It was under a full moon that we experienced one of the most physically grueling trials of our lives—summiting Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. And it was under a full moon that I prepared for the most emotionally testing trial in South Africa—applying for an extension to our 90 day visa (we’re in the country 100 days). In Canada, the most stressful part of the ordeal might be finding parking downtown prior to waiting in line at the passport office. Here, a combination of factors makes it much more eventful here.
The Department of Home Affairs takes care of all things related to passports and visas. When I asked where that was, nobody was able to give me an address. The locals remember locations by directions rather than maps and addresses, so I needed to be taken to the office in the nearby town of Germinston at 9pm Wednesday night. I had read about not stopping at red lights (locally referred to as red robots) at night, but in the Edenvale area of Joburg where we stay, it’s not an issue. In Germinston, it is. There is virtually no traffic at 9pm (it’s like Vancouver at 2am), and the route to Germinston was straightforward, but my guide and I kept our eyes open as we cautiously rolled through intersections. Stories of smash-and-grabs (glass of car smashed as purses and etc. are grabbed in the commotion) ran through my head as I readied myself to take off at the first sign of somebody running towards our car.
Eventually we reached the office, where my guide explained the strategies involved in seeing somebody the same day that I arrive. The queue would be filled with refugees, mostly from Zimbabwe, and I would have to get there early. There are two other teachers at the school who’ve had to also line up, and they got to the office at 4am, and didn’t leave until noon.
At 5am Thursday morning, a mere 6 hours after I got home, I returned to the office. I found I was already number 23 in the queue, as I added my name to a sign-up sheet. Not so bad, until you consider that many of the names belong to agents who represent 20 or more clients whose applications need to be processed individually. I returned to my car to get a bit of rest before returning to the queue at 6am to add my name to a second official list taken by a security guard. A few people hadn’t returned, and I became number 20. At 7:30, the office opened, and the queue became a mass clogging up the front door while the security allowed those in who had registered properly to proceed upstairs to the office where we once again queued up. We were split into two lines—one for applying, and one for collecting. I then became number 4 in line as those collecting would only be served after those applying. The line for applying moved one every 30 minutes, and by 9am I was served. 25 minutes later, I was out. Yes, it took 25 minutes to make sure the forms I brought were properly filled out, that I had brought the correct documentation, and to print out a receipt (which alone was 10 minutes).
At least I got to leave before lunch time. But that doesn’t console me for my return to the office in two weeks when I need to pick up the visas.