Trip to the police station

You may remember me reporting some tension about the acquisition of my visa in June. It was all needless, of course, and I received my visa without any difficulty. The visa, however, was only for 3 months which basically served to get me into the country. Apparently they know no happy medium, because now that I’m here and planning to stay for 10 months, the advised course of action is to acquire the 10-year, multiple-entry permanent resident card.

So, today, instead of watching sundry parent-less children for the afternoon, I pawned them off to Bob—the only unoccupied adult left—and trotted away to get my visa with Mike and Becky. First, we conferred with George at the Cameroon Baptist Convention office where it took a while to assemble all the documents as he hadn’t anticipated my joining the Scotts. Once “all our ducks were in a row,” we headed to the police station in town to meet with an official.

I’m always overly on edge when dealing with government officials of any stripe, so I was sitting very tense and very quiet, suddenly acutely aware of the informality of my attire and desperately trying not to cross my legs or otherwise do anything which might be construed as offensive in this culture (and began pondering why subsistence cultures waste so much energy on making complicated rules about propriety and hierarchy. It seems they would have higher priorities than giving obsequious deference to pompous “headmen” and striving to avoid using their left hands, crossing their legs or showing the soles of their feet.).

Becky commented afterward that the lady had been very nice. (I had been too tense to notice.) George said he knew her from his church, so he always schemed to go to the office when she was working. She had a paperback KJV Bible from Nelson Publishing on her desk and one of those 8x11 Gothic-script Bible-verse posters on her wall (the kind your grandparents had on theirs). Her desk sat on the gloomy side of a large partition wall, arranged to leave much room behind the desk but little in front for the two chairs squeezed in for visitors. I sat on a stool facing the partition while Becky took a very low chair in the outer part of the room. Decor included 2 year-long calendars--one for 2005, one for 2007—and government posters urging acquiring identity cards.

The lady commented—I couldn’t tell whether with disdain or puzzlement—“you don’t have ethnic groups? You all just speak English?” She thought it so unusual. “In Cameroon, we have so many ethnic groups. In Africa, we have so many ethnic groups.” Huh. Interesting. Which just brings me back to asking whether it isn’t more of a hindrance than a help for subsistence cultures to expend so much energy on defining and maintaining boundaries between groups of people. I don’t deny that the “developed” countries of the West have their own artificial divisions and classes, but somehow the geeks and the jocks don’t seem as constricting, as rigid, nor as potentially dangerous as the ethnic divides known in Africa and India where simply being born in the next village may put your life under threat. In Western cultures, at least education and acquired wealth can usually trump being born on the wrong side of the tracks or growing up with the wrong accent.

I didn’t come here to criticize Africa, but I did come to ask questions and think critically about issues. I’m not trying to say that we’re right and they’re wrong but to ask what works and what doesn’t, and why so or why not. I’m sure I’ll have many more experiences to inform my opinion which may result in a re-evaluation of these sentiments, but at the moment, this is how I make sense of what I see and know.

What else should I say about the trip to the police station? They took my picture. I was the first to go and didn’t know whether smiling of any sort was kosher or not, so they turned out with the usual axe-murderess look. They took my height (in cm) and the gentleman silently, firmly, and efficiently guided me through fingerprinting each digit—right thumbs twice. Once finished, he motioned me towards Becky’s proffered wad of toilet paper, I suppose to head off the temptation to wipe my hands all over the wall as countless others had done before.

I left the office with a sigh of relief and the understanding that George would finish up the process and send the cards to us in Kumba once they arrive (which could take months to years for the permanent copy but the temporary card should not be much longer than weeks). Residence cards in various stages of processing littered the middle office which did not strike me as particularly secure in an age of identity theft but I banished paranoia with the relief of leaving behind an apparently successive application.


lasselanta said…
>I was the first to go and didn’t know whether smiling of any sort was kosher or not, so they turned out with the usual axe-murderess look.

*laughing* When I had my identity card photo taken, I did try to smile. The photographer frowned at me and said, "No teeth! No teeth!!"
Rebs said…
know what you should try karlab? (I mean, next time you have the temptation to become the twin of an axe-murderess)

my friend does this for all her driver licence photos and always looks sassy. tilt your head down and to the side ever so slightly and do a slight pout (some would say moue) -esqe smile. they can't fault you for it because you're not actually smiling, but you end up looking rather sassy.
at least, she does. I've yet to test this. I think you should practice with your new digital camera (which has not yet made an appearance on this site, I might add) and post some pictures of your attempts not to look like a serial killer! Good luck!

perhaps I should email you since I seem to want to talk your ear off.

in unrelated news, I wanted to say that I've enjoyed these last few posts - they've been a good glimpse of some of your impressions so far. keep up the good work! (I thought I'd already left this comment, but it turns out I'd only thought about leaving it)
and now, I bid you adieu. stay well!
(I will eventually email you back. keep in mind that I am probably the worst long-distance ex-roommate
you will ever have)
love you!

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