He was, or perhaps still is, the First Secretary at Cameroon’s Embassy in Washington D.C. I have never met him, nor have I ever spoken to him, but my family has. How come I am writing about him? I have just stumbled on a short “To-Whom-It-May-Concern” letter he wrote some years ago that enabled my son to enroll in a Master’s Degree program at California State University in San Bernadino, California.
My son, who lives with his brother in San Bernadino, CA, applied for a Master’s program but his passport had expired. He was asked to bring a new one before his application could be processed. We were in a bind, especially as Cameroon’s Embassy in Washington D.C. had a terribly bad press. It was said that the people working there were quick to confiscate the passport of any Cameroonian who went there for a passport renewal. The rumour mill even had it that Cameroon no longer had a building housing its Embassy in Washington, D.C and that someone was running the business from their suitcase in a hotel suite. Good Lord, what didn’t we hear!!
I even contacted some people at the Frontier Police in Yaounde, asking if my son’s passport could be renewed in Cameroon, if he sent his picture and fingerprints by mail. The answer was a categorical nyiet. He would have to go to the Embassy in Washington, D.C.
My son was on the phone for almost a week before someone picked up the call. He explained that his passport had expired and wondered if he could send his fingerprints and picture from Southern California for the passport renewal. No, that could not be done, he was told. He would have to fly over to Washington, D.C. in person.
My son, being a patient, could not travel by himself. His brother couldn’t accompany him either as he works fulltime. His mother then traveled from Cameroon to accompany him. They booked a hotel room not far from the Embassy, arriving a day before the appointment. Early the next morning, they walked to the Embassy, arriving well ahead of the appointment time. They were ushered into a waiting room where another woman had apparently been waiting for sometime, or so she said. She kept up a litany of complaints against a country where, she said, nothing was ever done right. When would things ever change in that “damn country”? When would people ever learn to do things the right way and on time? She went on and one. As my family sat soaking in all the negativity she was spewing out, and wondering if they would ever be served, the lady in question, even without being asked, suddenly said: “Thank God that I am now an American citizen.”
It was then that a young woman came into the room and, finding out that my wife and son were there for a passport renewal, she apologized that the person in charge was attending to someone and that he would be with them shortly. She then led the grumbling lady away to another room from where a heated argument could be heard.
Shortly thereafter, a gentleman came out of his office, greeted them and apologized for keeping them waiting. He then ushered them into his office where he took my son’s picture and fingerprints. Asked how long it would take for the new passport to be available, he said most likely three or four months.
When he saw how worried my wife looked, he asked what the matter was. She told him our son had to complete his registration at the university, which could not be possible without a new passport. Unfortunately, he told them, passports could only be renewed in Yaounde. He could, however, give a note for the university to the fact that my son had just applied for a new passport which would only be available in four months’ time.
It is that “To-Whom-It-May-Concern” letter that I have in front of me as I write this appreciation note to him. I don’t know if he will ever read it, but it doesn’t matter. The professionalism he demonstrated in his work convinces me that no matter how rotten a system may be — and ours is notoriously incompetent — there are always a few people in it who do their work as it should be done. Keep up the good work, Mr. Gervais Bindzi-Edzimbi, and may God bless you.
San Jose, California, June 15, 2020.