07 April 2007

Brain Masala and Elevate

I did manage to get to India, but Tuesday was a little stressful. First it turned out that what the Ministry of the Interior had given me as an exit visa, was not in fact the right document. So I couldn't go through customs. This time I held my ground. The customs guys wouldn't budge, so I pulled some wasta with a friend who's an advisor to Karzai. Soon the airport director was in on this and they finally agreed to hold my ticket and boarding pass while I dashed back to the Interior Ministry for my exit visa (turns out, the visa are issued in the passport directorate across from the ministry compound proper). I just barely managed it. We (me and the airport cabby) had to get exact change, and then passport photos, and finally head back to the airport. Luckily the flight was delayed and I ended up being the first person on the plane. The airport officially were stunned that I had pulled it off. Ironically at the passport directorate, just as the man was about to give me the visa, he said 'you shoulda come in here a few days ago, we would've given you a six-month multiple entry visa, which is the point of me going to India in the first place.

But here I am in Delhi, and it's nice and warm, as well as clean, green and fresh. I was dismayed to get off the plane and find that alcohol wasn't being sold for two days due to the municipal elections. Oddly enough, alcohol was also supposed to be forbidden today and yesterday too, because of vote counting and Good Friday, but no one seems to be heeding it now. The first night I contented myself with going to Karim's and getting some nice Shami kabab and karahi. The man who sat down next to me at the table goaded me into trying his brain masala, which was indeed tasty, except for the brain part.

As expected, I have been a lot more efficient here than in Kabul. I generally spend my time circulating between an internet cafe and one of the many coffee shops here. The coffee shops are a bit nicer and cooler than their American counterparts, usually full of businessppl like myself staring at their laptops with the addition of an above-average number of ridiculously hot girls.

In the evenings I've been having fun with some people Saurabh put me in contact. It's kind of like a refined version of my old crew from DC, with people who work in the World Bank, local Think-tanks, and some journalists. Also in the mix is Sanna, from Denmark, whose purpose here is doing research on middle-class drinking habits. Everyone is happy to provide her with material.

Yesterday the Indian end of the crew was too tired, so me and Sanna met up in Defence Colony (where I got some awesome Mangalorean fish fry for dinner!) and decided to go to TC. Now TC (Turquoise Cottage) is a random-looking Irish-style pub near Hauz Khaas Village. We wanted to go separate because Mohit, Kaushik, etc, usually don't like these sorts of places (they're loud and annoying, which I would agree with too, except that I'm curious). It was hilarious, the part played nothing but 'uncle music', some of which is very good like REM and U2, but would never fit into a 'cool setting' that I could imagine. In any case, we met a girl there name Chitra and hung out with her for a while. It turns out her goal for tonight was the same as ours, to go to Elevate in Noida. Elevate is prolly one of the largest and most important clubs in the world, with best and newest in music, so this truly should be an experience. This city is cool, and it's actually making me cool, if such a thing were ever possible!

02 April 2007

The Joys of Visa Renewal

So my visa expired on 19 March. My boss was understandibly discouraged that I had not taken care of it before, however, the time preceding this was so busy at work that I think I would have just been killed had I tried renewing it then. Rather than spend at least $700 to go and stay in Dubai, I undertook to renew it here in Kabul. That didn't fly. Way too much red tape and attention focused on our organisation. My status is legal here and it only takes a few days to get a new visa abroad, so I do now have to go to Delhi (it's cheaper to stay there than Dubai).

My attempt on Sunday at leaving the country failed. Yesterday, all in all, I had a fascinating day and it gives me a little hope for this country. So I went to the airport, and lo and behold they would not let me get out with my expired visa by paying a fine (or a "fine"). Nope, they've clamped down on that, but they don't have expedited procedures, so despite my whining I had to go back to the Foreign Ministry and get an exit visa. They did make my ticket refundable though. I found out today that I do better going to the ministries by myself--when one of my coworkers comes with they seem just like my servant and I like some other ignorant international. When I go myself I get to blab away in Farsi and everyone finds me adorable, plus in Kabul it's next to unheard of for an American to do things unaided. So the foreign ministry sends me to the Interior Ministry, where the deputy minister just gives me my exit visa straight away, there were no fees and he didn't even ask for a bribe (that's where I think the combo of being foreign and Farsi-speaking is especially endearing). I then went down to Indian Airlines for one of my flights--the manager recognised me from the airport and just changed the date, no questions asked. Then I went to Kam Air for my return flight and no problems. I spent 0 cents yesterday getting this straightened out. Then I went back to work and made the best spreadsheet ever!

Delhi will be nice. Relaxation and modern conveniences, plus lots of good food. I'll probably find a nice cafe with wireless and up my productivity. I also miss driving. Maybe I'll rent a car and enjoy not only paved roads but multi-laned freeways.