Learning By Doing

When you’re a brand-new baby diplomat in ConGen, just learning the basics of consular work, they throw a lot of information at you all at once. It can be a little overwhelming, but the instructors have some words of comfort to see you through. Don’t worry, they say, no one expects you to walk in on the first day and just start banging out visas like you’ve been doing it your whole life. There’s a couple of days, or in some cases weeks, of on-the-job training before you’ll have to stand on your wobbly legs like an adorable newborn vice-consular lamb and do your very first solo visa adjudication. They say this because it’s true. Most of the time.

However, sometimes it transpires that the consul and the vice-consul are unexpectedly both away from post at the same time, requiring the backup consular officer to step up to the plate and take over the section. And sometimes it so happens that the backup consular officer has never adjudicated a visa in her whole life and indeed has hardly even thought about consular work since she finished ConGen, just shy of a year ago. Sometimes the backup consular officer has her own busy portfolio and is already filling in for another missing colleague. But the Needs of the Service require her to square her shoulders, take a deep breath, and make it work, so she does.

The first day was rough. In fact, probably the roughest day since I arrived in Conakry with the possible exception of the day I had food poisoning but came to work anyway and disgraced myself by throwing up on my shoes outside the main entrance. But this is Africa, and that sort of thing happens. On the first day I was hindered not only by some system problems and not knowing exactly what I was doing, but also by feeling like I didn’t know what I was doing. There are few things I dislike more than feeling incompetent. Day 2 was a little smoother, Day 3 smoother still. I’m getting the hang of this, sort of, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

At this point I look forward to the return of my consular colleagues like Jews await the Messiah: I’m pretty sure they’ll show up one day and I’ll be really happy when they do, but I have no idea when. And in the meantime, I suffer.