Thursday, June 23, 2011

Week two - India

Monday we got up early to catch our flight to the southern part of India and one of the two things I was most looking forward to on this vacation - the house boat cruise down the back waters. At the Bangalore Airport I discovered to my shock and horror that my money belt was missing from my purse. I wasn't worried about the extra $46 in there, but it was where I kept my passport. After dumping everything put of my purse and frantically routing through my luggage, I still couldn't find it. I was still able to board the flight, but I knew I was in a world of new obstacles.

After landing in Cochin and checking into the hotel, Steve jumped on the computer to find out what I needed to do to get a new passport and visa.

Step one. File a police report. Knowing that my afternoon was shot-Steve and his family took the scheduled tour of the harbor and was some ethnic dancing while I got schooled in Indian bureaucracy.

A representative from the tour company accompanied me which proved to be a big help. The police station was out of a bad movie. I didn't see a single computer, the walls were dirty, bugs crawling everywhere and no a/c. Within moments I was drenched in sweat. There was approximately 15 officers in a four room building and it appeared that no real work seemed to ever get done besides sweating and talking. A few carried guns, but with no technology to be seen I can't imagine difficult crimes are ever solved there.

After listening to my guide share what happened to me, they gave me a sheet of paper to write my statement. According to the US Embassy I only needed a statement from the police that I had reported the missing passport. Because I actually lost the passport somewhere else, the police thought I was an idiot when I told them I couldn't find my passport after landing in Cochin. I couldn't tell them I lost it before my arrival, or they would not have helped me.

What I thought was a relatively minor procedure (a police letter), turned into a mini-drama. The police informed me that because I has listed the passport as lost I needed to take out an advertisement in the local newspaper to see if anyone would return it before they would give my any documents.

They also said it would take until the 23rd. Three days I was expected to wait and to make matters worse we were only spending one night in Cochin. I left the office drenched and dejected.

The newspaper office turned out to be almost as depressing. We arrived there by 6 pm and so it wound up costing four times the normal rate to place the ad. My guide thought that if we got it in the paper by the next day he might be to convince the police to give me the report early. The ad cost me approx $80 and we were there about an hour. Their offices had the same worn down feeling as the police station. They did have computers but they were at least 15 years old.

By the time I returned to the hotel that night, empty handed and poorer, I was feeling very low. It was looking like I would have to miss most of the vacation.

During the evening Steve got busy doing research and sending out emails to help solve this problem. A few middle of the night phone calls to the States and we had a plan.

I would return to Delhi on Tuesday with or without a police report and start working on everything up there until I had what I needed to return home. I said goodbye to Steve and headed to the police station with newspaper in hand, hopeful we would get the report.

When I got there they gave me the run around - they couldn't give me a report it was an active investigation. What I really understood was they wanted to cover their butts. My guide explained it was because I was an American and if I'd been Indian it wouldn't have been a big deal. I begged him to explain that I just needed a memo stating I told them I lost it. After an hour of sitting around sweating I got the memo, only my entire name was spelled wrong. After having to correct the memo three times I finally got to leave, however just as the police Inspector informed me that it probably wouldn't do me any good.

On the way to the airport we stopped and got some passport photos and then I caught a flight to get back to Delhi.

In adversity it becomes very easy to see the Lord's hand. Traveling to Delhi five days early I worried about accommodations and money. Stephanie's mom gave me the number to the mission president's wife in New Delhi and she was so sweet and offered to let me stay in her guest room.

When I arrived late that evening in Delhi I was warmly welcomed into their very nice home where I have been living for the past three days.

Wednesday I arrived at the Embassy thirty minutes before my appointment and I was able to get my replacement passport in 2 1/2 hours. They were very nice and I was pleasantly surprised to get it so quickly. While there I met a couple of American women who live in Delhi and they had some great tips for navigating the office where I needed my replacement visa.

My driver had to park more than a kilometer from the embassy so the brief walk had me drenched in sweat. The drive to the Foreign Registration Office was short, but more walking was involved and I looked like a drowned rat by the time I figured out where the correct office was.

I got my number 64 (they were on 34) and patiently waited my turn. After I had been there thirty minutes this older gentleman wanted to speak to me in the hallway. He didn't have anything to say, but since I was standing I decideded to ask the info desk if there was any forms I needed to fill out while I waited.

Much to my surprise he gave me a form and immediately pointed me to a counter. Within twenty minutes I had all my forms filled out, checked, and informed that all I needed to do was return on Thursday.

The rest of that day and Thursday I just relaxed and read. My driver showed up an hour early and so I decided to take a chance and see if I could get the visa early.

I could have laughed aloud when I returned and saw their processing of the visa. My original paperwork appeared as though it has not moved from the day before. All I did was took it back to the original counter, it was stamped, they stamped my passport, and I left. I don't know why they needed to let the paperwork sit for a day, but it certainly feels like the Indian thing to do.

The process of getting all my documents in Delhi has been very easy, which is a huge relief. I now have to wait two more days before Steve and his family fly up to finish this final stage in the vacation.

The Jackson's have been fantastic and it has been a pleasant stay at their house. The instant connection with strangers is easy because of The Church.

Next week I will post the final installment of my trip. Although I missed the house boat and swimming in the Indian Ocean, I will still get to see the Taj Mahal which is the one thing I most wanted to see.

Here is to hoping that I will not have anymore travel roadblocks the rest of the trip.

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