos. They told her to come back today, Friday. The workshop started yesterday. The writer posted about her frustration, to put it mildly:
I go to the embassy. And then, and then they say, there is some stamp on some paper that is not clear, I need to get a clearer one. My flight leaves this afternoon, I try to tell them. They really don’t care, just get a clearer stamp, they say. But why couldn’t they have told me this the very first day I submitted my papers? Or called me, since, as they could see from the workshop dates and the flight dates, I am supposed to leave today. I mean I did pay a visa application fee, and what I know is most embassies do call you if there is a problem and the time frame for the visa is stringent, such as in my case. I mean what is this visa fee for at the end of it, really. I do not say all of this, of course, even though I am thinking it; what I need is to get co-operation, not cause friction. I try to plead now, because time is no longer on my side, I tell them, my business in Nigeria is as clear as can be; all I applied for was a single entry visa to go and attend a writing workshop for 10 days, I have the invitation letter, and my ticket clearly shows that I would leave South Africa the day before the workshop and leave Nigeria the day after the workshop. All I want is to enter Nigeria to attend a writing workshop, please, I am just a student, and I am also a writer, this workshop is of the utmost importance to me. Ok ok, so I realise that reasoning with these people will not work. I run around, get them the clear stamp they want. I return to the embassy, plead with them, please, my flight leaves this afternoon, I need this visa. Don’t tell us you need this visa, they say, it’s not up to us, it’s up to the Officer in Charge. Ok ok, calm down Novuyo, calm down. So can you please just bring this to the attention of the Officer in Charge and please please point out to him that my flight leaves in two and a half hours. If ever there was an emergency, this is it. And I assume any reasonable person should grant me this visa, I mean my business is clear, I have run around to get them everything they ask, I have my flight ticket, my flight leaves this afternoon, and I parted with R780 for this visa. I mean I am as serious as can be, I have done everything in my power to make sure this works as smoothly as possible, surely they can see that, surely they can empathise, surely they can put a little effort and make this happen, because my fate now literally rests in their hands. That is what I am trying to get across. So I wait. And wait. And wait. An hour passes. Please, I say, I really need this visa. And what do they tell me? The person who does the visas has gone out, and we don’t know when he is coming back.
Sadly, this nasty visa scenario is what gives with Nigerian officialdom and sundry service providers daily. The girl in the restaurant drags her feet and 'serves' you - eventually - with a permanent scowl on her face. There is no 'please' and no 'thank you', certainly no 'sorry'. They don't give you all your change because they don't have 20, 50 naira notes and they expect you to just accept it and walk away - it doesn't even occur to them to apologise - as of course they don't when things advertised on the menu are not available. They just shrug and say: we don't have it, no explanation, no embarrassment, they're just impassive. They act as though you're bugging them as they take your money off you.
Same with banks, where the cashier will have a full conversation with colleagues behind the counter while you're standing there like an idiot, a captive audience. Or they will take personal phone calls and ignore the customer, who shifts from one foot to another. You get no service, no satisfaction, no respect. Certainly no empathy, something Tshuma was desperately in need of. Having lived in England where politeness is key when dealing with customers, I'm constantly appalled at the terribly poor customer service in Nigeria, and I sometimes flare up, telling the person 'serving' just what I think of their behaviour. They are always taken aback, as though I were the one being unreasonable.
As it is in the lowest establishments, it is in the bigger ones, where the stakes are inevitably higher - like a writer sitting in a Nigerian visa office in SA while at the airport her flight takes off without her.
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