My (Miserable) Morning at the US Embassy

My American passport is three weeks shy of expiring, so I booked an appointment to renew it at the US Embassy in Aoukar. The process seemed easy enough--visit the website, select a day (passport services are administered Mondays. Tuesdays, and Thursdays), and toggle one of 11 possible times between 8:15 and 10:45 AM. You usually need to book two weeks in advance to find availability.

Once on site, security checks are excessive, perhaps understandably so, but they pale in comparison to what awaits the poor unsuspecting fellow like myself. After a labyrinth of checkpoints and receptionists, I finally made it to the "Citizen Services" office, situated inside a portable, raised room (archetypally American) that reminded me of the DMV offices in the US. There were more than 50 people crammed inside a bizarrely partitioned, windowless room whose seating capacity is 18; a clock that doesn't read time; an AC wall unit that keeps switching off; and an aura evocative of a hospital wait room, complete with shrieking babies, restless toddlers, and frazzled parents. There were four employees seated behind windows, but only two of them were processing applications. The third acts doubly as cashier and number issuer, and the fourth is the Consul who reviews pending applications and gives the final seal of approval.

I had no idea that the system books up to four guests for each time slot, and with many dossiers requiring upward of 15 minutes to process, and effectively only 2 agents to help, you can imagine how quickly the backlog piles up. I was assigned number 29 on my arrival, and as soon as I sat down with the necessary paperwork to fill out, I heard number 19 being beckoned. I wouldn't be summoned for another hour and half! Do the math: that's 10 files processed by 2 agents in 90 minutes, or an average processing time of 18 minutes per file. Unacceptable! Many other folks with more unwieldy requests have to wait even longer for the Consul to approve their applications.

Perhaps the only consolation--after being frisked twice by security, getting cooped up nearly two hours in a dungeon-like office on my day off, and forking over 110 smackeroos--is that my new passport will be ready for pickup in ten days. Joy.

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