TIA: Getting a Work Permit

In Which I Do Not Get a Work Permit.

This is a guest post from my buddy Tom. As always, send any comments my way and I'll forward them on.

“Heaving bosom” did not do it justice. She kept giving me looks like I was a pervert. She was in an applicant’s chair in front of the desk of one of the cash-office workers, wearing a sort of prom dressvery tight, with sparkles and fake gemstones all over itwith elaborate jewelry.  I thought maybe she’d stopped by the immigration office on the way to a fancy-dress ball… at 11 a.m. on a Monday. In any case, her hair and face were made up, her dress tight and low-cut, or, since her breasts were so large, out-cut? The crumbs from the muffin she was mangling kept falling into the cleft between her breasts, and they were stuck there, being smashed together by the two volcanic breast plates moving against each other.

I’d started the day in the hopes I could get my work permit. I’d been assured the binder of material my company gave me was sufficient. “Oh, yes, very easy, no problem,” my boss said, “in/out, maybe 30-minutes, no problem.” Not a complete novice, I mentally doubled that to an hour and went on my idealistic way.

The woman at the window said, “Go to Room Two.” There were no signs, but trial and error got me to Room Two. The man in front of Room Two—not wearing a uniform, unlike most of the immigration officials—said I had to be verified first. Back to the room to the right of the woman at the window. I stood in that line for 30ish minutes, behind what must have been half the Chinese embassy. That line didn’t move at all, so I went back to Room Two. I waited there for 30-or-so minutes and made it in front of a case officer. “You’re no verified,” she told her coffee cup.

“The woman at the window told me to come here.” I didn’t want to go back to the unmoving verification line, behind all the Chinese applicants.

She unlocked my binder and dumped all the papers out onto her desk. I suppose that was easier than flipping through them.  She maintained a stream of talk to her desk and the papers. I couldn’t understand it, but thought it possibly didn’t apply to me, so I just sat and watched her. Unlike the other immigration officers, though she wore a uniform, she had no rank on her shoulders. I wondered if that meant she was brand new (at 45), had been reduced in rank (what would that take?), or just too lazy to affix them.

After investigating my papers from multiple anglesincluding upside downshe raised her face and said, in a continuation of her monotone stream of talking, that I needed a “security bond.”

“Is that the $5000 payment? Because we paid that, it’s the first paper in the binder.” That was now a fiction, but I thought that was more polite than, “It’s somewhere in that cavewoman-pile you made on your desk.”

“No, security bond.”

“…so that’s different than the payment?”

“Yes, go to the cash office and pay it.”

“And then come back here?” I’m not an idiot; I wanted permission to skip the Line of the Dragon over at the verification office.


She shoved the bunch of loose papers back at me and jerked her head toward the door.

After wandering around a bit more, I found the cash office. It was behind the “photocopy” office. I waited in the line in the hallway outside for about 20 minutes, while people streamed in and out of the office. I have no idea if they were employees, old friends, or just people skipping ahead of me in line. When I finally made it in, I saw a man at the desk on the left, a man at the desk on the right, and the street-walking debutante littering her breasts with muffin.

I couldn’t stop sneaking glances at the extravagance in the corner, eating her muffin in a mostly-reclined position, and loudly drinking her Fanta. She eyed me like a pervert. I caught her disapproving glare, but she was too interesting, like a bejeweled clown car in a too-small dress.

I finally made it to the left desk. He told me I needed a payment form.

“Where would I get that?” There’s no hope it’s in his desk drawer.

“From her,” he said, pointing through an open internal window at a woman standing in the photocopy office. She was close enough to touch through the window.

“Can I…” I pointed through the window.

“No, go there.”

So, I fought my way through the line back into the hallway and went to the photocopy office.

“Go to the window.” She pointed at the outside window, not the internal one facing Left Desk.

I went back outside. The windowsill started 6 inches above my head.

“Can I have a payment form please?” I asked an empty window from down on the ground.

She appeared in the window and looked at me like I had just materialized on Earth to cause her problems. She disappeared into the room.

No response. I couldn’t see anything due to the glare on the windows, and the fact that with this angle, I could only see a foot or two into the room before my view was only of the ceiling.

I waited a while.


I waited.

The brick wall in front of me, directly under the photocopy windows, started spouting water at me, from about waist-high, falling on my shoes. I backed up. Was it clean? Sewage?

A form was thrust through the windows at me. I took it.

“Now what?”

“Go to the cash office!”

So I went back inside and got back in line. A while later, I got to see Left Desk again, with World’s Slowest-Eating Trollop munching away at me from the corner. Left Desk explained what I needed to write on each line of the form, which was just my name, my company, and the $902 I was going to put into a security bond for the pleasure of being allowed back into Room Two. Then Left Desk told me what to do next.

“Give it to her.” He pointed at the Voluptuous Sloth-Woman in the corner.

Totally befuddled, I looked at her. She looked at me, not even sitting up from her reclining feast of muffin and Fanta.

I looked back at Left Desk. He motioned toward her again. I optimistically held my paper out towards her, and lo and behold if she doesn’t rise up in all her spangled glory and take a triplicate book out of her oversized, sequined purse!

She copied my documents into triplicate. Not by pressing hard, but by individually writing on each page of the carbon copies. She passes these over the monitor to Right Desk. He stamps each page. She takes them back, gives me one with my original, stows the triplicate form back into her masquerade briefcase, and slouches back to her ease in the corner, crumbs still safely scattered across her crashing bosom.

I went back to work. The company’s going to have to cough up the $902 before I go back to Room Two. 

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This Is Africa

Or "How to buy a used car in Uganda."

This is a guest post from my friend Thomas Crum, who recently moved to Uganda in East Africa. Drop a comment if you like it, I'll pass it on and maybe he'll write again.

Have you ever seen the acronym TIA? It's an expat catch-all for unexpected problems that arise because... This Is Africa

It was a simple plan. My driver takes me to an Ambassador from an obscure country's house. I meet the broker the Obscure Country Ambassador has hired to sell the car, and the two of us take it to Cooper Motors, the most reputable Land Rover mechanics in Kampala.  Then mechanics tell me if anything is wrong with this vehicle advertised as "mechanically perfect," we negotiate a little on the price, and I have a new 13-year-old car. I expect the whole process to take about three hours, and because I'm not a complete newbie, I confirmed twice with all the major players.

My driver and I arrive at 9 am. No broker. No car. Ambassador is strangely hostile to the idea of me taking his car anywhere and declares he will have a mechanic of his own brought to the house. Already sure of what that mechanic would tell me, I ignore the problem, and we spend an hour watching an Arabic history of France with the older Ambassador, speaking in very broken English until the broker arrives.

The broker is Ugandan, so he speaks better English, and has spent time in my home state of South Carolina, so we have an instant connection and everything is very friendly. Except he doesn't have the car. It's across town. He convinces the Ambassador to allow us to take the car to Ssesanga, a closer Land Rover mechanic. Maybe not as good, but I haven't yet read the writing on the wall.

Ever the optimist, I agree that my driver can take us across town, so my driver, the broker, the Ambassador's driver (because why not?), and I all get into my company Toyota Corolla and head out. On the way, Broker admits that he doesn't actually have the keys to the car. So we pull over and wait for a  minibus to bring the broker's associate. Associate arrives along with a friend, for whom I still have no explanation. So now my driver, Ambassador's driver, World's Most Organized Broker, broker's associate, associate's friend, and I all head out in the Corolla to find the Mechanically Perfect Car.

To be fair, the engine started just fine. My legs had a hard time reaching the pedals since the seat controls were broken on Mechanically Perfect Car, but that's alright, because I needed to be in that position to use the mirrors, which were also broken. On the road, I discovered the power steering was out, though the gas gauge was not, which is how I knew we were totally out of gas. Guess who gets to pay?

So after buying gas for someone else's car, I follow the Corolla back into Kampala traffic, as my driver leads me to the mechanic. During this automotive running of the bulls, I discovered the power brakes are also broken, which led to some moments of excitement. Fortunately, I found that if I stomped hard on the brake, even though the actual brakes wouldn't work, the engine would shut off. That stops an automatic car really quickly!

Naturally, Ssesanga the Mechanic found a few things wrong with Mechanically Perfect Car. He even wrote out a list for me, which I have attached for your viewing pleasure. 

And so, I packed everyone but my driver into Mechanically Perfect Swindle and send them on their way. The two of us stuck around to see some of the cars that Ssesanga the Mechanic had for sale. Then we discover that World's Most Organized Broker had escaped the death trap he was selling and was waiting for us to give him a ride across town.

Which we did. Because I'm a sucker.

And that's the story of my six-hour car inspection.


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