Friday, December 22, 2017

India: Last-Minute Heartbreak?

There were many barriers to the successful departure on our winter trip to Kerala, a state of India along its southwestern coast, also known as the Malabar Coast. The main barrier involved the procurement of the necessary documents for travel. I will try to relate the mess to you in its complexity, now.

About a week before departing, Angela applied online, without incident, for the e-visa for travel to India. Unfortunately, when she tried to apply for Vito's, she discovered that his passport did not have the necessary validity required. His passport was only valid for two more months, but, to obtain the e-visa, it should have validity for six months. So, having booked and paid for all of our flights and hotels, we were a little panic-stricken that we would not be able to travel! Would we be able to renew his passport in time? We thought that was the only problem.

I immediately contacted the American Embassy in Doha and made an appointment to renew Vito's passport. The representative at the embassy told us that, cross-your-fingers, we would get it back on the 19th of December, the day after Qatar National Day, three days before our departure. We were still worried, but relieved when we received his new passport on the date predicted. We went home and tried to re-apply for the e-visa, but met with another barrier: to complete the online application, we should have applied four days prior to travel. Unfortunately, we were trying only three days before our departure.

So, imagining again that our travel plans would be shattered, I completed the application for both myself and Vito, printed the forms, and took them, in person, to the Indian Embassy on the following morning, December 20th, only hoping that they would be able to accommodate us. We didn't wait long, submitted the necessary documents, and were then assured that we could return in the evening to collect everything. Miraculous! When we received the passports with the visas for India, we felt like we had won the lottery. Everything was coming together. Soon we would be sunbathing on the golden sands of Kerala.

The next morning, Thursday, December 21st, we made plans to have lunch with one of my colleagues. We met and, over a bowl a ramen, discovered to our dismay that we also needed a new Residence Permit (RP) for Vito. The RP shows that we are residents of Qatar and that we can enter and exit accordingly. Vito's RP was rendered invalid upon acquiring a new passport, the number of which was linked to the RP. We hadn't thought to connect the two. Our hearts sank. Would we be able to overcome this new obstacle in time?

We finished our lunch and hurried home to get Vito's passports, both old and new, to take to the Immigration Department to beg for a last-minute new RP for Vito. It looked bleak as it was quite late in the afternoon on Thursday, the end of the work week here. We would not be able to get any help on the following day, Friday—the Islamic holy day in Qatar—a day on which all government offices would be closed. We were supposed to depart in the evening on Friday, as well, so everything needed to happen on Thursday. We went in and the services that we needed were clearly closed for the day. Angela did the talking as women seem to receive greater deference in such situations, and, after denying us multiple times and then speaking with "the commander" in the kind of broken English that passes here, we were told to wait. After about one hour, Vito had received a new RP.

Incidentally, we had been driving a rental car (my Nissan Juke had been destroyed in a car accident in May and I had never replaced it—which is a story for another time—and Angela had been rear-ended about a week before in our second car, a Honda CR-V, so we were making due with a temporary insurance-provided replacement vehicle) and had planned to return it on the way to the airport on Friday evening. However, while we were waiting for Vito's RP, we called the rental company and discovered that they would not be open on Friday and that we had to return it on Thursday. So, after procuring Vito's RP, we returned the car and took Uber back to our apartment. By the time we got back home, it was around 8:30PM. The last minute change in plans had delayed our dinner and our little family Christmas celebration. As we were going to be away from home on Christmas, and as we didn't want to bring gifts with us, we had planned to open the Christmas presents from each other before leaving. So we ate and opened our Christmas gifts. It was quite late when we were finished., but a welcome reward from the trials of the week. We were exhausted, but everything appeared to be in order for our eventual departure on the following evening. Now, we just had to pack!

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