monday evening i fly into south africa. i enter the arrival hall at the rear of a small horde of tourists. the queues at the immigration desks are moving swiftly – then it is my turn, i give my passport to the immigration officer and everything turns green. he turns his head toward the cubicle to his right and says “green all over.” apparently “green all over” is a derogatory term referring to nigerians living in south africa. he turns to me smiling condescendingly.
officer: this is a nigerian passport
me: it’s an ecowas passport
officer: what’s ecowas
me: it’s like sadc
officer: but it says on the cover – nigeria
me: nigeria is part of the ecowas
he looks at me like i had just been released from a mental institute. he places my passport in the machine to read the passport. removes it. looks at the photo in the passport, looks at me, i remove my glasses, he looks at the photo again and looks at me.
officer:you look like a woman
me: thank you
officer: why do you have a nigerian passport
me: i am a nigerian
officer: you look like you are from lebanon
me: that’s one of the countries i come from
he laughs derisively. looks at me to confirm that his first impression of madness wasn’t misplaced. then he turns each page of my passport over roughly. painstakingly reading every word of the introductory material. he is rubbing each page as he does so – rubbing is polite, because he is virtually mauling the pages.
me: nothing will come out
officer: i beg your pardon
me: you’re squeezing the pages as if you expect something to jump out of them.
he gives me the asylum look again and flips through to the page with the latest visa into south africa and reads every word slowly.
officer: so you’re a tourist?
me: that’s not what you just read
officer: you came here for business then?
me: that’s not what it says on the visa.
officer: do you have an occupation in botswana.
he looks at me. turns to the cubicle on his right, makes to say something to the fellow in the next cubicle, thinks otherwise.
officer: why are you in botswana?
me: i have a job there
officer: but you just said you have no occupation. so where do you work?
me: i lecture at the university
officer: (reading loudly) no visit should exceed fifteen days. how long are you here for?
me: two days.
he gives me the mental look again, squeezes some more pages – even blank pages. chooses one of the blank pages towards the end of the passport, slams the stamp on it and writes on it with deliberate slowness.
officer: two days, neh. only two days.
he gives me my passport and i walk away.
wednesday afternoon – two days later. i am on my way out of the republic. having cleared the carrier’s counter i proceed to the immigration check point. hands my passport to the immigration officer.
me: good afternoon, sir.
officer: good afternoon, my brother.
he looks at my green passport, looks up at me.
officer:is this yours?
he looks at me again, looks at the photo in the passport, turns the passport over.
officer: (smiling he touches the camera sitting atop his screen) please, look into the camera.
i remove my glasses and look into the camera. satisfied, he puts my passport into the machine to read it. brings it back out and flips through the pages to the latest visa.
officer: please place your thumbs on this machine. place them close together.
i do as instructed.
officer: (laughing) you have no fingerprints. why?
me: i just arrived from hell.
the officer burst out laughing.
officer: you don’t look like you have been in hell
me: because i’m the one conducting things there.
he laughs again, apologizes to the passenger behind me about the delay and proceeds to help me with placing my fingers correctly on the screen capturing my thumbs and other fingers. he opens to a page with previous stamps and stamps my passport and hands it back to me.
officer: (laughing) have a safe trip, my friend.
me: (smiling) i will. have a nice day and merry christmas.