"Can you find me a Canadian wife?"
The immigration official with possession of my passport seemed intent on making his way from Tanzania to a much colder climate, but presumably one in which he saw himself being more successful than East Africa. He was the second official in half an hour to press me on whether I could get him to Canada. I had made it through two waiting rooms and one office before being ushered into a second office where I handed over $US 200 to get an additional visa for my trip.
I'd already had to battle, through my translator, for several hours of negotiations two days earlier with immigration officers who stopped us at a roadblock in northern Tanzania, on a highway that led toward Nairobi. We hadn't been stopped at all on the way to Tarime, a town near the border with Kenya, but were stopped five times on the four-hour drive back to the Tanzanian business hub of Mwanza. Twice to check my papers and three times to check the driver's.
As it turned out, I didn't have all the paperwork I needed. I'd gotten the $US 500 temporary press pass I apparently needed to operate in the country. A bargain, really, considering if I had been making a television news story it would have cost $US 1,200. And the high commission in Ottawa had issued me an "other business" visa, and had copies of my project synopsis and a letter of invitation from one of the NGOs whose projects I was visiting.
But they had neglected to mention that I also needed to get myself a temporary work visa known as a CTA, and I didn't see any mention of it anywhere I'd searched for entry requirements. It's easy enough to get at an immigration office, but I didn't know I needed it - neither did several of the NGOs who I later asked about it - and was then forced to spend an afternoon dealing with officials who were willing to let me go for a discounted price if I moved along without getting the actual $US 200 stamp that I needed.
I suspect I stupidly drew attention to myself by taking an iPhone video along the highway, trying to capture - ironically for my own use, not for my project - the breathtaking scenery on the way back from Tarime. I have a detachable handle and lens on loan from work, but it makes the iPhone look a lot more like a professional camera. I was later told that region tends to favour the opposition politically, and combined with being on the highway from Kenya, a white chick in a private car drew too much attention.
Despite the initial half-price offer by the officials from the highway, I didn't want to risk being stopped again if indeed I didn't have the paperwork I needed. Back to the negotiating table, and a decision to meet the next morning, a Saturday, at the office so I could pick up the visa. But a third official who they said was needed to issue me a receipt didn't show, so they let me go catch a plane to Zanzibar with a promise to pick up the CTA there.
It was at the office in Zanzibar that I encountered two immigration officials who really, really wanted to go to Canada.
"Can you bring me to Canada?"
No, I'm sorry, my husband wouldn't allow that (I'm not married but it's just easier to tell them that).
"Do you have a sister?"
Yes and she's also married (another lie, but one I think she would support).
I was directed to a third waiting room, where I tried to look neutral. My passport had gone back to the first office with an official, and the $US 200 was in the second office, and I had no idea whether I would lose either. I repeated "soft eyes," a refrain from my yoga class used to relax my face - to avoid further annoying them by looking impatient.
In the end, it took only about 45 minutes to get in and out with my stamp. I wasn't stopped again on my trip to Tanzania, but at least the gauntlet of immigration officers gave me another story to tell.