After 16 days, 5 trips to the Canadian consulate, 10 subway tokens and a bill for $71 (plus $6 for credit card processing), I received my new Canadian passport on Tuesday, October 21. And this morning, October 26, on my third trip in as many days to the Indian embassy in Istanbul, I handed over said passport along with my application for a 90 day tourist visa. Slowly but surely, I’m making progress.
Obtaining a tourist visa for India isn’t as simple as filling out a little form. Besides completing the FIVE-page questionnaire, I had to submit both my new and recently cancelled passports (with Turkish entrance stamp), a photocopy of the first two pages of the new passport, confirmation of paid flights into and out of India, bank statements for several accounts, detailed vaccination records, etc. I stopped short of including a Starbucks gift card — not because I’m beyond offering a bribe but rather I’m afraid it would be wasted on a nation of tea drinkers.
The clerk at the Indian embassy must have spent 10 minutes looking over my paperwork — presumably in search of a way to reject me on the spot — before handing me a receipt stamped with a date and time. “Come back at 5:00 pm on November 2. Don’t be late. We close at 5:00.” And with that I heard the familiar chime that signals a new number being posted on the electronic “take a number” sign.
For the second time in a week I found myself saying, “Nothing can go wrong here.” Did I mention that when forced to pre-book a flight to Delhi, I chose a non-refundable flight on November 5?
It’s a given that any dealings with Indian bureaucracy will be painful, but to be honest, I was expecting things to go a bit smoother at the Canadian consulate. Initially I had trouble finding the place, then when I realized I had an out-dated address and finally made it across town to the correct address it was 4:35 pm and they had just closed for the day. I returned the next day, careful to arrive well before 4:30 only to learn the passport desk closes at noon. It was 12:03.
Round three went a bit better. They didn’t question why a 52-year-old would list his occupation as ‘retired’ (like every other country I’ve dealt with), and they even accepted my admittedly over-exposed and under-sized passport photos.
No need to call or check online. Your new passport will be here on October 20, I was assured.
So on the morning after Canadians booted Stephen Harper from office, I made trip No. 4 to the Canadian consulate in Istanbul. I signed in at the security desk in the main floor lobby and provided the screening agent with two pieces of photo ID (no easy feat when you’re no longer in possession of your passport). After passing through a metal detector and setting off an eardrum piercing alarm (as I am wont to do) I was subjected to a vigorous pat down and my daypack was scanned and thoroughly searched. After all that I got just two words: “Sixteenth floor.” I did as I was told. I walked about 30 feet across the lobby and got in an elevator, in plain sight of a phalanx of armed guards.
I wasn’t previously aware of this but apparently elevator shafts in Turkish office buildings are a prime breeding ground for terrorist insurgents. No sooner had I stepped off the elevator on the 16th floor than I was invited to partake in a second body scan, another waving of the magic wand, and an even more enthusiastic pat down. I didn’t set off any sirens this time but they still wanted to search my daypack. I had nothing to hide — nor a real choice — so I handed it over.
The guard reached into a drawer in his big oak desk and pulled out a fresh pair of latex gloves. This is not good, I remember thinking.
Two full minutes later the brutish Turkish guard was still poking around in the various compartments of my daypack when he fished out something I had forgotten was in there. With a latex clad finger and thumb he held it aloft for all in the room to see. “And what’s this?”
“Ah, that’s an iPad,” I explained. It was all I could do to refrain from saying, “They’ve made about 17 billion of them now. I’m surprised you’ve never seen one.”
I was told in no uncertain terms that ALL electronic devices are strictly prohibited within the consulate. The exchange went something like this: Sluggo: “Did you not read the sign?” Me: “What sign?” Sluggo (pointing emphatically): “THAT sign.” Me: “Oh, the sign in TURKISH? Well, no. I’m very sorry. Won’t happen again.”
Thankfully the heretofore stern guards are only too happy to hold onto laptops, cell phones and especially unlocked iPads while you do your business in the consulate. This particular guard’s final instructions — “No receipt; leave it on” — spawned my original “nothing can go wrong here” comment.
Flash forward 30 minutes and a clerk at the passport desk was explaining that while my passport had arrived from Ottawa, it was somewhere between the mail room and the passport desk and I would have to return the following day. Throwing a hissy fit rarely helps when dealing with soulless government officials so I resigned myself to trip No. 5.
About an hour later I was back at the hostel checking emails when I noticed one from the consulate. My passport had been located about 15 minutes after I left the building. It wasn’t clear if I could still pick it up that day so I fired off an email asking when the polygraph and electroshock operators would be ready for my return.
Much to my surprise, the Canadian Consulate General himself, Murat Oktay, replied within TWO minutes. “You may collect it until 16:00 hrs Mr. Hamilton. We can let the reception in the building know accordingly.”
So for the second time in as many hours I made my way to the consulate and subjected myself to a security screening worthy of Guantanamo. Fortunately the counter staff at the consulate are a little more service oriented than the Turkish guards. The clerk who called my number seemed particularly jolly for someone who spends his working day staring at a large portrait of Stephen Harper, so I nodded toward the portrait and asked, “What are you waiting for?”
His answer cracked me up: “Unfortunately we must wait until the day he meets the Governor General and tenders his resignation.” I was only mildly surprised that he prefaced his comment with “unfortunately.”
For the non Canadians who may be reading this, the ruling Conservative Party of Canada (AKA “The Harper Government”) was handed a crushing defeat about 12 hours earlier. It was basically a repudiation of the Prime Minister’s mean spirited brand of politics. After nine years of Harper and Co., milions of Canadians said they were willing to take a chance on a party led by a photogenic but largely untested young leader promising “real change.”
I’ve heard it said that Canadians are “charmingly naive” by nature. I don’t necessarily believe that, but then I read the inscription printed inside the front cover of my new passport:
“The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada requests, in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely, without delay or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary.”
So there! Hear that Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, you big louts? “Allow the bearer to pass freely, without delay or hindrance…” If only I had this new passport in September when I had to line up for 12 and 18 hours at your borders.
Sunny ways, my friends. Sunny ways.