And that’s when I got the help I couldn’t do without. I used the last of my funds to get a cab from the edge of town I crawled to to get to the bar where I met two Peace Corps volunteers, mutual friends of a sorority sister, and agents of my temporary salvation. I took the weekend off from harassing embassies and enjoyed the hospitality of two fellow countrymen. And I finally found a good ATM, hence my relief.
[Written over a beer after the first successful ATM transaction:]
“Relief, and that’s all that spills out as my hand shakes and body tingles; such a small scale scrimp session, but I had no way of putting cash in my hands and saw a future filled with problems. Leaning on the hospitality of others was my only way out of a week in a bus station and walking 20 kilometers with a 20 kilo pack on a road not made for pedestrians. The luxury of this cold beer was hard earned and all the more appreciated, beyond its already praised existence. Thank you, Stanbic Bank, for your loyalty to MasterCard and for not giving up on me.”
That week would have been much less glamorous had I not met these new friends. To give you an idea, I was contemplating sleeping in the bus station. To be honest, I did it the first night, curled up next to about 100 mothers and children, holding my bag straps around my legs and resting it on my feet like a penguin’s egg. I awoke with the imprint of Under Armour on my cheek, but it wasn’t half bad for a few hours’ sleep.
Monday, I arrived at the High Commission office in time for the afternoon pick-up of my visa. The receptionist was beautiful and incredibly sophisticated, but for the sake of my story and memories, I remember the woman who made me cry three times as a “vacuous troll.”
She made a miscalculation on my visa fees, forgetting roughly $30, and couldn’t process my request. My flight was 24 hours away. Her cryptic explanations didn’t satisfy me, and I lost it – a sobbing that ignored the discomfort of the four other people in the room and the signs that forbade erratic or unhelpful behavior. I can’t help it; sometimes I just bust.
Once again, the High Commissioner came out to silence my hysterics and try to assure me that coming first thing tomorrow with more money would possibly get me results. James, my new friend and chauffeur, let me vent my troubles and offered advice while he drove me back to the hostel. He provided grandfather-like sympathy and even took additional money off the already agreed upon, reasonable taxi fare. He agreed to take me in the morning for the last attempt before I had to launch into Plan B, a complete change in flight plan to Nepal.
That last night, I reflected in a crowded bar:
“I’ve been late before for events, in dangerous places I shouldn’t have been, but I’ve never felt the imminent stress of my physical existence and its acceptance in its space more than I do right now. Today, I broke the emotional seal, observed by many who have never seen a woman cry…”
The morning came. I was equipped with more money and my evacuation plans. Osmosis took my own anticipation to the front seat and transferred the jitters to a hopeful James. He forfeited the profits of the morning to wait for my verdict in the parking lot. Inside, the woman took my money, gave me a receipt, then announced today was not my lucky day. At this point, the two people behind the plastic partition waited and winced for the sobs they knew were surely on their way.
And then a breakthrough. The head honcho asked, “You are from Indiana. Is that near Chicago or Houston?” It was roughly 2 a.m. when he dialed the authorities in the Windy City, leading me to believe he finally flexed his own administrative muscles in order to sidestep the agony of watching me cry one more time. My hand was jotting mid-sentence in my journal when he reemerged from the back with a smile, holding my thick, blue passport. I wrote in big bold letters, immediately:
Seven hours to take-off, and I got clearance. The guard at the gate, by now knowing who I was and the details of my trials, gave me his heartfelt congratulations. James saw my cheerful stride and started the engine, his massive jowls frozen in a smile. I went back to the hostel, announced my success to those who knew of the bureaucratic struggle, and gave out lollipops like it was my victory parade.
I guzzled three beers, threw on my bag, and went to my flight, but not before falling asleep at the airline gate with my bag perched on my feet, sweating out the Mosi lagers that rewarded my exhaustion and my triumph.
Have you ever run into a situation with difficult embassies abroad? Leave us a comment and let’s commiserate together.