It’s 10pm on a Saturday night in São Tomé and I get a phone call. I don’t recognize the number but I think it might be my boyfriend, Kilson. We were supposed to have plans today but he never called me, and after calling him a number of times with no answer, I figured he must have lost his phone (which has gotten very good at). I think maybe this is a friend’s phone that he’s calling me from now.
I answer in Portuguese. “Hello?”
“Hey!!! How are you!!” The voice is not Kilson’s. I could pick out his characteristically husky, energetic voice anywhere, and this definitely isn’t it.
“I’m good, how are you?”
“Good! Do you know who this is??”
I don’t, and I tell him so.
“It’s your boyfriend!!”
At this point I am just over 100% sure that this is not my boyfriend, but I know I’ve heard this voice somewhere. I just can’t remember where. “Um…no it isn’t…who is this?” I ask him.
“You still don’t know who this is?”
The man on the other end of the phone laughs. He’s playing with me. “It’s the Ambassador!” he says, a smile in his voice.
It really is the Ambassador too. The Ambassador of São Tomé to the United States. And, curiously enough, I know him well.
Back in September, I was pretty hung up about getting my visa to travel to São Tomé. After calling the São Tomé Representative to the United Nations, the only way to get a visa in the USA, and reaching a disconnected number, I was pretty out of luck. I contacted a for-profit visa organization and gave them my information. I had just gotten a call that day from someone at the org, saying that he is extremely sorry, but São Tomé is the one country in the world that they cannot grant a visa for. My luck! Since the UN office recently shut down, there’s no representative of the country in the United States, and therefore no way they can get me a visa. They suggested I get in touch with the Embassy of Gabon, as there is no US Embassy in São Tomé, but the one in Gabon represents both countries. If I go to Gabon first, I can get a visa there to go to São Tomé. The absolute only way to get a visa to São Tomé is to go to an entirely different country first.
Thus began the wild goose chase. Lucky for me, I live in Washington, D.C., where an embassy is just a few short miles or a local call away.
I call the Embassy of Gabon and they laugh at the suggestion of going to Gabon to get a visa. I’d have to get a visa to go to Gabon first, and change my flight plans on top of that. Do I really want to go through all of that trouble? They suggest I call the US State Department, and the person I talk to knows less than I do about the visa application process. She works from old records, giving me numbers that I have already tried and that no longer work. I am stumped.
I thank my lucky stars that I had been working at the Embassy of Portugal during this time. The consular section was kind enough to do a lot of the dirty work, and found out, lo and behold, that there IS an embassy of São Tomé here in Washington, but it’s not open all the time. They left numerous messages and emails on my behalf. A few days later, I got a call from the São Tomé Ambassador himself. He has an office in New York and in Washington so he’s constantly traveling back and forth. He told me to come by the office two days from now when he would be back in town and we could clear things up.
I arrived at a small, three-room embassy that looks more like my old investment firm, Danforth Associates. The embassy is on the third floor of an office building on Connecticut Ave, next to lawyers and doctors. I walk in and the secretary and I talk in Portuguese. He takes my information and asks me about why I’m going to São Tomé. We talk for quite a bit and, as I’m about to leave, he tells me to take his card with him.
His card says, “Ambassador Ovídio Pequeno”. “I’m the Ambassador and the secretary,” he says with a laugh. The island- and the office- is just that small. Then he asks me to come with him back to his office because he wants to hire me due to my knowledge of Portuguese and his extreme need for help. Then two hours later, he gave me my visa.
I was laughing as I left the building. The Ambassador is the secretary. I came in for a visa and came out with a job offer. Can life get crazier?
So that brings me to now, December, when I get this phone call from my boyfriend, the Ambassador. He’s in town and wants to meet up at some point so we can talk about this potential job when I come back.
It’s such a small country that there is no room for formality. We are all family here. And it’s funny and it takes a little bit of getting used to. But I like it.