Eight am in the departmental capital. The prefecture opens at eight thirty. The cafe where we usually have a coffee while waiting firmly shuttered. We go for a long walk round the town to pass the time .
When we get back to the prefecture it's eight fifteen. Proof of that old rule that time flows at a glacial pace when you're standing outside a government office on a cold, grey morning with nothing else to do. There is a gathering crowd of asylum seekers. Bored school children lean up against the wall of the school opposite and watch us. French school children are world class people watchers. They exude teenage disdain. By eight twenty five quite a crowd has gathered. Syria, Mali and Chad are well represented as is the UK. The Brits stand in mournful silence , their fellow permit applicants sit happily on the pavement and chat away.
Finally, the security gates swing open. Angus uses long rugby dormant skills and weaves his way through the crowd. I'm supposed to have the first appointment of the day but by the time I've made it past security the two permit windows are already in use. ' You'll need to wait for them' says the receptionist pointing to the two queue jumpers and stating the obvious. She then goes on to tell me that I've got to go into the waiting room . ' You can't stand here. Don't you know there's a pandemic ?'
It goes without saying that the waiting room has, by this time, become a social hub of densely seated humanity. Angus thinks of saying something to the ice maiden about social distancing but thinks better of it. A cheerful gentleman in a bright purple shirt comes and sits next to me . ' The washrooms have a ceramic sink, soap and a thermostatically controlled system that produces just the right amount of hot water to wash your hands' he informs me. This is an unusual conversational gambit. Angus thanks him for this insight but has to take a few moments to think through what a thermostatically controlled system might be. It's rather early in the morning to be discussing weighty matters like this with a new found friend from Mopti.