The Waiting Room
Prof Lesley Lokko and Sumayya Vally
12R - An African Almanac
We are surrounded by the tropes, tales and traumas of migration. Political orders are being overturned, right-wing politics become centrist and the old Left is stumbling in many countries, trying to find a political response to issues of immigration that does not alienate huge swathes of their voting constituencies. Referenda are held; governments fall. And, in the meantime, migrants wait. And wait.
Imagine yourselves entering into this space. You have disembarked from the dinghy. You place your foot on the platform. There is an almost imperceptible vibration in the floor below you. To your left and right are a row of six male and female ablutions. You know what to do. Males on this side, females over there. The programme of a toilet is familiar.
Ahead of you is a staircase which fits only one person at a time. You put your foot gingerly on the first step. As you proceed up the flight of stairs, what was an imperceptible vibration has developed into the mechanical whirring of machinery. At the top, finally a landing. Before you, a 24m long table presents itself. At the end of it is a person sitting with his hand propped on a dial. On seeing you, he flicks his hand and the whirring starts again as the table starts to rotate. You are powerless. You wait for his command. But you have arrived as the day is drawing to an end. “Bonjour. Ou séjournez-vous? Ah, ce n’est pas la bonne bureau pour vous. Vous devez y aller.” (Good afternoon. Where are you staying? Ah, this is not the right office for you. You must go there). He flicks his hand again and starts rotating away. You have a question. But he is already at the point you found him when you arrived. He is not coming back today.
Several times. Several questions. Three sessions. Each time the same questions are asked. Each time slightly different. The impact of the ocean waves crashing against the lead covered concrete walls starts to take effect. At first a hairline crack is visible in the exterior concrete surface of the western wall. Over the three sessions this develops into a void of exposed structures and corroded finishes through which the city is visible, yet still inaccessible. However, when you look to the right, the transverse wall appears to have collected the deposits of the erosive effect. A crusty impenetrable layer has formed making the surface more robust. More resilient.