Post by contributor Lindsay Clark of Nomadderwhere.
Near the middle of my travel notebook are three pages labeled “Problems,” which outline the state I was in in Lusaka, Zambia on my last week in Africa. They were evacuation plans from my very vulnerable state and from the continent.
The first worrisome truth: my ATM card wouldn’t work in the country, a country more expensive than my home. Without cash, I couldn’t pay for the hostel accommodations, taxis around the sprawling and scalding city, or the ever-climbing price of my Indian visa “possibility.”
Able to afford one night at Chachacha Backpackers, I squeezed dry the resources at my disposal: boiled water in the kitchen for hydration, washed clothes in the outdoor basins, tapped the hostel staff for detailed instructions to internet and grocery locations to avoid taxis. Luckily, my MasterCard was accepted for the internet time I used to contact local friends that could help me. ShopRite also let me swipe for a week’s food ration: 6 eggs and few cups of rice.
The second worrisome truth: the visa to India was virtually guaranteed to take longer than my coming flights would allow. The wise advise obtaining visas before that first wondrous jet out of your home land. Penny-pincher that I aim to be, I refused to get an Indian visa at home because it would have meant purchasing one year, instead of the minimum six months, to keep my travel dates valid on such a visa. And so I tried across the globe to wrangle this coveted visa as a nomadic, budget-minded foreigner, but never was I in the right place for long enough. With a week between trucking Africa and my flight to Delhi, Lusaka was the only option at the end of this dusty road.
It’s safe to say, at this point, I had done my research on Indian visas, and Lusaka’s High Commission knew I was on my way, or so one would believe. Any other establishment would have seen my preparation and advance notice as thorough and helpful, except maybe the BMV. So, one can imagine my stupefied state when the indifferent receptionist reported the duration of the process to last up to three weeks – the same woman that told me three days over the phone. When the High Commissioner addressed me personally, albeit in a robotic tone, that I was “up poop creek,” I made my first frantic reach for the mother land in five months. I ran blurry-eyed to the US Embassy.
There are few things more annoying than a company, operation, establishment, branch, etc. whose employees abandon their human instinct to help others and refuse to do or say anything that isn’t in their well-articulated job description. These are the same people who expect everyone to know the details of their operations, while also making sure to inform you of the painfully obvious truths they assume you’ve forgotten or aren’t smart enough to know prior. Once again, I’m talking about immigration (and the BMV). The American Embassy wasn’t all that concerned with me.
I’ve never had a true need for the Embassies abroad, and I assumed this fragile situation of one expiring visa, another visa’s complications, and the always entertaining money troubles would merit a sympathetic, “Get-r-Dun” attitude.
Though my tears and hyperventilation were real, I allowed them to get a bit pathetic and theatrical in order to get me the thing I needed: the backing of the American government. As Frida Kahlo once said, “Never trust a limping dog or the tears of a woman.” I got help. But it cost me. Fees out the wazoo to India. And I found myself leaving the Indian High Commission with the equivalent of about $80 less than what I needed to survive at the bare minimum for the next five days.
Was this the end of my visa troubles. Not at all.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of Lindsay’s “Why I Hate the Indian Bureaucracy” tomorrow.
Have you ever run into a situation with difficult embassies abroad? Leave us a comment and let’s commiserate together.