Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Visa - The Final Saga

So who would have thought I would still be in Amsterdam on this trip and still here a week after my original departure date? Certainly not I. The trip was supposed to be Delhi, Amsterdam, Sevilla, Paris and then back to Delhi. And yet, here I am. And it is all to do with my visa.

I finally got the papers I need from India for my work visa last Saturday and Monday Manuel and I dragged ourselves out of bed before the roosters had even started their first rounds of "cock-a-doodle-doo", showered and walked to the train station to catch the train to the airport where we would then change for The Hague. A little more than an hour later we were at the Indian Visa Service, whare Manuel's tourist visa was waiting, all plastered very neatly into his passport. There was a time when we thought he may not get it. Although his passport expires in October this year, everytime it was scanned, it came back as expired. Not that it would have been much of an issue, a quick trip to the Spanish Embassy nearby and we would have had a new passort for Manuel within a few hours. The lady behind the counter, in a rare display of customer service during the visa process actually entered the 8 or so digit code by hand and all was well.

After picking up his visa laden passport, we walked the 5 minutes to the Indian Embassy so I could apply for my work visa, have my interview with a guy at the embassy that makes absolutely no attempt to be friendly or helpful and get my process underway. We were there about 30 minutes before the embassy opened and I filled in all the paperwork, attached my two passport images with no background shadow or hint of a smile, my CV, contract from my new employer and their records of registration in India. The lady behind the counter looked everything over, handed them back to me and told me to wait. That was the last I heard until a couple of hours later when another lady who I have come to despise in the past year of dealing her told me to go home and "come back tomorrow" as it would notbe possible for them to deal with me today due to official reasons. I wasn't the only one shoved off and when someone asked what the official reason was, he was told coldly that it was "OFFICIAL" - Yes, she spoke in caps, drawing the word out long enough it almost sounded like she was spelling it.

Back to Amsterdam with the knowledge that I would have to do it all over the next day. The next day started very much the same - Up early, icy walk to train, arrive at embassy early. The same woman who looked at my papers the day before looked at them again as if she had never seen them or me before. And it is not like they are busy. They have recently outsourced 95% of their services to an agency, so only special exceptions are at the embassy. I was one of about 10 people that had been there the day before. She looked over my paperwork, handed everything back to me and told me to wait. I had the odd feeling I had done all of this only 24 hours earlier. I made a bold move. I asked her if I would indeed be helped as I had been there yesterday, told to wait and then half a day later sent home. She looked at me with that blank look embassy staff love to give and told me to wait.

Three hours later and several levels of Zelda on the DS later, and we still had not moved. Batteries on the iPods were wearing down and my stomach was growling from not having eaten. Someone went up to remind them that we were waiting and suddenly a lightbulb went off. we were all sent out of the consulatory part and told to go upstairs into the main part of the embassy. Up we went, we gave our names and were told to wait. The last time I sat on that sofa, I waited about 2 hours and so had no hopes this time would be any different. But I was wrong. 30 minutes later and my name was called. I walked into a little room where a guy was going through my papers with a fine-ttothed comb. Not the application, but my employment contract. I think he read it better than I had. Then came the question he asked me the last time: "There are 1.3 billion people in India... Why do we need you?" I wanted to just stand up and say "Just look at me. I'm amazing... How could you NOT need me?" But I remembered where I was and decided that camp is best left to more campy situations and so I gave my rehearsed answer. After being caught off gaurd the last time with that question, I was prepared.

He listened, scowled and jotted down notes in green pen. Who uses green pen in any official function these days? Anyway, I was sent back down to the consulate section and told to wait. In yet another surprise, I was called to the window and my details were entered into the system and my visa was printed out. I was aksed to go over to the number dispenser and take a number. I went over to the number dispenser and took a number. It was number 34. I handed it to the woman I despise. She grabbed it and without even looking at it, she wadded it up into a little ball and tossed it into the bin next to her. I didn't know what to say, but in a completely uncharacteristic move, I decided to keep my mouth shut.

I could have forked over anouther 50 Euro and got my visa right then, and I think that is what she was counting on, but I waved goodbye, flashed her my best smile and left for lunch. Two hours later I was back waiting for the sticker to be stuck into my passport so I could be on my way. To my surprise, they have given me one for a full year which means I am done with her for at least another 364 days, and next time I am planning on doing my visa in a different country. That is, if I am still staying in India.

So now I am all set for my flight on February 5. Only a few more days left in Amsterdam and then I am off to Paris for a day or two before catching my Air France flight back to Delhi. Manuel left this morning and should be landing in just around 6 hours from now on Swiss Air. I wish I was on a plane heading back. It is strange being back in a place where my life used to happen except that it doesn't happen here anymore. I am ready to be back in my bed. ready to stand under my shower. ready to combat whatever spiders may be lurking in the bathroom, and best of all, curious to see what wonderful bathroom displays the maid has created using my left behind grooming products.

1 comment:

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