The Indian visa was obtained from Lagos, Nigeria for the whole group with relative ease. The headache started when we had to obtain that for France. The list of documents required from us was not only long but additional items were requested that were not on the initial list by the time we got to the French consulate in Bonanjo.
We had to bring the 2005 business license (patente), the tax and articles of association for the pharmacy. One had to produce insurance contract for the trip, traveler’s cheques, personal account print out from bank and above all you were expected to answer questions from the occasional arrogant consular people without betraying any dissatisfaction even if the questions hurt you.
I witnessed an argument between one of our elderly colleagues and a youngish consular employee. At one point the consular young lady asked the elderly visa applicant whether she has employees? “Yes” came the answer. She next asked, “When you talk to your workers do they listen to you? “Yes” answered my colleague. “Why then do you not listen to me?” asked the young lady. I found that analogy odd and unacceptable. The young consular lady was now assuming a position of boss and the visa applicant a subordinate. Another odd scene that I observed was when another elderly woman (unknown to me) was desperately trying to please the consular lady. She had to address the younger lady “mama”. In Africa, this is culturally unacceptable.
By the time I was called up, I knew I was not to be treated differently. I was asked to show proof that I was in possession of pocket allowance. I could not show the 500-euro cash I had because that is precisely what brought the argument between my colleague and the consular lady. I pulled out a credit card and showed. “Your card could be containing zero francs,” said the lady arrogantly. Before I could advance a word, she had spoken five. I politely told her that if they are afraid that I will become a social liability in France, they should cancel my request to stay there for a few days and give me only a transit visa. I was ready to accept a visa that will allow me switch planes in Paris without getting out of the airport. I told them that it was not my decision to go to India through France but that of the organizer of our tour (laborex Cameroun). I have no choice but to follow the group. Apparently my frank talk was not taken kindly. The consular people are used to people begging and cajoling them and any deviation from this is seen as rebellion that must be punished. Because of my alleged transgression, my request for a visa was rejected. That was Thursday evening and our trip was scheduled for Monday night.
The director of Laborex tried some fire fighting tactics to rescue the trip that was slipping away from my hands. He asked me to compile a new visa request and submit on Monday morning to see if the consular people could reverse their decision.
I spent money and time and compiled a new set of documents and even spent an additional fifty thousand cfa to modify my return date and reduce the number of days to be in France from 12 to 4. The trip organizer asked me to come to the consular office on Monday at 6.30am so that he can join me there and defend my case.
I complied and got there at 6.30 am. I thought that I was early until I got there to see that there were more than thirty people already lined up waiting for the office to open at 8.am.
When the doors were opened at 8 am a stern looking elderly French lady emerged. She let everyone around to know that she commands authority. Just her menacing look towards the visa applicants made many to re-examine themselves whether they were properly lined up. When my trip organizer (himself a respected French CEO) introduced my case, the lady turned and gave me an unfriendly look and said bluntly “this one will not be given a visa.” The gentlemen tried to remind her that there could be some misunderstanding as I was an Anglophone who probably could not put across his views explicitly. She wasn’t apparently moved and did not allow me follow the trip organizer in. I stood at the door not knowing what next step I should take. After some ten minutes, the elderly lady emerged and found out that I was still standing by the door. She ordered me to step aside from the line. Let me add here that at the consulate, those orders are usually obeyed with military dispatch because at least half a dozen Cameroon policemen are waiting at the entrance to pounce on troublemakers.
I stood there and called a couple of people to inquire whether one must get a visa even if you just need a connecting fight through Paris? All three people I called said a visa was not required if you intend to pass through France only. I went back to SAGA voyage (the company that sold the plane tickets) and posed the same question. The lady that attended to me checked her computer and told me that a visa is not required if you just have to transit through France. I then proceeded to pay another fifty thousand cfa (100 USD) to SAGA so that the flight date is changed in such a way that I completely eliminate the 4-day stay in France and get over with the ordeal at the consulate. Little did I know that the lady gave me incorrect information. Meanwhile my trip organizer was still lobbying for my case at the consulate. I was again called to come to the consulate. When I managed to get into the first room, there was a French security officer in uniform, and an elderly man in plain clothes doing preliminary checks on documents. When they realized that my visa request was rejected three days ago, they told me that I could not be received. They were not willing to listen to any explanation that my case was special and that their higher authorities are aware. “We have not been notified of your problem” came the answer. I was shown the door and I had no choice but to disappear as soon as possible.
In situations like these, one may be tempted to get angry with the consular staff. If I have to be angry, my bitterness will be mostly directed towards our home government that has allowed conditions to degenerate to a situation that any Cameroonian showing up at the doors of foreign embassies in this country is seen as a potential refugee.
With the passage through France closed for me it was decided that we look at an alternate airline for me to travel to India. After consultation with SAGA, Kenya airlines was chosen. I was to fly from Douala through Nairobi and join my colleagues in Mumbai in the morning of 10th March. I was to cover a distance of less than 7500km while my colleagues traveling through France were to cover about 12000km to Mumbai. At the end of the day I asked myself whether one needed all the suffering at the French consulate to add an extra 5000 km to his journey to Mumbai.