Several decades back, Patricia and I responded to an advertisement in the San Francisco Chronicle seeking professors for the Polytechnic University in Ibadan. We sent off curricula vitae and were pleased to receive an interview appointment for me at the Nigerian consulate. Showing up promptly at 8:30 a.m. as instructed, I found that all twenty-five scholars who had been granted interviews were told to arrive at the same time. We could at first not even all crowd into the office waiting room and for hours I and other candidates were obliged to loiter in the hallway outside. Halfway through the morning I gained access to space on a chair inside and could peruse the journals depicting sunny Nigeria on its way to prosperity through oil reserves and benevolent government. There was no break in the interviews for lunch, but I was more fortunate than some in that my surname, while past the alphabet’s middle, is not absolutely at the end.
At perhaps 1:30 p.m. I was called into a room somewhat less brightly lit than the space to which I had become habituated. I made out before me the figures of seven men, most wearing grand and exotic robes, though a few favored three-piece English suits. Once introduced to these dignitaries, I took the seat before them only to hear that there had been an error. There was no present opening for an English professor – what they wanted was Patricia teaching art.
Though it was a Friday, I arranged for her to see them on Saturday (with the advantage of a more precise appointment time). She impressed the august panel and was offered a position. I was told that I could certainly teach in a nearby secondary school, so I completed an application for the Nigerian civil service. We did the paperwork for visas and began to plan our sojourn in the tropics. The visas seemed unaccountably delayed. We were given ever receding dates and almost five months passed before we received a letter informing us that a wife’s receiving an appointment and taking it up accompanied by her husband was an unnatural arrangement to which they could be no party. Of course, had I been the one with a secure appointment, the hiring would have proceeded smoothly. As it was, the deal was off.
We were disappointed, having been studying the area for months in preparation, but we decided we could not pursue our West African destiny. We had, as it turned out, no need to do that, as it caught up with us perhaps eighteen months later when my application, having slowly percolated through endless layers of languid bureaucracy, resulted in my receiving a job offer as Education Officer 10.
Months after we had arrived in the Niger Delta, when Patricia’s position came through, she was not allowed to accept until I had submitted a letter (with the required witnesses and tax stamps requiring visits to perhaps three bureaucrats’ offices in two cities) giving my permission for her to work.