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Trip to get a Zambia ID card in Kitwe

Our Family of four had just moved into our single room in the Kitwe Teachers Hostel on Chandamali Road.

Ike Goodine, Principal of the now Copperbelt University gathered all the new lectures at the Kitwe Secretarial College and gave us a “State of The Union” speech. Were told we would all need to go to the Boma to register to get a Zambian ID or “pass card”. I learnt that a “Boma” is a term used to describe a livestock enclosure, stockade, small fort or a district government office Central Africa.

We would need to show our passports and work permits to prove who we were and that we were living here not as tourists, but as employees of the government of Zambia.

The next day I left early directly after breakfast at about 07:30 to walk about a mile to the town centre, as at this time it was cooler than the plus forties of mid-day in September that was the hottest time of the Zambian year. We had no car and no taxi system existed, that I understood about, so off I went. Around 8:25 I arrived at the Boma and I could not find my work permit anywhere on my person. I immediately retraced my steps to see where I had lost my work permit walking in a now sweat-soaked hurry back to the Kitwe Teachers Hostel. I found nothing of the missing work permit that I reasoned must have worked its way up and out of my pant pocket. Arriving back at the hostel, I went to find Elsa and the boys to confess that I had lost my work permit before I had started to work!

I found Elsa and admitted my complete failure. She smiled sweetly, paused, and told me; two English ladies were out walking and had found my work permit. They had walked out of their way to the Kitwe Teacher’s Hostel and returned it to Elsa. Elsa had invited them to sit and have tea in the hostel common room. They repaid her with horror stories of atrocities against white women in Zambia.

Elsa took the terrible stories well. She was still full of enthusiasm for our six-year stint in Zambia. She got the work permit from our small room. Off I went again to get an ID card. By now in was getting close to noon. I arrived at the Boma looking like I had just come out of a shower. I was wet with sweat but with all my required papers, now wilted, clutched in my sweaty hand. The papers were taken and I was asked to sit. I did just that; I sat where there were four chairs. One chair was taken by an Indian woman. I was still wet and probably a bit odiferous, I took the chair furthest from her as she took up a chair and a bit on both sides and we would have sat, possibly touching thighs. This was not a pleasant prospect for either of us so the furthest chair was my first choice.

We waited, listening to the soft sounds of pulsing city life all around the Boma. This sound was dominated by the one note song of the Christmas beetles in the very big Jacaranda tree just outside the door of the Boma. We waited and waited. There were no magazines or anything else to read or anything but to wait.

Noon was approaching far too slowly and it unfortunately arrived on time. A large Zambian man in police uniform came out from behind the closed door. We tensed up for action. He spoke. We were asked to come back after lunch and apply again.

I foolishly asked, “Please when should we come back?”

He replied with a surprise question for which I was not prepared. “Do you know anyone else wanting an ID card, if so please bring them along at two o’clock.”

I did not know anyone, but thanked him and left back out to the hot sun again at noon. This was still another mistake. It was hot and it took me awhile to realize that almost everything closes at noon until two o’clock. I had no money, because you need an ID card to use the bank. I walked to the one place I knew was at least open. Back to the Kitwe Teachers Hostel I walked with only the top of my head and shoulders in the noonday sun.

By one o’clock I was back at the hostel but the formal lunch was over that I had signed up for receiving at twelve O’clock sharp.

I tried to scrounge back at the kitchen and had limited success to get a cup of pre-sweeten tea and a few biscuits for the now wisely lounging cooking staff.

I finished my tea as quickly as possible. I munched the biscuits while I retraced my steps back to the Boma for the two o’clock happening. The path passed the St. Johns Convent School under the trees with the big red blossoms were already recognizing me as I walked again the same way to arrive a few minutes early at the Boma. I waited at the closed door. I was now first in line to get an ID card, thought I.

Within a few minutes of two o’clock the door open and I was allowed to re-apply for my ID. I had not even lost my passport or work permit on this my third trip. I was going to be processed. There was no one ahead of me.

I was told to sit down!

This was frustrating turn of events but I was young. I thought, employed and still very patient with my new employers, the government of Zambia…….. But, I asked if there was a problem with my papers. At the time, the answer made perfect sense and was very clear.

“We need five people before we take the ID picture. As way of an explanation,” to save film” was added after as an appropriate after-thought.

I sat dumbfounded but with my mouth forced shut and out of gear. Eventually business picked up and the Indian lady, who seems to know that there was no hurry, appeared and sat resolutely back in her same chair and three-quarters. She had eaten lunch!

After not too long a wait a few more people arrived and our numbers swelled to over five.

We first five were gruffly herded in through the solid door. Three were to stand all close together at the back behind a row of two sitting people. We were about to have a group photo with a very old model Polaroid camera.

The photo with the pop of the flash bulb was taken. As we were still all blinking, a pair of very large scissors came out of hiding. A clerk, come photo chief, cut the one Polaroid 2-inch by 3-inch photo into five individual ID photos which were now library pasted to the typed-out ID cards.

Success was imminent.

The five applicants, composed of both sexes and five ethnic origins, all stood still watching the process with polite awe.

Each name was read off the card and we stepped forward to receive our ID card.

I got my card. The name was correct, that is if I was Mrs. Donald Cheeseman but I had a butt and breasts all wrapped in a sari. Each of us looked about and came forward to explain that the photo was not connected correctly to the name. A statistical improbability bordering on a miracle had occurred. Five names on five cards and five photos and every one was wrong. We could tell, to our amazement this had likely happened before as the clerk calmly scrapped the still damp photo off the ID card and the photo process was repeated quite quickly. The black and white photo was again waved about in the wet hot air while it developed and it was then wiped with the little acidic acid tube to fix it. Again, it was cut up into five small photos with great care and again the photo was placed on the ID with library paste. The difference was that we looked on and preapproved each gluing. We were all in possession of our own ID card and it was only about five minutes to four o’clock when the Boma closed.

I had done it. I had got an “National Registration Card” ID in only one day and it even had my name on it as long as I was Mrs. Donald Cheeseman. I wondered if the clerk was still laughing at us as he closed the door for another day at the Boma. I walked back to the teacher’s hostel mouthing the new word I had learnt. I was an “expat” now” working legally for the Zambian Commission for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT).

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