I spent yesterday hanging on a wall in a hotel room in Abuja, Nigeria (remembering, I hope, not to pick my nose or do anything else that shouldn't be done in public). And after a quick dash into town to interview someone on the totally scintillating topic of medical aid tarrif increases, I expect to do the same thing tomorrow.
This week was one that I have been looking forward to for a long time. I was lucky enough to be selected as one of five mentors for science journalists in English-speaking Africa as part of the World Federation of Science Journalists SjCOOP programme. This week we were to get the chance to meet face to face with the mentees that we will be working with for the next two years.
Sadly, for me, that didn't happen. Its a long story, the ending of which is best explained by Extranjera here. She was an island of sanity in the Nigerian consulate in Johannesburg where I spent one of the longest and most frustrating days of my life. Sadly the public face of Nigeria ... in Johannesburg at least ... is nothing like the totally amazing people that I have met from that country. Even more sadly, I suspect that the main reason that my visa was not granted (in spite of very senior government officials demanding that my visa be issued) is that I refused to pay the R2500 bribe that the visa company said the consulate officials wanted to process my documents.
So I am not in Nigeria, and I have been interested in the almost equal numbers of my friends and acquintances who have either said I should have paid, or who have supported me for not doing so. Perhaps naively, I thought that if I went to the offices I would be able to persuade them that they should give me the visa. After all, I had an official letter of invitation from the Nigerian Health Ministry. But no... that letter was what caused a nasty little man to yell at me from behind the (presumably bullet proof) glass that I was committing fraud because I "held the letter in my hand" when it belonged to their ministry. He then told me to go away and print the letter out again and bring it back, and totally failed to see that by doing so I would be holding it in my hand all over again.
And that was just the beginning of a day where the kindness and desparation of the people on my side of the counter was the polar opposite of the callous inhumanitiy of the "people" on the other. But read Extranjera's account. It is funnier than I can be. I just feel tired and despairing because of the way that a handful of people are screwing up our continent. And it works both ways: I am told by my Nigerian friends that the South African embassy there is a total nightmare to deal with too.
So why was I hanging on a wall? Because of the wonders of Skype video conferencing, I was able to see and be seen - projected onto the wall - and to get a view of the people I will be working with for the next two years. It wasn't the same as actually being there, but it was a very good second best.