Thursday, March 13, 2008

The air is Ouaga was exceptionally humid yesterday and I had the hair to prove it, which was particularly sad because it was the day that I HAD to get my pictures taken for my French passport.

Getting this passport was a big deal. Mine was stolen about five years ago and I have been trying to get it replaced ever since. But this situation that should have been easily remedied quickly turned into the stuff of nightmares. The people renting our home in France “misplaced” a box containing all our important documents-including the ones pertaining to my naturalisation years ago. And requests to the French Administration at Nantes yielded the news that they had never heard of me – all my records there were lost, as well!

Every attempt to fix this situation failed for four years, but about a year ago, JP found someone here at the Embassy in Ouaga willing to help me. After many letters and much to-ing and fro-ing, yesterday I got the news that they had all the papers they needed and I could get my passport replaced.

My question is this: why do they still have to use photos on passports? This is 2008. I’m all for finger prints and retina scans. My fingers are quite slim and I feel that my retinas are probably super photogenic. But no - I had to make a trip to a local photo shop and have the dreaded ID pictures taken.

Resigned, I went to a place that the French Embassy recommended. It was near the municipal stadium and located in a nice new building. It even had a waiting area with seats! It boasted digital cameras and a viewing screen for approving the pictures before printing them! Very posh.

I paid 3000cfa and went into the studio area. The photographer sat me down on a small, unsteady stool made of very shiny, very slippery red vinyl. I am thinking that the seating must at least somewhat explain the odd expression I had on my face in the first picture he took.

Another problem was that my hairstyle (such as it is) does not, apparently meet with French Embassy standards. The pictures have to show both of your ears. So, I had to gather up my frizzy hair and shove it behind my ears, which are not small and dainty. They don’t stick out, but I don’t consider them to be two of my finer features.

I fussed with my hair a bit, then he took the first picture.

Looking at the television screen nearby, I saw a particularly careworn 89 year old woman with tiny pig eyes, Albert Einstein hair and an expression of extreme dismay on her blotchy face. Judging from the ears, she also apparently had some elephant blood in her ancestry.

Oh wait. That was me.

We tried it again.

And again.

I made the photographer keep taking pictures until the receptionist from out in the waiting room started poking her head in the door, wondering if we had ducked out for a romantic lunch together.

“That one is good. I like that one. It’s really nice. Perfect!” the photographer said after the 20th attempt. The words were flattering, but said in a tone of voice that held desperation and potential violence.

I told him to print it.

Maybe it isn’t that bad, I told myself. Maybe it just looks scary because it’s blown up on the screen. In a smaller format, it might look completely normal!

He printed the pictures, trimmed them and handed them over to me.

Well, I thought to myself optimistically, These could be useful eventually! If I have him take me in profile now, I can use them as my mug shots if I’m arrested for shoplifting Metamucil when I’m 90.

Ever practical, I stuck them in my purse. Then I headed over to Photo Luxe. It’s where we usually get our ID pictures done. I didn’t care what the Embassy “recommended”, I was going to have to keep this passport for years and I didn’t want to look like a depressed, elderly elephant pig on it.

At Photo Luxe, Moussa took my picture. One picture. Click. No fancy TV screen.

Out in the crowed, dirty, no seating whatsoever waiting area, we waited a few minutes and then Moussa ripped off the plastic covering so he could place the sheet of pictures in front of a fan to dry.

I had a look. It was not bad. I looked very serious, rather smart and quite “severe teacher about to ask you to recite all the countries of South America, including all major cities and principal exports”. I can live with that. Shooting for “completely hot sex-goddess supermodel” would only lead to bitter disappointment and tears.

As for the humidity in the air? Well, we waited all day for the Mango Rain, but all we got was the Mango Spit. Mango Spit contains little actual water and much dirt. It does not give you any desire to go out and frolic in it, even if you haven’t seen precipitation since October. So, the day was a bit of a disappointment, weather wise.

It was midnight when the real Mango Rain came. It poured down for about an hour and cleaned things up nicely. When I woke up this morning, everything was cool and freshly rinsed.

So, that’s done. The dry season will really set in now. Things will heat up dramatically and there won’t be another drop of rain until June. I miss weather. All we have here is climate.

BTW- As soon as I got home, I ripped up the first set of pictures and threw them in the bin!


babzee said...

I had only one chance to get my passport photo done, and they neither allowed me to see it nor offered any "do-overs"! I was desperate and didn't care how it looked. The first time I used my passport, the viewer commented, "Wow, how'd you lose all that weight?" I had to reply that the photo had been taken tens days earlier, and that was the same size then as I was now!

Cyndy said...

Boy do I hear you on that story. My visa pics are just horrid. Thank God the only ones to see them were the Burkina Embassy.

Anonymous said...

I have been following your blog for a couple of weeks now (you never know who will be reading what you write publically.) I am from the US and we do some smaller humantarian aid projects in Burkina and somehow happened onto your blog. I love your style of writing as you see things thru the eyes of a true writer (well one I would read) Today's posting was so funny, I was laughing until I was crying and my childen kept saying what is wrong. I think they think I had totally gone off my rocker! Thanks for your posts! I look forward to them everyday!


BurkinaMom said...

Bingo. I have struck a sensitive chord for the second post in a row -just look at all those comments! Gag-reflex foods and unflattering ID pics apparently bring out the inner commenter in blog readers.

I really do think that passport pictures are the #1 reason that people don't travel more.

And Ann, you adorable creature, flattery will get you everywhere. If you need a big bag of dried caterpillars direct from Burkina, you have only to ask.
Thanks very much for your kind comments. Making you snort your morning coffe out of your nose is kind of one of my future goals now.
Hope it doesn't scare your kids too much.