Elizabeth Ohene writes: I can’t believe us
I know what it is like to travel on a Ghana passport, I know what it is like to try to get a visa to any country on a Ghana passport.
But it doesn’t matter how often you go through the process; the humiliation feels raw and personal each time.
In the past four weeks, I have made two international journeys and one of them deserves a narrative.
I had been invited by a University in Germany to an event and they had kindly sent a letter of invitation, indicating I would be their guest for six days and they would be responsible for my air ticket and hotel accommodation.
In trying to get a visa, this letter of invitation, which is a requirement that you need to add to the numerous other things and voluminous forms that you fill out, makes no difference whatsoever.
No matter what it says in the letter of invitation, you still have to provide your own hotel bookings and flight reservations and they require that you bring three months, or is it six months of your bank statement?
Obviously, the word of my would-be hosts, the University of Bayreuth, didn’t count for very much with the consulate.
I asked the lady who conducted the interview for the visa why I had to bring how many months of my bank statement.
She explained to me that they had to convince themselves that I wasn’t a candidate for overstaying in Germany.
The horror must have shown on my face that someone would imagine I would want to live in Europe, never mind as an illegal migrant.
She quickly added that it wasn’t personal.
They do not have a set of rules for someone like me that might reasonably be expected not to overstay and another set for others.
They work on the basis everyone who applies for a visa was a potential overstayer.
I took a deep breath and a smile came to my face as I recalled an incident that occurred about forty years ago.
Back in 1980, the then West German Ambassador to Ghana was a friend of mine and he told me about a difficult situation he was in.
A young man’s application for a visa had been turned down.
The Vice-President of the Republic at the time, also a friend of mine, had called the ambassador to make an intervention on behalf of the young man and assured him there was no danger of him overstaying; indeed, the Vice-President said the young man was his nephew.
The ambassador reluctantly intervened with the Consul on behalf of the young man and he was granted a visa.
Two weeks after the young man left, the ambassador told me there was a message from Bonn that the young man had applied for political asylum, claiming he was at risk from the government in Ghana.
Yes indeed, they have to operate on the basis we all want to stay in their country.
I was granted a visa and I set off on my trip.
At Kotoka Airport, the young lady checking passports before you get to the check-in desk peered at the freshly minted German visa page and asked if she could see my air ticket.
I have checked in online, I just need to get to the counter for my bag to be tagged, etc… Because my visa was for SEVEN DAYS and she wanted to be sure my ticket was within that time frame.
At that stage, what I wanted to do really was to go back home.
I had gone through all that hassle to be given a SEVEN-DAY VISA.
What happened to the multiple entry Schengen visas they used to give off six months duration and which is what I thought I had applied for and assumed I’d been given?
I reminded myself, it is not personal and I went through the departure process.
A smooth, eventless flight took me to Schiphol airport, Amsterdam where I would make a connection to Nuremberg in Germany and then take the train to my destination of Bayreuth.
The young man at the Immigration desk in Schiphol was insistent, he had to see my ticket and hotel reservations.
I took a deep breath and reminded myself it wasn’t personal.
What was I going to do in Germany, he wanted to know.
Now, my flight was to Nuremberg, my mind went to the last time I was in Nuremberg and I was sorely tempted to tell him, I was visiting the scene of one of the happiest days in my life when the Black Stars defeated the US at the World Cup in 2006.
I didn’t bother.
It would have been lost on him.
I am not sure what I said eventually, but he allowed me through to go and catch my flight and eventually got to Bayreuth.
It was bone-chillingly cold all six days with snow-covered grounds.
Since I knew I had a seven-day visa, I did not let the cold get to me.
I felt sorry for the natives who did not have a choice.
What took me to the Centre of Excellence at the University of Bayreuth deserves an article by itself and I shall be doing so and telling about my new friend Dr Wunpini Fatimata Mohammed.
She is a Tamale girl and I am certain we shall all be hearing much, much more from and about her.
On the return journey, I got to Immigration at Schiphol and the young man in the cage took a look at my passport and wanted to know why I had been in Germany and what I had been doing in Europe.
Deep breath, it is not personal.
Visiting the Richard Wagner Museum in Bayreuth, I wanted to say, but what if a wrong answer led to me being detained and I miss my flight?
I was invited by the University of Bayreuth to review a book….
He stamped the passport and gave it to me.
That was the end of my SEVEN-DAY VISA.
I wonder if they are still called Schengen visas.
Obviously, I couldn’t have finished my business in Bayreuth and decided to visit friends in Berlin, or perish the thought, go off to Paris to visit friends for a few days before coming back home.
I was on a seven-day visa, for fear I might overstay.
It might not be personal, but it surely feels very personal.
ERRATUM: On Monday, I got a call from Mr A. A. Akuoku.
I wrote about him last week as the first Coordinator of the Computer School Placement.
I referred to him as “the late” Mr Akuoku.
He is very much alive.
I have no idea how I came to kill him off in that article.
I apologise and I hope I have bought him many more happy years on earth.