Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Visa for Bikerboy

Yesterday was klasichiski . Classic.

In March, I had written a request to get my cyclemate, Bikerboy, a visa support letter for Kyrgyzstan. Our route requires more than 30 days and a double entry, but we have no intention of squandering precious days in Bishkek once we set out on the road, waitng for a visa adjustment. A few phone calls and three taxis later, I found the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building and had just to wait in lines until I appeared in front of the correct window. The Correct Window Guy told me to come back in May, that it was too early, that it would take just 5 days to get the letter, and I should address it to the Director. So I did as told and went back last week, May 3rd.

But of course, the windows, which are usually open two hours each morning were closed because the day before had been a holiday. A helpful guy saw me wandering around and when I told him I was looking for the room with windows and he told me about the schedule change, he offered to take and deliver the letter. Then he gave me his card, surprisingly, and said to call him tomorrow. The Deputy Director. Of course, I couldn't reach him the next day, between him being away from his desk and me being in front of my first graders. And then I went away for a long weekend. I came back and it's 4 work days later and I pick up the phone again. Yesterday.

He's not here. Call this number. That number is a fax. Try this number. He's with someone. No answer. He's out again. He finally answered but said call back at two or any time after two, and he'd tell me the status of the request. Two. Not there. Two-thirty, three, three-thirty. No answer. So I decided to just go over there, even though it wasn't window time anymore. They only see people between 9 and 11 am.

I worked my way past the desk guard, who said Deputy wasn't in, I should wait. I know what waiting can mean. Sometimes it means the guy you need is in the hospital or in another country and won't be back for a week, but go ahead, take a seat, and wait. I've learned to ask what I'm waiting for and how long I will be waiting and if the person knows this for sure or is just saying this to give me an agreeable answer. But I didn't even parade those questions out. I just asked for underlings, overlings and any other linglings until the Guard finally said I could go see the Director Himself. His Highness was actually smoking a cigarette in his office when I stunned him by knocking and walking in uninvited. After he understood my request, he waved me off to go find Nuraieem. Secretary.

Reception pointed me to room 103. 103 said to go to 111. A tired looking man was malingering outside the door of 111, so I tentatively approached the orange-shirted woman behind the orderly desk and said, Nuraieem? Orange Girl yells at me: Nilzyah (never, not allowed, don't come in here). I retreated to the hall where I learned that Tired Man had been there since 10 am and it was now after 4. A few minutes later, when Orange Girl put down her phone, I popped in and asked again, Nuraieem? Nyet, she's in Rm 103. Back to 103. Detailed discussion with the girl behind the piled-high desk. Finally, 103 girl locates Nurieem by phone, and finds out she is out of the office altogether and is to return "in 10 minutes." You can guess what that means. Considering my next step, Deputy appears, in a very neat pink shirt. He remembers me and is actually still a helpful guy who showed me a decent amount of respect. I tell him the problem and he brings me back to Orange Shirt who it turns out, is the real worker who actually writes these letters we're trying to get and just puts them and a pen under the noses of the bosses who sign. This time I notice the Russian sign on the barred door that basically says Don't Come In Here! Guess I missed that the first time down that hall. Anyway, good thing the orange shirt had a cool cat design. I love cats. I made friends. Deputy Pink Shirt left and Cat Girl said to wait in the hall, just a momento. After 5 momentos, I went back in. Not afraid so much this time because 1) Pink Deputy had brought me to her himself, and 2) I kind of asked before I entered. Turns out she was looking through all sorts of folders for the signed and stamped letter I had brought last week. My bad, I didn't make a copy! When after ten minutes she still couldn't find it, she asked me to bring another. As if the first one didn't take a week to get. I was balking at the thought and told her how I'd been working on this two months already and only had 6 days left.. So she picked up the phone and called the original Window Guy I'd first spoken to in March, the one who is actually in charge of this altogether, her boss, the guy who signs the letters she writes, just under Deputy Pink. Window Guy is out with a broken leg and won't be back for a few more days. Cat Girl had called him in the hospital to try to find my letter. In the folder he said. Wrong.

I finally insisted that we go back to Deputy and find out exactly who he gave my letter to. He was in his office with someone, but came out and went to room 103 and checked that the letter had been logged in the Journal last week, with my name on it and everything. But it was nowhere to be found. He more or less scolds the secretary in charge and takes a folder out of the hands of another one who was very ineffiecient in trying to look through- balancing it in one hand and trying to shuffle through pages with the other. He puts it down on a table and uses two hands to look faster while he scolds her for being so unclever. I'm starting to like this guy.

Now it's after 5, and everyone is still at work.. even if work, for some people, consists of walking slowly from one
office to another to pretend to look busy. Finally the Deputy brings me back to Orange Cat's office. After enough more looking and his exasperation of how a document could just disappear, he decides that since it's just a simple request we have, and it will be granted in the end anyway, and that I've been there twice already and it was their screwup, Cat Girl, Kamila, could just draw up the visa support letter and I could submit another copy of the signed, stamped, request from my school director on letterhead after the fact. Only thing was, I didn't know Bikerboy's passport details off the top of my head. I suggested I open my email quickly and pull the information off. But guess what- no email. So I have to fax the information to her tomorrow and she'll fax the visa support back to me. We'll see. I'm prepared for another trip to the Windows of Foreign Affairs.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Three weeks out. Probably I'm too busy to commit myself to writing much or often, but it's best to start at the begining and so this is the prelude- or finale- to the last year in a decade of travels. In 23 days I will spend my final night in Bishkek, my home since September 05, in the country of Kyrgyzstan where I've lived since September 04. Thereafter I'll be propelled by jet and momentum, across the continent across the ocean, to Boston to wish my mother a happy day on her 80th happy birthday, (as my little first graders call the annual anniversary of earth entry) and back. Upon returning, I will no longer be tethered to job, organization or flat, but bound by bicycle and boy to the classic Asian holiday- cycling the high remote land of nomads and pilgrims. A trip I've dreamed about for years and have now the great fortune to step into.

Life has led me to this point and it took only recognizing the arrival of the right time and the willingness to find myself in the right place. I am here with the gear, the time, the funds, the strength (I hope), the desire, the plan, and the sin qua non, the companion. In just a few short weeks, when we meet in the London Airport Heathrow for the first time, we will be on our way to mutual support and individual fulfillment as we set out to meet the world on our way to the Kingdom of Nepal.

So, who is this companion, the unnamed cyber buddy? When we finally meet at LHR, we will have the first chance to find out how close our impressions of each other have been to the real characters only represented by the photos and emails exchanged over the previous 20 weeks. We've somehow managed to convince ourselves that we will be a compatible team, able to solve problems as they arise, easily make amicable decisions, and mutually support each other to the conclusion of our quest.