Saturday, November 21, 2009

Not time to go home yet.

Long story short: I couldn’t get my visa extension made official, so I’m now going to Nepal to apply for a new one.

The full story is a little complicated.

Beginning of November, I went to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to apply for a visa extension. That same day, the extension was approved, and I was directed to a separate office, the FRRO, to get my passport stamped. This was the beginning of a headache like I’ve never known.

First time at FRRO: I showed up with just the letter stating the approval of my extension. After waiting in a line for almost four hours, I was told that I needed to show a specific set of documents in order to make official my extension. No one had ever informed me of these requirements. Annoying, but at this point I brushed off the inconvenience.

One of these required docs was a “letter of undertaking”, which is a legal statement saying that someone will take responsibility for my actions while I’m in the country. The FRRO said they needed this letter from my company, Educomp. I talked to the secretary at Educomp, and she said that she couldn’t issue me this statement, and to ask AIESEC for it instead (the organization that manages my internship).

Second time at FRRO: I had gotten everything I needed, including the letter of undertaking from AIESEC. This time, I waited in line for three hours, just to have them tell me that they can’t accept the letter from AIESEC. It has to be from Educomp, because the conditions of my visa are related to my work with Educomp, not AIESEC.

I made a million phone calls and wrote a million emails. Finally Educomp told me that they would agree to write me a letter. The letter of undertaking has a specific format required by the FRRO. I showed the Educomp secretary this format, and she brushed it off saying that it would be fine if she did it her own way.

Several days later, she gave me the letter, and it wasn’t a letter of undertaking at all. Rather than say that Educomp would take responsibility for me, it only mentioned the fact that I’m an intern with them and that I would like to make official my visa extension.

I was highly skeptical that the FRRO would accept this, but considering the fluidity of most rules in India, I decided to fudge it and try again anyway.

Third time at FRRO: I begged and pleaded, visibly upset. They simply would not accept either the letter from Educomp or the undertaking from AIESEC. My hands and feet were tied. I even had the visa office call the secretary and my supervisor at Educomp to explain to them my situation in person. None of it worked. The secretary kept repeating that it was against company policy to give me this letter, which struck me as strange because I have never heard of any other interns’ companies having such a policy. When I told her, nearly in tears, that if I don’t receive this document, I’ll have to go home in two weeks, she said to me in a curt manner, “Go home then, that’s fine.”

This is the fault of this brick wall that is Indian bureaucracy. I can understand having rules and a system of doing things, especially something so important to a populous country as managing who comes and goes, but my experience was simply unreasonable. Here I have one Indian office (MHA) saying that I have permission to stay, but another office (FRRO) stubbornly refuses. What does it matter who writes my letter of undertaking? Whether AIESEC or Educomp decides to take responsibility for my actions in India, what’s the difference?

For the past three weeks, my fate in India has been determined by factors and bodies outside my control. I’m tired of pleading. I’m tired of making machines see reason.

For that, I’m headed to Nepal at the beginning of December. The current plan is to take a train to the Indian city of Gorakhpur, then a bus to the Nepal border, then another bus to Kathmandu. I’ll spend a week there where I’ll apply for a new Indian visa. According to every account that I’ve read, this is easy to do. Despite the unhappy events that are bringing me there, I’m excited for the chance to see Nepal. In the unlikely event that my visa application is denied, I’m entertaining the idea of either staying in Nepal or going to China, namely Tibet. Anything to fill up the time until March.

The point is, I’m trying everything in my power to not come home until I have to. I miss my family and I’m excited to see them when it’s time. But this is a time for me to explore, and I am determined not to let anything let this end prematurely.


Anonymous said...

how is work going Faaaaye :)
guess who am I ?
Btw, you have a nice blog, I am reading it..

Robin Zheng said...

Good luck, Faye!! You can do it--and you never know what new and valuable experiences these inconveniences will force you into. 'sall part of the adventurous life!

G. said...

hey girl, i hope everything turns out to be ok... i hated the indian bureaucracy with a passion. anyway, you will get to see nepal... and perhaps, who knows? might be the start of a magical trip to tibet. all the best from the south american tropics!

Faye said...

Ok, Anonymous, I give up. Who are you?