The air is thick and chewy like old gum. Trucks belch black smoke and trash burns in invisible fires in the distance. Bodas (motorcycles), immune to laws of traffic and good sense, weave between cars and -when time and lack of space dictates- speed along sidewalks narrowly missing pedestrians.

Kampala isn’t quiet. Colorful buildings in various stages of completion line slightly sloping streets. Traffic lights swing uselessly in the breeze as police in white starched uniforms- albino girl scouts- wave some speeding cars through and narrow their eyes at others.

This was my first real expedition into the capital. My initial trip to the city was my first full day in Uganda. My colleagues shepherded me gently around as they completed errands and we capped off the day with a trip to the supermarket.  Still dazed and unsure of what lay ahead, it was all lost in a kind of fog.

This trip had more dedicated purpose. After insuring our summer interns were delivered safely to airport and backpackers, Aussie and I began jumping through the hoops necessary to apply for our work permits. Oddly, after so many countries, this was my first time on such and excursion; but what an introduction to this world.

It had begun months before with an attempt to renew our NGO certification. That required several visits to kampala (a 3 hour drive) and a number of random signatures. We couldn’t apply for the permits without the certificate and so when that proved successful we were cautiously optimistic.

Aussie assured me that was the easy part, the true battle of power came at the permit office. We retreated to an internet café to ready ourselves. She directed me what to write and how, “you can’t write Dear Sir/Madame, you have to write Dear Immigration Officer or they’ll send it back.” Pages hole punched and in order, I even purchased a folder, like Aussie’s to present it in.

The folder was wrong.

I was immediately sent to a side door to buy a new one. Then I needed a signature, I wasn’t clear whose. So I wandered back to where we’d gotten the certification and was met by a complete stranger who, once I smiled seemed friendly enough. Maybe too friendly, all said and done he looked down at the copy of the paperwork he insisted I must bring back to him for “his records” and he said, “I drive through Iganga all the time, next time I’ll give you a call, what is your number.’

Now it could have been harmless hospitality but my gut and previous experiences as a mzungo in town lead me to believe differently so I feigned phoneless-ness and headed back to the window.

Apparently I needed to apply for a special permit. “how could you not know that?”

Mostly because no one told me.

And so I filled out the form for that. Then there was the need for a photocopy of a different part of my passport.

I was starting to worry that I’d be making another trip when the man behind the counter finally wrote out a little scrap of paper and told me I could come back on Wednesday for the special permit. He was less sure about the work permit but maybe on Wednesday they’ll give me back my passport.

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1 Comment on permit city

  1. Teresa says:

    Give you back your PASSPORT? Uncomfortable!

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