I had been putting off renewing my passport till about a month to its expiration; to get it done asap, I had to go all the way to the Ghana Embassy at Rome which is good 600 km away from my little town of Pordenone. I had never been to Rome before and it would take me a good 7 hours and an overnight trip to get to Rome itself. And that was only half of the problem solved because I would also have to find my way to the Ghana Embassy itself upon arrival. So, imagine my joy when my Dad suddenly remembered that old friend who runs a business of transporting Ghanaians to the Ghana Embassy at an affordable price. The package included a return trip and sometimes help in filling out a passport or Ghanaian visa forms (at no extra cost).
I was excited about going to Rome, I had heard so much about it. I wanted to write about this beautiful ancient city that even had its very own proverb. I planned to take loads of photos and possibly vlog about the trip. If the process for the renewal finished early and I had some time to spare, I would take a walk through the city and see all the wonderful sites. I had it all planned. Then a day before the trip, I decided to get a glimpse of how the Ghana Embassy looked like via google satellite; instead, my attention was drawn to the reviews about the embassy on google maps. One reviewer who rated the embassy with one star ranted about the ‘incompetence’ of the staff; others gave glowing testimonies of the staff.
Going to Rome
There was no need to book an appointment prior to submitting documents. I checked the website of the Ghana Embassy in Italy and ensured that I had everything that was required for the renewal of my passport. My dad also went through my documents at least twice to make sure everything was on point; then he dropped me off where I was supposed to join the mini van that was taking myself and three others to the Ghana Embassy (thanks Daddy. Lol).
Since the office was closed for submission of documents after 1pm, we set off just before 1am so we could get there in the morning. The journey was super long but finally around 7 o’clock we were in Rome. It had taken us only about 6 hours because of Italy’s fantastic road network that links the whole country. I’ll talk about the Italian road systems later. Ok, so back to Rome.
Rome was much different than I thought. Firstly, we experienced heavy traffic similar to that of the Dzorwulu rush hour traffic which was odd to me because there’s hardly any serious traffic in Pordenone. My hopes were also dashed when I was reliably informed by our guide that the ancient city of Rome that I had been dreaming of seeing was far from where the Ghana Embassy was located and he was afraid I’d have to postpone my plans for sightseeing. Slow.
A few minutes to 8am however, we arrived at our destination and bueei! (what a shock). You see in Ghana, most of the foreign embassies are located in the plush neighbourhoods like East Legon, Cantoments etc., so I was really surprised to see the location of Ghana in Italy.
My Observations At The Embassy
As our minivan pulled up to the Embassy’s entrance and before it parked on the shoulder of the road (because there was no parking lot), I noticed a group of about six young men and one lady in a corner somewhere around the neighbourhood, huddled around one man who was filling a form. I asked and was told by our driver that he was the ‘Connection man’ who made a living by helping others fill their passport and translation forms. Was I surprised? Not really, but the whole scene was all too familiar. It was so reminiscent of ‘goro boys’ at the passport and visa offices making a fortune off their many ignorant and mostly illiterate clients. Eii Ghanafo love ‘connection men’.
There was nobody at the entrance as at the time we got there, so we waited. And at exactly 8:30am, the door to the Embassy was opened by a young man who greeted us and ushered us into reception in groups of five. I was number one (Yay!). He asked to know my reason for being there and I told him I was there to renew my passport. Since I wanted to comply with the rules of the embassy, I had left my phone and bag in the van. Others who had phones and bags were directed to place them in a small box which formed part of a cluster of shelves.
The padlock and key were given to the clients themselves to lock the boxes and return for their belongings after their transaction in the embassy (good job guys). I was given a ticket and directed to a waiting room.
What a waiting!
I was greeted by a portrait of His Excellency Nana Addo Dankwah Akuffo-Addo. It was beaming down on the citizens of Ama Ghana who now found themselves in ‘Obi man so’ from his huge framed portrait on the wall. After I smiled back at Mr President, I looked around the small room and suddenly it felt as if I had been transposed to an old Ministries office in Accra. The heavy brown entrance had seen better days and wouldn’t mind a fresh coat of paint. But even more than the door, the walls were crying for new clothes.
The existing dark grey paint was so dirty especially at the headrest level where some waiting seats were situated. That side of the wall looked like it was coming straight out of the movie “Coming to America”; from the scene where Darryl Jenk’s family soiled the headrest of their to-be asew’s couch because they had so much grease in their jheri curls. I thought the walls of the main hall were bad until I saw the paint on the pillars of the adjoining room which was literally peeling off; for lack of a better word I’ll just say it was digusting.
Just then, I noticed a huge framed picture titled “Ghana’s Tourism Map”. So I ventured closer to read and sister gyae! Spelling mistakes be what?! For instance, Elmina Castle was “Elimina Castle” and there was “Otumfou” instead of “Otumfuo”. The one that got me almost tearing my hair out was the one that showed a photo of the famous Nzulenzu Village now renamed, “Nkulenu Village.” Can you just imagine? In a whole Ghana Embassy?!!!
Soon, others started joining me in the hall, till almost all the 30 or so seats available were filled. People were crowding in and out of the same door which made me wonder, “what if there was an emergency?” And why were there no emergency exits or signs directing people to those exits?”
About 20 minutes after entering, we were greeted by an extremely polite gentleman. He came in, collected some documents and redirected those who were there for translations into the adjoining room with the peeling paint. Overall, the staff I encountered were Ok in terms of attitude and affability. I did however witness an exchange between one of the members of staff and a client which wasn’t very pleasant.
Personally, I thought the Embassy was understaffed. For instance, there were only two people at the counters (obviously since there were only two in the first place). These same people who were attending to clients had to stop mid processing to explain to another what to do. The unfortunate truth is that a vast majority of Ghanaians in Italy entered through illegal means; a shocking number of them are illiterate which is really really sad. In fact, many of them were there to make a passport for the very first time because they entered the country without one.
Lemme pause here
I was hoping we would be done early so we could head back home without using the bathroom at the embassy; because I had the weirdest feeling it wouldn’t be the best. Unfortunately, my bladder would have none of that and whiles I was waiting to be given my receipt for collection, I had the urge to use the bathroom. I dreaded entering the bathroom and prayed it wouldn’t be as bad as I anticipated. Oh, how wrong I was; the stench that hit my nostrils the moment I opened the door was baaaaaaaad. The stench of urine was terrible, it was as though the washroom hadn’t been cleaned in a week or more. The stench was too strong to have been acquired only that morning. It was either somebody was not doing their work properly or nobody was doing it at all. Also, the door of the bathroom I used would not close no matter what I did. When I came out, I felt like jumping into a pool of disinfectant. In summary, the bathroom of the Ghana Embassy in one sentence is ‘A N-A-S-T-Y infection breeding mess!!!’ It is such a shame.
A few foreigners came in to acquire visas. I must say I was quite embarrased seeing us represent this as ‘Ghana’ to them. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough when I was done with my transaction. Sad.
I dropped a few suggestions for them in their suggestion box along with the several others that were already in there. I hope someone actually reads it at least but just in case; let me just state them again here, maybe this will get to someone who can actually call the shots:
1. The surroundings of the Embassy need to be cleaner. Please hire a cleaner
2. Please. Please. PLEASE use cleaning detergents in your bathroom (candegina is cheap) and please hire a cleaner who can clean often; we beg. The washroom is not not not.
3. Maintenance and a good paint job is desperately needed and will make a lot of difference.
4. Please take off that framed ‘Ghana Tourist Map’ which is so full of errors. Instead, can’t the TV that is off be put to good use by showing silent videos of Ghana’s beautiful sites? There are dozens of photos and videos by Ghanaian photographers and videographers which can be used with permission. I can recommend many. Also, can’t we cover our walls with pictures and artefacts that are representative of Ghana?
5. Kindly hire more staff to ease the load on existing staff. There are always people who are willing to intern for the experience and on the job training, please hire them.
As I was leaving the premises, I spotted an elderly lady outside trying to sell her wares which were neatly packed in a duffel bag. “Me t)n abibi duro” she said to someone who stopped to look at her goods.
“Ei saa?” the prospective customer replied.
“Eeh, 3ne Ghana nnuro te s3 ‘Yafo, Adutwumoa, amoxicillin…’”
“Me pakyew m3 t) nkate3 burger” Connection man interrupted
The elderly lady proceeded to remove for him from the duffel ‘drugstore/grocery store’ bag.
I couldn’t help smiling to myself, this is Ghana on foreign soil ampa.
Passport Renewal at Ghana Embassy: When In Rome by Baaba Ennin
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