We left off as K and I stood in a very long line outside the Kampala Interpol, a concrete building containing numerous cell-like offices. We were waiting to get a certificate that would affirm that the car we would be driving to Mozambique had not been reported as stolen. We had with us all the registration paperwork the car’s owner had supplied, plus a hard won receipt from the local bank, showing that we had paid the requisite fee for the certificate we sought. At this point we had just begun to scratch the surface of Ugandan bureaucracy.

At about one hour from closing time it was finally our turn. You would think an hour would be plenty of time to have them accept our receipt and print up a certificate. We handed over the receipt, and the car paperwork, to the guy in the heavily braided uniform who had sent us off to the bank earlier in the day. We then bore witness to another aspect of the bureaucracy – the stamping.

Never have people so loved to wield a stamp and ink pad. Since all the many forms are in triplicate or quadruplicate, and, apparently, every copy of every form must be stamped, there is a lot of flipping and stamping. Flip-stamp. Flip-stamp. Flippety-stampety-flippety-stampety-flippety-stampety. Flip. Flop. Eventually the flurry died down. A woman, also in a heavily braided uniform, was summoned. She took the raft of stamped forms and disappeared. We waited.

About 45 minutes later, near closing time, she returned with an embossed form. We were thrilled, thinking that we had made it under the wire before the office closed.
Our braid-bedecked friend took the form, then opened a very thick ledger. He compared a number in the ledger to a number on the embossed certificate. He shook his head. He pointed to the numbers, first one then the other, noting that they were different. He retracted the certificate into his desk and said it would need to be redone.

Nooooooooo! It was closing time. We needed to get on the road the next morning, not spend the day in the Interpol office. K said as much to the gentleman. Eyebrows were raised, pockets were discreetly patted. The potential for extreme gratitude was expressed. The gentleman summoned the braided uniform lady again. Again we waited.

While we waited, I noticed something I could not make sense of. At the start of this process we were sent to the bank in order to pay the fee. It seemed to me that the reason we had to do it at the bank was because the money was held in escrow by the bank, probably as a safeguard against bribery or embezzlement. But then, as other patrons came into the Interpol office, they would hand over cash to the braided uniform guy, who would just kind of pitch it into a drawer on the right side of his desk. Sometimes he would make change from the drawer but sometimes he would just pitch the cash in whole.

Why did we have to go pay our fees into escrow when apparently other fees could be paid right there in cash? I assumed that these were the extreme gratitude fees, but when our (correct) certificate finally came back, and it was time for us to express gratitude, our gratitude went directly into a braid-trimmed pocket. I never did figure out what that money drawer was all about. We were just happy to be on our way, with our certificate, and with our pockets a bit lighter, but really, it was quite reasonable, all things considered.

Posted by lesherjennifer


  1. […] the end of the last installment, K and I had, by dint of persuasion and gratitude, procured an important certificate from Kampala […]



  2. I just read all three installments. 1) I WANT a braided uniform! 2) I can’t wait to hear more about the driver and vodka 3) I REALLY want a braided unoform.



  3. […] leave. It’s pretty much “don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” then a little of the stamp and flip and you’re […]



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