I've made the mistake of bringing my backpack, which hasn't been cleaned in a while. All electronics have to be left at the security check. It takes me three runs through the x-ray machine to find my Kindle, two cell phones, headphones, scanner wand, and two mp3 players, all buried in the depths of my bag. After some discussion about the pros and cons of the scanner wand, I can go in.
There are a dozen service windows inside a long, well air-conditioned room. Two windows are reserved for American citizens; they have an icon of a flag. The others are marked for visas (a picture of the capitol building) and immigration (Lady Liberty, of course.) I sign in at the window with the flag; I have some misgivings about whether scrawling my name on the piece of paper will actually result in anyone helping me, but I sit down and wait to see what happens.
There is a flat screen television on the wall. While I wait, we see episodes of South Park and 16 and Pregnant. I’m not sure if the selection is intended to actually deter aspiring immigrants, or just give them fair warning.
While I wait, the well-heeled (literally) woman next to me complains. She has been waiting an hour and a half to pick up her passport. It’s unacceptable. There is no water, even for the children, and they don’t let you bring in liquids. I wonder if she’s ever been to a bank outside of Accra, but I don’t ask.
It turns out the sign–in system is functional. A young-sounding American woman periodically calls out names, pronouncing common Ghanaian names awkwardly. Kelly is 38 weeks pregnant and eating cake when my name is called; my German surname, with its proliferation of consonants that usually challenges Ghanaians, is pronounced perfectly.
I'm here to add pages to my passport. I have no room for more visas, and I will likely travel outside of Ghana before returning to the States. The process is a big pain in the U.S.: you either have to make an appointment at one of only a dozen central passport offices in the country, or you can go to your local passport office, and wait a month while they send it to one of the main offices. Even with expedited shipping, the fastest it can be done is a week. I’ll have the pages added by tomorrow, and the fee is just the same.
The whole experience--the efficiency, the relative extravagance, the culture on display (or lack of culture, depending on your views on MTV)-- really brought home the idea of the American Embassy as American soil. It’s almost literal, as if someone dug up a DC agency and plopped it down in Accra, and everyone who works there hasn't really noticed their lives just landed in West Africa. I like to imagine this is all an illusion, and when 5pm comes around, the entire staff passes around bottles of Mandingo and dances Azonto. Maybe they do.