1. Wake up early. If you get to the passport office by 5 am, you are late.
2. Bring something to eat but don’t bring water. There are no public toilets in this public building.
3. Bring a fully charged phone, a book, your knitting or other project and an amusing friend. You will need all four. Unless Number 11 applies to you, do not bring a baby, toddler, child or any other person incapable of staying in a confined place without exhibiting symptoms of restlessness.
4. When the Passport Office opens at 8 am, three hours after you get there, pay particular deference to the lady with the hoarse voice who is eating that crunchy popcorn we call maputi (with no water) for her breakfast. She may scatter maputi on your form, or send maputi-laced spittle in your direction, but eating maputi at odd times is one of the perks of the civil service.
5. Remember that there is a difference between Windows and Doors. Windows are Windows and Doors are Doors. Windows are not Doors. Nor are Doors Windows.
6. Rooms are a separate category. Window Number 5 and Door Number 5 do not necessarily accompany, lead to or have any sort of relationship with Room Number 5, or with each other. Consider, for instance, that Window Number 6 is a few paces from Room 100.
7. If you can, avoid going into Room 100, the room where your citizenship will shuffle off its mortal coil, join the Choir Invisible, expire or otherwise die. To avoid going into Room 100, arrange to have been born to a father who was born in Zimbabwe, and whose father was also born in Zimbabwe. To make your claims to a passport watertight, you must arrange to be born to such purely Zimbabwean father in Zimbabwe. I repeat, you must ensure that you are born in Zimbabwe. You can choose to be born to any mother of your choice, unless you are a child born out of wedlock in which case your mother must be a Zimbabwean who was born to a Zimbabwean father unless her mother had her out of wedlock in which case her mother’s mother’s father must be a Zimbabwean who was born in Zimbabwe to oh never mind. Just be sure to avoid Room 100. If you fail to avoid Room 100, see Number 14 below.
8. In Room 3, be patient while the security-conscious staff implement their highly sophisticated counter-counterfeiting and fraud-detection strategy. This strategy does not involve checking the notes against a UV machine or anything like that, but painstakingly writing down the serial numbers of every note you use to pay your passport fee. Sometimes, the counter-counterfeiting and fraud-detecting cashier will stop to borrow the pen of the next cashier, or stop to answer his mobile phone, or stopping to shout, Inga ihorror for no apparent reason.
9. If you are renewing your passport, remember that although your basic details remain the same (your ID Number, date of birth, father and mother, are, like the longitudes and latitudes, pretty much immutable) you must approach each application as a new one. Bring all the documents that they keep on file in their own office.
10. Do not bring small bills. See 8 above.
11. If you are a woman applying for a child’s passport, practice answering the question: “Saka baba vacho varikupi /So where is the father?” Practicing your answer to this question involves shouting very loudly for everyone to hear the name, present whereabouts and/or circumstances of the man with whom you had the sex that produced the child whose passport you now request. You will be asked this question so many times that you may begin to question the essential trustworthiness of your husband, boyfriend or significant other. Before you know it, you will be asking yourself, so really, where is this so-called father, because even random people like the man who takes your child’s fingerprints can suddenly ask, Saka baba vacho varikupi?
12. You can have the clearest photographs in the world, taken in the best studio in Harare, but these will be of no use to you because the Passport Office prefers photographs produced by Christian. Haatomboita aya, wotoenda kwaChristian/ These simply won’t do, you have to see Christian, is the command you will hear after they see your photos. To find Christian, exit the complex. Do not make the mistake of assuming that Christian’s enterprise is the respectable looking photo studio in the red brick office on Herbert Chitepo. Christian occupies a much more humble establishment. He is parked illegally just next to the security boom that leads into the complex. His studio is his van. Christian will take your photos on the road right outside the complex. The white background prescribed by the Passport Office is produced by Christian’s assistant holding a white wrinkled sheet behind you as Christian photographs you right there in the noise and dust of Leopold Takawira Street. Christian will then print your photos in his van. His printer is powered by a generator. His photos will look no different to those you that brought with you except that they have this one distinction: Christian’s photos are taken by Christian, and, for that reason alone, satisfy the requirements of the Passport Office, because only Christian is considered good enough to produce the photos for the passports of the Republic of Zimbabwe.
13. If you were unable to secure your birth in Zimbabwe to Zimbabwean parents whose parents were also born in Zimbabwe, hie thee to Room 100, where you must renounce all the citizenships, actual or potential, of all foreign countries even if you don’t have any particular claim to such citizenship, and even though the constitution no longer requires that you make such renunciation. Your grandfather was born in Mozambique? Renounce! What do you mean your grandfather died long before your own father was born in this country? Renounce! What do you mean you don’t even know the capital of Mozambique? Renounce! And you say you were born on this soil and went to school at Happy Paradise Children’s Happy Paradise then Ruvheneko, Shiriyedenga and Zuvarabuda followed by Zengeza High 1, High 2, High 3 and High 4? Just renounce! What do you mean, the constitution says you don’t have to renounce? Did you write this constitution that you spout so eagerly? Is it your father’s constitution? Is the constitution going to give you your passport? Constitution, pwonstitution. Ndeye kumusha kwenyu here constitution yacho? Ndiwo mutupo? Rinaunza wakanyarara mhani, uri kutotitambisira nguva pano! Next!
14. When you finally do pick up your new passport, avoid pointing out any mistakes they may have made in the spelling of your name. So your name is spelled wrong. Shrug it away. Just get used to spelling your name a new way. As the novelist NoViolet Bulawayo said, “We need new names!” So what are you complaining about? The government has give you one for free! Unless you are a new farmer who is constantly receiving free seeds and inputs (pronounced imputs) it is not every day you get free things from government!
15. You will see that the symbol for the country is given as ZIM even though the internationally-agreed country symbol is ZW. Do not be surprised. That is how we roll. When check-in agents at airports around the world get confused about what ZIM means, just tell them to enter ZW and the right country will pop up. If they ask why it says ZIM and not ZW in your passport, just tell them not to be surprised. That is how we roll.
16. Marvel at these beautiful words:
The Government of Zimbabwe requests and requires all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.
Basically, in one word, what they mean is that you can get OUT!!
So what are you waiting for?