KHARTOUM — Intimidated by long queues outside the Egyptian embassy visa office? Puzzled by the visa form? Then head for the neem tree.
Beneath the fine-leafed tree, a few dusty metres (yards) from Khartoum’s colonial-era Egyptian consular building, is the “office” where Mustafa Ali and his convivial cohorts have for years dispensed their wisdom.
Their briefcases filled with documents and staplers serve both as a toolbox and a desk for these self-employed clerks as they help travellers fill out their visa papers for an average of five pounds (about $1 or 80 euro cents).
“We have no office. We have nothing,” says Bashir Dahab, 62, one of four in the group. They have all travelled the region, working other jobs, before retiring and ending up back here, under the neem tree.
“We help people and at the same time it is our life. Our salary is from these forms,” Dahab says.
Not that the daily salary is anything to rely on.
“Sometimes five pounds. Sometimes 50 pounds. Sometimes nothing,” says Dahab who, like his colleague Ali, can serve clients in English as well as Arabic.
The goateed, bespectacled Dahab even knows a little French,