Experience the Department of Home Affairs

2015-08-30 12:05

Having dealt with the Department of Home affairs on numerous occasions over the years and with the negative press that goes with such places, I wasn’t exactly expecting the time of my life when I went to apply for a new passport earlier this year. So, when I found myself in and out of the dull and dusty offices in a record time of fifteen minutes – signed, sealed and fingerprinted I was somewhat flabbergasted and serendipitously delighted. A government office that runs efficiently. What? Yes please! So much so I actually signed the visitor’s book with an accolade. It’s so satisfying to give credit where credit is due.

I was told I would be notified by sms when the process was completed and I could collect my new passport. The notification never came, so after a seven-month wait I decided to just pitch up and try my luck. You just never know.

It was a cold and wet winters afternoon when I stopped my car in the empty parking lot outside the Department building. The door was closed but the times clearly stated that I was well within opening hours. I walked into what felt like a morgue – dark, chilly and not a living soul in sight. The man in the enquiries booth was lying so low his head wasn’t visible over the counter. And he was snoring – loudly. I grunted and coughed him awake and asked him if they were indeed working. He managed a shaky “Yes”, put his head down again and stuttered a-second-thought-three words:

No. Power. Sit.

I asked him if anyone else was there to help me. He didn’t bother to answer.

I’m an optimist so I sat. After all, when you’re in a government office and there’s no queue, you claim a front row seat very quickly. I tapped my fingers, swung my feet and read the posters on the walls condemning corruption - not really sure what I was waiting for. Perhaps for the power to return or some living being to miraculously emerge from somewhere.

She eventually did. With a mouth full of fried chicken and hands covered with grease.

I handed over my receipt and told her my name. She nodded and slopped back into some back office to retrieve the object of the exercise. Or so I thought. First a detour for another chicken thigh. Fair enough for woman should not live by bread alone nor work with grease free hands. There she scuffled through the four-drawer filing cabinet, smudging her mark on many a crisp, green booklet. I watched in mild amusement. Fat-fingerprints was a tame initiation compared to the verbal abuse these books would no doubt suffer due to their limited access to visa-free countries worldwide.

With no rush on my side and obviously not on hers either, I waited entertained, until a well-dressed and official looking man tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I’ve been served.

“Yes thanks,” I answer.

“Have you had a pleasant experience?”

“I’ll answer that when I get my passport” I reply smiling.

He shouts in one of the 11 official languages, I know not which, at the lady with her head in the filing cabinet.

She shouts something back.

He then asks me very nicely to write in the visitor’s book if my experience matches my expectation. Again I tell him that that depends on me getting my passport, but so far so good and that I have already written in the book – because actually, I had a pleasant experience way back then.

He retrieves the black, hard covered, red backed comments book and I point out my own handwriting, third to last of the entries. He proceeds to read my words out loud - to me, the passport lady and the sleeping man. He’s very satisfied and grins to show it.

The lady returns, my passport in greasy hand and asks me why I got a maxi passport. I answer and she tells me how lucky I am. Oh, that I know and nod enthusiastically while signing the receipt book. I get my new passport, fat in pages and on cover and tell the gentleman with the comments book that I’ve had a very pleasant experience thank you, and that I sincerely hope the power comes back soon.

“No Mam” says he “its nearly 3.45 and we shut at 4, we don’t need the power now.”

And as I go out, he locks the door behind me. No doubt a pleasant experience for him, as much as mine was for me.

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