Prove It

Ben and I go to the Post Office to collect his new passport which has arrived from the British consulate in the capital; I know to collect it because the Expedited Mail Service called me to notify me: ‘You have a letter’, they said. 

We arrive and queue behind the one lady who is being assisted by a large woman behind the glassed counter. We wait some time; the customer is paying for something and counts out her money very slowly and several times.  Ben sighs a lot. Loudly.  

Finally – having checked the amount several times and begrudgingly handed it over – the only other customer in the Posta leaves.

I move in and enquire if I may collect my package from EMS. 

Next window, I am told. 

I look at the next window. It’s empty: there’s nobody serving there or – indeed – at any other counter in the entire Post Office. 

There’s nobody there, I say. 

Wait, I am told. 

I move seats and try not to laugh. Ben sighs some more. 

The lady who has instructed me to sit and wait at the empty window shouts loudly, in Kiswahili, ‘There’s a white woman waiting here, she thinks there’s a package for her’. She repeats herself several times. 

Finally a man ambles forth. I know he works for EMS because he is wearing a shirt that bears the insignia on epaulettes. He collapses into the seat opposite me, as if the journey from wherever it was he was drinking tea to his post in the booth called Expedited Mail Service, has exhausted him. 

We’re making progress. Ben is dozing. 

You have a letter for me? I ask 

How do you know? 

Because somebody from EMS called me to tell me so. 

You called somebody at EMS? 

No. No, somebody from here phoned me to tell me my package had arrived and that I must come and collect it. 

What’s your name, he asks. 

Benjamin James Simon Rowan. 

Is that you? He asks 

I think I’d have got away with it had I said yes.  But I don’t, I indicate Ben – ‘no, it’s him; I’m his mother’. 

You are the mother? He asks. 


He begins to shuffle through a basket of small parcels.

Ours is the bottom one. I know that because it says ‘Her Majesty’s Service’ on the back in big, black, bold, important print. 

Where is your ID? He enquires, dangling the envelope tantalizingly inches from my nose. I have come out in shorts and flip-flops. I have no handbag, no wallet. Nothing except car keys, my phone and patience that is beginning to wear a little thin. 

I don’t have any, I admit. Ben makes that irritated look that teens do when their decrepit old mothers screw up, rolling his eyes in disbelief. 

How do I know you are Benjamin James – and he considers the envelope briefly, squinting – Simon Rowan then, the EMS official asks. 

I have a brainwave: I know, I say, there’s a telephone number of the envelope – mine, it’s the one your office used to call me. Dial it and if my (indicating my cell phone) rings, you’ll know this parcel is for me. 

He considers my suggestion for a moment. Okay, he says. 

I assume he will whip his own phone from his pocket and proceed with identifying me then and there. But he doesn’t. He leaves the booth, ‘I am going to call you’, he says vanishing. 

Seconds later my phone mumbles, that small half ring before it begins to shrilly get going in earnest. Then it stops. 

Mr EMS reappears. “Did it ring”, he asks, ‘your phone”? 

Yes I say.  And with that he hands over my son’s hard won passport.  

Makes me question the long winded paraphernalia associated with the application of a British passport – I wonder if the consulate knows how easy it is to prove you own one?  

22 Responses to “Prove It”

  1. Roberta Says:

    This left me howling!

  2. Tanzania: personal story - prove it! « Sociolingo’s Africa Says:

    […] Prove It […]

  3. maggie may Says:

    That’s unbelievable!

  4. Susan Says:

    This is the best laugh I’ve had all week. That’s a great story!

  5. daisyfae Says:

    Bureaucracy in-action! Beautiful! The world can truly come together someday over global frustrations with paperwork, ‘box-checking’ and nstitutionalized ineptitude!

  6. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    glad it made for a laugh. it did me too. it wasn’t until i came home and really considered the experience that i thought how absurb it had been! it rendered all that form filling and supplying of birth and marriage certificates to secure the passport null and void!

  7. insteadi Says:

    Absolutely hilarious!!

  8. nuttycow Says:

    Haha! I love that. Only in Africa!

    (7 weeks and counting until I’m out again!)

  9. ann Says:

    Sounds like to kind of madness we are getting in the UK right now!

  10. aminah Says:

    oh this made me really laugh! great!

  11. Jane Says:

    Love it! love it! love it! Red tape without any logic behind it. I see this a million times a day, it seems . . .

  12. Expatmum Says:

    Very quick thinking on your part. I am usually reduced to a gibbering, weeping wreck when faced with similar situations.

  13. R. Sherman Says:

    Bureaucrats are the same the world over. As long as they can check a box, they’re happy, no matter how ridiculous the circumstances.


  14. Primal Sneeze Says:

    Class! Pure class!

  15. carol Says:

    Great story! I had thought you were going to tell them to open up the package and look at the passport to make a comparison to the Ben Rowan sitting there.

  16. Iota Says:

    I hope this is the kind of story that is going to get into your book.

  17. ann Says:

    I think that you are amazing and would like you to come on over to my site to collect an award.

  18. Louise Says:

    I have to say your blog really strikes a chord – you never fail to amuse, and your writing is witty, empathetic and to the point! After eleven years in E Africa, some of your stories could be our stories – they constantly make us chuckle. Keep going…

  19. reluctantmemsahib Says:

    thank you all so much for reading. yes, it was funny but oddly at the time it wasn’t: it was just so surreal. like watching something unravel before you that you can’t quite believe, like watching a movie without having a part in it? ann, thank you for my award. I’m not a bit amazing. I just live in an amazing place. Surreal, actually. Did I mention that?

  20. Lo,TG Says:

    I love this. It’s reminiscent of conversations I had over a period of about three months, having just moved house, with our gas and electricity suppliers, only more so. Quite Lewis Carroll.

  21. Africa expat Wives Club Says:

    Ha, the horror of those glass fronted counters! My favourite was the wood lined CRDB bank in Dar in 1990s. Those ladies with the very imposing hairstyles reduced us in the queue to quivering wrecks! Oh the joy when Barclays and ATMs finally came to town!

  22. awrightadventure Says:

    Ha Ha! Had similar issue collecting my driving licence replacement from our post office.

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