About a week before leaving the USA, I found an incredible flight using Skyscanner’s online multi-flight option. I slaved over the computer for days figuring out how best to get to South Africa without flying directly there–which would have cost me far too much money.
I eventually settled on flying out of JFK, then to London, then to Athens for a week long layover, fly to Rome, and somehow I’d have a week and a half to get to Milan where I’d fly to Johannesburg and then to Cape Town.
The price tag for all of these flights came to a total of $724.
Not only was this cheaper than flying directly from New York to Cape Town, but I also got to see a little of Europe before moving to Africa. I was thrilled, until I got to the South African consulate.
“A week!? But I leave on Monday!”
“I’m sorry sir. We require at least a week to ten days for processing a student visa.”
I broke into a cold sweat. It was too late to cancel my flight. How could I have forgotten the most important part of international travel!?
“Is there anything to speed up the process?”
“We’ll try our best. But it’s Friday now–there’s no guarantee we can get your paperwork processed in time.”
I stared into this woman’s eyes, hoping she’d magically be able to finagle the system and help me out to get what I wanted. She was unmoving. Her eyes were dead inside and lacking even the slightest bit of sympathy. I could see the litany of procrastinating travelers like myself making the same desperate plea flashing before her eyes. I needed to be the exception to the rule. But how?
“Thank you, ma’am. I appreciate it” I replied with a smile. “I’ll be back on Monday with a gift for you all to thank you for the trouble.”
She looked at me as if I’d just committed a crime. I didn’t even know what I was going to give. Obviously not money. I had to come up with something good.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
When Monday came around I arrived at the consulate with my luggage and a full plate of cookies made by my mother, bless her heart.
“Remember me? I have cookies for you!” I exclaimed in a sing-songy intonation. I was praying for a miracle.
The woman looked at me and put her head in her hands. I continued staring at her, wide eyed and smiling. My arms extended outwards with cookies in hand, as if I were a birthday gram. She looked down and let out an audible sigh.
“Wait here,” she commanded me before disappearing from behind the window.
I saw her talking to someone in an office towards the rear of the building, my passport in her hand. She looked back at me, unflinchingly. I smiled away any notion that it wouldn’t work out.
After briefly punishing me with her gaze, she opened my passport and adhered a large visa sticker over one of the pages. I did it.
I jumped into the air, yelping as if I’d just won the lottery. My bakery bribe worked. I was back on track to go to Europe tonight, and Cape Town in a few weeks. I danced around the consulate waiting room, the other people in line laughing and cheering for me. The woman made her way back to the window and opened the door to give me my passport… and to receive her cookies. She was more eager to try them than she let on.
“You’re crazy,” she said.
She looked at me, her stoic expression melting into a wide, toothy smile. Her arms opened wide inviting me to give her a hug. I did.
“Enjoy the Motherland, boy,” she said with a laugh that filled the room. “You’ll be just fine.”