Here is a hot tip. If you must have your passport stolen, try and do it in a country where you have consular representation.
And if your passport does happen to be stolen in a vaguely obscure location — Kampala, let’s say — don’t let it happen on a weekend or the day after New Years Eve. The weekend after NYE would be an especially bad choice. Because if you do you may just find yourself cooling your heels for a week or two. You may just find yourself stranded in Uganda.
Last Sunday morning my wife and I were about to get on a bus to head home from Kampala to Nairobi. And then some guy on a boda — or motorcycle taxi — came driving past and knocked over my wife. She was fine — a grazed hand, some bruises — but she was swearing like a sailor. The boda driver had snatched her bag.
Kampala isn’t especially known for this sort of thing. Other than the occasional terrorism attack it is a very friendly town. There are bastards everywhere I guess. In any case after a quick inventory was made the only thing of real value lost was our passports. Then again, when you are about to get on an international bus your passports are pretty important.
So not home to Nairobi then. Most of Sunday was spent at the Kampala central police station. And other than the smashed windows and strong smell of stale urine the police station was actually pretty good. There was someone there at least. The Australian embassy in Nairobi was shut, as was the Canadian consulate in Kampala.
Australia does not have any consular representation in Uganda. Actually there is virtually no representation in any African countries at all. Not to worry though because when you are in trouble the Canadians will sort you out. We have a reciprocal relationship. In countries where Australia is not represented Canada plays mother, and where Canada is not represented the Australians provide the maple syrup. Where neither has a consul it is the British that protect our interests. Which is all fantastic until everyone goes on holiday.
On Monday the Canadian consulate was supposed to be open but still wasn’t. After numerous phone calls between Uganda, Kenya, Australia and various international insurance companies the plan of action was to wait until Tuesday. OK. We’re supposed to be back at work so an extra day of holiday is not so bad.
Tuesday the Canadian consulate tells us we need to apply directly to the Australian embassy in Nairobi.
“But I thought you were supposed to represent us in Uganda.”
“We do. We will post your paperwork to Kenya for you. You can even pick it up here if you like.”
Meanwhile the Australian embassy was still closed for NYE four days after the event. So much for Tuesday.
By Wednesday the extent to which we were completely screwed by this situation had become apparent. Despite the fact that we were only applying for a temporary travel permit we had to fill out a complete passport application. This included copies of birth certificates, photo ID, proof of address and a whole host of details which we simply didn’t have.
Worse, we needed all this paperwork to be witnessed by an Australian citizen who was not a relative and had known us for at least twelve months.
So here is a question. Just how many old Australian mates to you have in Uganda?
Personally I don’t have any. And I actually live in this part of the world. At this point it looks like we will be here for at least another week. Assuming our paperwork does not get lost in the notoriously reliable African postal system. But I guess I shouldn’t complain. There are worse places to be stuck than Kampala, so we might as well get comfortable.