Monday, 6 December 2010

Visas (no cake)

 My imagination (see below)

I dream visas. When I close my eyes, visa forms and civil servants swirl in front of my eyes, taunting me with literal hoops to jump through.

But success is imminent! I think.

After leaving my passport and savings with the Iranian embassy last Friday, it arrived back home with a 20 day visa in it on Tuesday. My fears of 10 days' processing were never realised. And yet more good fortune: my LOI* code for Uzbekistan arrived by email! So it was off to London again last night, beginning well with a broken down bus, a violently angry mother attacking the driver and an inappropriately preachy lady apparently trying to solve both problems simultaneously by waving her bible around.

My attempt at getting to the Uzbek embassy by 8am was thwarted by the world's biggest (but warmingly, politest) queue for the bus; it mattered not: this embassy does not let anyone in until 10am, unlike the Iranian consulate. I was alone and cold but first in line. At 10.50 (after a quick jog to a nearby bank to pay the fees) I came away with a brand new Uzbek visa.

Encouraged, I dashed off for the Turkmen embassy, armed with no forms. The very kind lady at the desk printed off one for me and explained that I also had to write a letter explaining why I wanted to go. I'd naively thought that this was going to be simple, since for a five day transit visa one does not need an LOI, but I hadn't counted on my making a grave mistake. I stated in my letter that I was going for 'touristic purposes.'

'But why then do you apply for a transit visa?' she enquired. 'Because I'll need an LOI for a tourist visa,' I explained. 'But if you are going to be a tourist you must have a tourist visa!'

We spent some time arguing about this, with me backtracking and saying I wasn't actually going to be a tourist after all. Fortunately she was inclined to help me and told me to rewrite the letter omitting any references to tourism, and to leave my forms (without my passport or a fee) with them to see what happens. I left, thanking her in pigeon Russian in a vain attempt to smooth things over. It's up to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tashkent now, and according to the lady they may take three weeks and might still say no. In which case I'll try and pick it up en route. I sincerely hope I can because Turkmenistan contains one of the things I really wouldn't like to miss: the crazy burning gas craters. I don't want to give too much away and risk spoiling it for when I (hopefully) see it in the flesh, but the picture above is how I imagine it in my mind tank.

Starting to enjoy causing trouble across central Asia, I decided to go and bother the Kyrgyz embassy, arriving one minute before closing. Why can't they all be this easy? No LOI, just a one page form and a photo, no questions asked. Simples!

And now to enjoy a bit more of London, making sure not to make eye contact with the bible-man outside Oxford Circus. He's been there for as many years as I can remember. He's nothing if not persistent.

*LOI: Letter of Invitation, often just a code emailed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in that country.


  1. Success!

    I was just going to say that I work near Oxford Circus and the Bible man ("Don't be a sinner, be a winner") hasn't been there for yonks, so he was obviously making a special appearance just for you.


  2. Hmmm, he's there every time I'm there, unless it's another of his gang. So he must be waiting for me, or following me around. Perhaps he sees a challenge in me.