US Consulate, Again? Cape Town, South Africa.

12 Jan

Yep. I’m back at the US Consulates office. By the time this rendezvous around the world gig is up, I will be well versed in Passport/Visa hell.

Step back. In Hanoi, Vietnam had my identity stolen. Passport, Visa, credit cards, dinero, license… You name it, gone. US Consulate office in Hanoi issued me an emergency passport with 4 pages. Why do pages matter? Good question. Who knew that to enter South Africa you need 2 pages. Australia and New Zealand asks for 2 as well. Rumor has it, US asks for 3 pages. Now, what the border patrol babes do with these pages is another matter. But, a rule is a rule. The other rumor is they won’t allow you into their country if you don’t have enough pages for their measly stamp.

For those who have trouble adding, I now have 4 pages. But, I need 6 pages and a possible extra for Dubai. So, I’m in a crumple. Tall US lady in Hanoi told me that Cape Town US Consulate office could issue me a “real” passport, but they need 2 weeks for turn around. Oh, the real passport is“free.” I laughed when she said that because Hanoi US Consulate office charged the girl with no cash, me, $135 US dollars for an emergency passport. Don’t get me started.

So, I emailed Cape Town US Consulate’s office to make arrangements about my “free” and “real” passport. Paula in Cape Town responded and said the US Consulate’s office is closed on December 27th for a national holiday. What national holiday? Found out later in South Africa, if Christmas falls on a Friday or Saturday, you get the Monday off as well as December 26th, Boxing Day. And, Boxing Day is a holiday to box up your gifts, not to smack people.

Anyway, Paula said, I need to come to the US Consulate’s office on the 28th. But, I would not be able to get a “real” passport in time because offices are closed New Years Eve. Little did I know at the time, I would have had time for a “real” passport for the US Consulate’s office express mails your “new” passport to any location in South Africa. Paula was a sharp one.

Paula recommended to issue another emergency passport, so I can use both. That’s cool. They know what they are doing, right? Right…

I hire a taxi on the 28th. It costs me $40 US dollars to drive 24 minutes. People in Cape Town believe anything more than 8 minutes is FAR. By the time we get there, it’s noon. Unlike Hanoi, the Cape Town US Consulate was on lock-down alert. Three security guards escorted me inside. They called the back office. It rang and rang and rang and rang. They called everyone on the list. NO one was there. All at lunch?

They pass me a laminated piece of paper that says, “Starting January, all US citizens and inquiries will need an appointment. Times: 8:30 am – 11:30 am.” I smiled and said, “It’s not January yet…and I pay taxes.” The two security girls laughed. I just smiled, getting annoyed.

It’s approaching 12:30. No one is picking up. One of the security gals meanders ever-so-slowly to the back office to take a look. She saunters back 15 minutes later and says someone will call me. The front desk phone rings. I pick up. A woman tells me, I need to come back tomorrow and schedule an appointment.

Anger. I mean, I could feel tears welding up for I was about to loose it.

Me: “I’m a US citizen. All I’m doing is dropping off my passport so you can make another emergency passport….I’ve been emailing Paula about this…”

US govt worker: “Paula is out of the country. On vacation. You need to make an appointment. Paula was to tell you about the appointments.”

Me: “She didn’t, or else I would have scheduled an appointment. I paid $40 to come out here…”

Govt worker: “We don’t take walk-ins. And, you’re not eligible for an emergency passport.”

Me: “I’m sorry. Can you repeat that? And, tell me what does Paula do here?”

Govt worker: “I need to put you on hold…”

By this time, I’m thinking I’ve been emailing with the janitor, instead of an authorized, trained consulate worker. I was at my breaking point. Could feel it. But told myself, who has the power here. They do. Calm down. Relax. It’s not the end of the world. Plus, her putting me on hold may mean she’s sending security to toss me to the curb.

Govt. worker: “We can provide you extra pages. But, you need to make an appointment. We changed the policy a few weeks ago. Paula should have told you this. There is no one here…”

Me: “I’ve been emailing Paula since December 13. I have records of our emails. She said I’m eligible for an emergency passport, and mentioned nothing about appointments. It says you take an appointments until 11:30 am. I was here a few minutes after, yet no one was here. Can I please just drop off my passport?”

Govt. worker: “No. You need a stamp from the cashier to process your passport. And, the cashier has left for the day. It costs $80 for extra pages…”

Me: “Well, why didn’t you say so. Of course, the cashier left. And, Of course I need a stamp…”

The govt. worker appeared behind the wall. She handed me a card with an internet address and email and told me I needed to go ONLINE to make an appointment. They do not schedule appointments over the phone or in person. My response, “Of course you don’t…”

I got back in the taxi and was miffed. At the Hotel Lady Hamilton, I told my story to my new BFFer, front desk worker from Zimbabwe. Guess what the first thing uttered out of his mouth. “That’s discrimination…What about the US citizens who don’t have a computer or access to a computer or internet? What about the US citizens who can’t read? Or, can’t type? What about the poor, who don’t have $80 US dollars for pages? Your country is telling you only those people with money, computer, internet and can type can make an appointment to their country’s consulate’s office?”

I thanked him profusely for making me angrier. I didn’t even think about it in those terms. Now, I was super-fired up. How dare they!

Yes, I’m blessed for I have a netbook and money to PAY for hotel internet connection. I logged on to the US Consulate’s website. No mention NO where on how to make an appointment for Cape Town’s consulate’s office. Johannesburg, Yes. Cape Town, no. So, I fired off an email requesting a time for tomorrow. The same govt. worker emailed me back saying “I gave you a card with the website address. You must do it online, not by email.” You’ve GOT to be kidding me.

Now, I more than fired up. I took screen shots of their homepage and client services pages and indicated their webmaster/marketing department has NOT updated their website since they’ve made this policy change only minutes ago, hence my email. The only way to access the appointment page, is through Johannesburg. Last I checked, this was Cape Town. I recommended she forward this email to the webmaster so they can create links appropriately.

Then, I secured my 9:30 am appointment. Another forty dollars down the drain, I arrive at 9:20 am. And, they see me around 10:30 am. All I had to do was sign a form and pay. I waited for the cashier for a good 30 minutes. She decided to take a cig break. I mean, she is leaving at 11:30 am and must have a break. I paid. Smiled. There was no use of even complaining. They are not going to change. Government workers are the same, regardless of country. And, many exude the same dispassionate energy. Though, Hanoi was different. Thank you travel angels for Hanoi!

After paying $80 for additional pages, I walked over to the DHL desk (express mail). US Consulate makes it clear they do NOT want you back. So, you have to pay more money to express mail your passport to your location. Well, I’m moving every other day, so how does this work? The woman was very nice and we came up with some contingency plans. Passport to wine country was an option…

I walked out praying. Praying, once again, for passports safe arrival. Man, this passport should be considered holy paper, considering all the praying I’ve done about this little blue bound book. Oh, did I tell you, it looks fake? Even Cape Town US Consulate’s office looked at it strangely. I bet it’s my photshoped picture. No wrinkles. No bags under the eyes. No spinach in the teeth. They just don’t recognize me in person. That MUST be it. That, and the purple lines and smoggy marks running through the picture.

Got the passport in wine land. Came with extra pages, that looked more stapled than glued. It looks even worse. Need to continue praying for the passport.  I hope they let me in Dubai…

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