Nigeria, maybe

I had hoped being chased down the road by a batik wielding merchantwoman would call an end to Porto Novo, but sadly not…

Next morning a haze covers Porto Novo and stretches to Cotonou and the Nigerian embassy, lowering the temperature to a pleasant level, but it has burnt off by 9am and I am sweating again. First task at the embassy turns out to be going around the corner and photocopying a few application forms for them. Then, with form filled in in duplicate and photos attached, with copies of passport, Benin visa, and yellow fever vaccination certificate I make it past the waiting room and into the clutches of the presiding officer. He asks for a letter of invitation from my named references, which I produce. He asks for a copy of their driving license or passport. Ah…

I race to the only internet cafe I know in Cotonou and send off a pleading email to my references, people who barely know me, about how they should scan a copy of their driving license. The only alternative would be to fly to London and try at the embassy there. Adding to the complicated nature, the Cotonou embassy only accepts visa applications on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 10 and 12. It was Tuesday at 11.52.

Maybe Nigeria is unlucky country number 13. On Wednesday evening, relief ensues in part as I have a copy of my reference’s driving license. But I can’t print in the internet cafe…

Another internet cafe with printing facilities opens at 8 the next morning, so I’m there at 7.40. At 8.10 I’m still waiting for the owner to turn up, turn everything on…I give up, getting panicky about being at the embassy for 10am, and jump onto a passing Cotonou bound minibus. Its rush hour. Arrive in Cotonou’s outskirts at 9.05. Grab a motobike taxi to the internet cafe I know there. Its closed! No one else can believe it either. Its never closed. A kind passerby directs me to another, second road on the right.

Its open, there’s a connection, I can print. The system refuses to print my hotel confirmations which I may also need. 9.30. I have to copy the emails into Word, wait for the paste to occur, alter them quickly so they look half decent, save them to the shared drive and get them printed. 9.50.

Inside the embassy at 10 its like Christmas eve as a child. I thought I’d been good enough for Father Christmas to visit, but there was always that lingering doubt. My turn comes. The presiding officer likes the driving license, but wants a mobile phone number. I race to another internet cafe around the corner that has always previously been shut. Its open! I email my reference and get a swift response.

“Okay” says the presiding officer, “that’s it. You can go”.

I’m not sure if its good or bad news. “Come back at 4 to collect” he continues. I thought I saw the words ‘abandon hope you who enter here’ on the doors of the embassy, but I was wrong. I’ve not been so stressed since my PhD viva. I’d love to show you the image of me looking knackered and with a Nigerian visa, but sadly there’s no USB connection here!
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