I just got back from a meeting with my University of Khartoum supervisor. He is such a lovely man so I was already in a happy buoyant mood when I left his office.
On my way back, feeling hot and decidedly lazy, I decided to treat myself to a taxi.
These days I am smart enough to ask taxi drivers if they have other jobs. They usually do. Some are journalists. Some are teachers. Some are traders of some stripe… and they are always happy to grumble about the labour market. Today my taxi driver told me he was an “agent”.
Exciting! I thought.
A government agent? I asked. My mind buzzed: Don’t talk about politics, Laura, don’t don’t about politics. Whatever you do, Laura do not talk about politics!
No, he said, I am a private agent.
Private agent, heh? This sounds even more interesting.
What kind of field? I asked.
Visas, travel documents. That kind of thing.
(Ah, I forgot about the other meaning of agent. My heart dipped.)
But not for the government? I asked.
No, no. I worked at the airport for three years after university. Now I work for companies. Gulf companies. I call the airport and the ministry and sort it out. If someone wants to go to Europe, I ask a friend. I don't have the right connections for Europe.
Do you make more money now?
Yes, of course. I take a cut. I take 30% for the Gulf. 10% for Europe. We do everything for them. Fast. Lots of people want to go to the Gulf these days. Foreigners and Sudanese, we arrange both.
I asked him if lots of people did the same; acquiring “wasta” in a government job, then moving on to the private sector to make more money. He said it’s pretty common. About 40% of people do the same. He estimated.
At the end of my journey, I went to fetch my wallet.
No, no! He said. You don’t pay.
I took out my wallet.
No, no! Really!
Are you sure? I asked. Surely someone can’t be so nice to put up with my rigorour line of questioning, drive me across town and then require no payment?
Yes, you don’t have to pay. He said, smiling. And then he drove away.
What a nice man!
A fine privilege for being a student! Shukran Sudan!