Low Life: Jeremy Clarke

By Clarke, Jeremy | The Spectator, November 16, 2019 | Go to article overview

Low Life: Jeremy Clarke


Clarke, Jeremy, The Spectator


Our plane touched down in Rwanda at 7 p.m. Stepping outside on to the metal steps, I smelt that unmistakable peppery, earthy, decomposing smell that says you have landed in tropical Africa and that for the foreseeable future things will be different. I crossed the tarmac to the arrivals halls and, sweating already, lined up to show my passport and visa.

Stupidly and inadvertently I had applied for the visa via a private online company called the Rwanda Visa Service, which charges a handling fee of nearly 200 per cent on top of the normal visa price. Four weeks before my departure date, I had successfully gone through all the online hoops and was informed that my visa was ‘pending approval’.

Three and a half weeks later it was still the case. I wrote an email. No reply. Two days later I tried again. This time a Rwanda Visa Service official said that he was very sorry, but owing to unforeseen difficulties his company could not supply me with a travel visa by the date required. If, however, I wrote down the following seven-figure number and showed it to the immigration officer on arrival, all would be well.

I stepped forward and showed my passport to the Rwandan immigration officer, who was young, decent, unassuming, calm, modest, patient and thorough. He was so unassuming that I wondered whether he had committed his heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. His name tag said his name was Rukondo, which means ‘love’. He asked me a lot of questions about myself as they occurred to him, as though he was satisfying a curiosity that was warmly personal rather than bureaucratic.

Finally he asked the question I was rather hoping he wouldn’t. ‘You have a visa, Mr Clarke?’ he said. ‘Thank you. This is your visa? This piece of paper?’ I drew his attention to the seven-figure number handwritten in Biro. His smooth clear honest brow furrowed. It furrowed more deeply as I related the story of my dealings with the Rwanda Visa Service. While I explained, he gripped the little scrap of paper with both hands and studied it closely as though giving me the benefit of the doubt that it was indeed a document of some importance. ‘I tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to help you, Mr Clarke,’ he said finally.

Then he summoned a colleague, who took away my piece of paper. …

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