"We know you are a 24 years old, but you are a minor," "Call us back in five minutes," "Call us in the afternoon", " The computer broke down", "The system isn't working," "We have to call London and check", "London did not respond", "We will call you back".
These are some of the excuses I got on an almost daily basis whenever I inquired about when my passport would be returned to me, weeks past the intended date I was to receive it.
I am sure I did something really bad in my past that my punishment was to interact with the Ugandan Embassy in Berlin and the Ugandan High Commission in London. Had I known from the beginning what nightmare it would be for me, I would not have embarked on this horrific journey of an experience.
I came to Germany on a work contract for one year and I had an amazing learning experience which prepared me for my next step - applying for my Masters. The plan was to go back home to Uganda in late April for four months, apply for a student visa while filming a documentary about stories from my country, and then come back to start studies for my Masters in October. I checked the website of the Ugandan Embassy in Berlin to see approximately how much time I would need to extend my passport which was to expire in June. The website said it would take 60 days and I called just to make sure. It was confirmed by the official I spoke to. I sent my passport in January and waited.
By the end of March, my bosses were getting worried because we had heard absolutely nothing from the embassy. They called to inquire. The embassy promised that I would receive it in the first week of April. We got a written document from them stating my passport was in procession. I felt excited as I couldn't wait to see my family and friends, and embark on the film project.
The first and second week of April past swiftly and still there was no news on my passport. My boss called again to find out when it would be delivered, and she was informed it would be in the last week of April. I cancelled my flight and put a hold on booking a new one. The end of April came and I still did not have my passport. I was getting more nervous and stressed. I hated the feeling of not knowing what my future held and how to plan the unknown. I had to put on hold my student visa application, since I was not physically in Uganda, and I knew this would greatly affect the time I would start studying. I had to also cancel some of the interviews for my documentary and I knew that my project would have to be postponed indefinitely, since I had absolutely no idea when I would be coming back home.
Almost every day, we called the embassy to check on the progress of my passport, but got excuse after excuse. I had to dig into my financial reserves, because I was staying a month more than I had planned.
I decided to get in contact with the Ugandan High Commission in London directly. My father called the office and was told that it would take a week to process my passport. However, two weeks later I had no passport yet.
May came and went with no passport. In June, I was treated to the same game only it was more frustrating. I was asked for my mum's passport copy, a letter from my father proving to be my dad, and my birth certificate (which I had sent a month earlier to the embassy in Berlin and which I had not been asked for when applying in January). This they justified with a claim that I was a minor. When asked to describe how a 24-year-old woman was a minor, they just went on rambling about new regulations and sticking to saying I was a minor. They even had the nerve to call my father irresponsible for "allowing" me to travel to many countries.
I shared my experience with some of my African colleagues, and one of them actually told me his passport took more than seven months to get processed. This got me thinking how many other Ugandans have gone through this process. How many Ugandans had been taken for granted and not treated as the citizens that they are? We are Ugandan citizens in a foreign country and our connection to home is the embassy.
Overall, I spent almost three months more in Germany that I had not planned for and incurred 1,800 Euros (about Shs7.3m) in expenses which money I would have invested back home and also saved and used to finance my studies. When I requested for compensation for their incompetence, I was told: "We apologise for the inconvenience caused."
I am a journalist by profession and a strong woman at heart- thanks to the strong community that raised me! It is not the 60s when women were objects owned by society and were not allowed to voice their grievances. I am blessed to come from a country that actually respects and makes it possible for me to practice my right to freedom of speech! I had an emotionally draining, stressful and depressing experience with the embassy and that is why I am sharing this, so that no other person would have to go through such an experience without knowing what to expect!