Monday, June 8, 2009

Expat woes

During my first English class this morning, I received a call from the immigration office telling me I needed to come in for an interview, which had never happened to me before. I had dropped off my passport on Friday to get another extension on my visitor’s permit to make my stay in Ghana legal. Usually I just drop off my passport with Fred’s friend Evelyn, and she takes care of everything for me and calls me up when it’s finished.

I left right after lunch, and arrived at the office at 1:30. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I thought she’d just ask me a few questions, smile, and hand me my passport. I stopped by the Western Europe office where Evelyn works, and she directed me to the lady I needed to see, telling me that she wanted to know when I was leaving.

The lady sat me down in front of her desk and asked me what I was doing in Ghana for so long. I tried to explain, but she told me that I’ve been here too long and I have to leave. Visitor’s permits are only supposed to last 6 months, and she wouldn’t grant me another extension. I pulled out a copy of my itinerary for my flight home, promising her that I’ll leave on 27th July. She didn’t care. That was too long, she said. She said she’d give me ‘til the end of the month, and then I had to be out of here. So what if my plane ticket doesn’t leave until the end of July? I’ll just have to change it. So what if my students won’t have an English teacher? There are plenty of teachers in Ghana who could replace me.

I’m still surprised by my reaction, because it’s something I normally never do in front of strangers: I started crying. I never cry in front of strangers. I hardly ever cry in front of my best friends! I can count on my fingers the number of times I’ve cried in front of my best friends, but strangers? I guess I was in such a state of shock and so upset that I didn’t know what to do. I pleaded with her to let me stay, just one extra month! But, no! She was adamant. My time is up. She’d give me until June 30th, no later. I pleaded and pleaded, but she told me she was through with me wanted to eat her lunch. I should just get out now.

“But, my visa is for two years!” I pointed out. “Why can’t I stay?”

“It’s a multiple-entry visa, to come and go,” she said. “You can’t just stay here for more than 6 months straight.”

“What if I go and come? If I go to Côte d’Ivoire or Togo, and come back? It’s multiple-entry, so I can come and go for two years!”

She considered this for a few minutes, but I think I had already pissed her off enough, so she said, “No. Only if you go to the United States and come back.” F***ing bitch!

She kicked me out of her office, foreshadowing my being kicked out of the country.

I tried to calm myself down, and went back to the Western Europe office.

“Did she give you an extension?” asked Evelyn.

“No!” I said, trying to keep my voice level and the tears from leaking out of my eyes. “But would it work if I go to Côte d’Ivoire or Togo and come back?”

“If you do that, they’ll give you a new stamp that allows you to stay for 60 more days,” she said. I wondered who was right, her or the bitch of an officer who “helped” me.

I was still crying as I walked the few blocks to the nearest bus stop. I can’t tell you how upset the prospect of abandoning my students makes me feel! I promised them I’d stay until 27th July! I can’t leave them early! I needed to talk to someone, but I knew I’d get no sympathy from my American friends, who miss me and want me to come home as soon as possible. So I took out my phone and called Fred. I cried to him as I walked, telling him my problems. He told me he’d call me back in 5 minutes.

I decided to stop by the Accra Shopping Mall on the way back. After the merde of a day I just had, I deserved ice cream. As I was about to get off the trotro, I received a call from Fred. He had called Evelyn, and repeated what she said about visiting a neighboring country. Fred said he had a friend in or near Togo who could help me get over the border and come back in with a new stamp allowing me to stay for an extra 60 days. I shouldn’t worry, he said. “Let me see you smile!” (how on earth could I let him see me smile over the phone?)

I spent about an hour browsing the bookstore, which calmed me down quite a bit. I had two scoops of ice cream from Frankie’s, crunchy hazelnut and chocolate. It was served like gelato, except soooo not as good. Oh well, ice cream is ice cream, right? I wasn’t satisfied, so I also bought a little coconut cake. Then I was calm enough to go back to the house.

I “can’t wait” to go home and see everyone again. When I say that, what I mean is I’m really looking forward to going home... but I can wait. I’m not ready to go just yet. I still have 7 weeks left with my students. There is still so much more I need to teach them about English and French and life. I’m counting down the days until I can see everyone again (50 days left!), but I still need these days I’m counting down if I want to finish everything I want to do in Ghana. I want to leave on July 27th, not one day earlier, not one day later. That’s why I am determined to do this legally. The only thing that could possibly be worse than having to leave early would be if they detained me at the airport and I was late coming home.

I think that Evelyn was right about how I can leave to Togo or Ivory Coast and come back and be fine, but that bitchy lady did say otherwise, so I’m not 100% sure. I’m looking into it right now. So, I guess it’s possible that I’ll be seeing you at the end of June, but, (please don’t take offense to this) I hope I don’t.


Here, there and Everywhere said...

Take heart my good friend. I have been reading your stuff for months. Going to Togo would get the job done. I know many friends who have had the same problem and went to Burkina or Togo and everything was ok. If that still doesn't not work, make a note of it on your blog. I will make some phone calls on your behalf. People like her only see what is in front of her, not anything further. She possibly cannot understand why you would commit yourself to doing what you are doing, unless there is some ulterior motive.
Take heart, straighten yourself up and get on with your work.
Kwasi Appiah

Jason 'Star' Rice said...

Kwasi is so right. Things like that happen all the time; I would try to stay calm. Things like this are ridiculous, but they have to be followed. Good luck and keep us posted.

Laura said...

Baby girl. Smile and keep your head up. Do your thing. I'll pray for you.