Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Turkey Tale

Finally, it is time to talk about Turkey, the white elephant that has been obnxiously impeding my life without apology for the last two months. Shoes and my circle of close friends, including housemates, are off to Kalkan on Friday - a village in the southern mediterranean region of Turkey, which abounds in picturesque white beaches, azure blue oceans and apparently more restaurants and bottle stores than in the rest of the country put together, just for some icing on that grandeous cake. They will be staying for 10 days in a luxury villa that sleeps 12 people, with a pool right out of a Hilton Hotel catalogue and views that would wind even a born and bred Capetonion (you know how maniacal we are about the beauty of our city).

I will be staying in London, which from my current viewpoint looks boring, ugly, lifeless and about as full of opportunities as a squatter camp. This is my story of how and why this came to be, and how I am appealing to any of you in London and reading this to save me from my three year old self (jealous, petty, raging and on the brink of a violent temper tantrum) with as much distraction as possible over the next 2 weeks.....

Neutrino, who in addition to moonlighting as an aspiring DJ, is also a personal trainer (and he's single ladies, e-mail me for a number) and sometime in the beginning of the year, he signed up a client who just happened to own said luxury villa in Turkey. After some discussion, it emerged that Lady Villa was looking for someone to update her website on which she advertised its alluring qualities. Neutrino happily volunteered himself and OJ for the job, and in exchange, Lady Villa offered them 10 days free stay as remuneration. Needless to say, they leapt at the chance, and promptly invited all of us to come along for the holiday of a lifetime. We were excited, but it was a while to go yet, and Shoes and I had a trip to Amsterdam coming up with Mini-Me and G, so I decided to deal with my passport on return from that visit. I'd been aware that my passport was expiring in September 2007, but had also been told (incorrectly of course) by SA Home Affairs before coming to the UK that once you apply for your new passport, you can't travel on your old one, and you have to wait for your new one to arrive.... hence my decision to wait until I got back from Amsterdam to sort it out. In hindsight, I almost deserve my fate for being imbecile enough to listen to a word from Home Affairs, but you want to at least think that the people who run these things know what they're talking about... anyway.

We got back from Amsterdam and in early February I started getting my papers together to go and apply for my new passport. It was 4 months til we planned to leave for Turkey. I had to wait for my dad to send my ID book up from CT, but I wasn't worried.....by this stage I had uncovered the eishness of the HA guy, and knew I was able to travel on my old passport while my new one was being processed. I planned to apply for my new passport and still travel to Turkey on my old one, and then by the time I came back from Turkey, my new passport would have arrived and I could use it for any further travel in the summer of 2007. I knew from my previous travels in Europe that Schengen countries require you to have a minimum of 3 months validity left on your passport from the date you enter their borders. First major mistake: we all thought Turkey was part of the EU. It first came to light sometime in February while I was waiting for my ID that Turkey was in fact only in talks to join the EU, and currently had its own set of immigration rules. An alarm went off somewhere deep inside my head at this point, but still, I was not panicking - I had no reason to think Turkey would be different to Schengen countries, right? The first time I felt a real sinking sensation that all may not be well was the day Eyes revealed his discovery: according to info online, Turkey requires all visitors to have a minimum of 6 months left on the passports when arriving in the country. At first I thought he must be mistaken... in my head it didn't add up that this might prevent me from going. So I did the research myself, and confirmed what he had seen - you have to have 6 months. On the day that we entered, I would have 4 months and 25 days. While all my radars were flashing red and blue warning lights and my stomach was for the first time tightening with dread, I still didn't believe at this point that it was all over for me. No matter, I thought, I will just make sure I get my new passport in time. So off I went to the SA Embassy to pick up my fingerprint form, and I chanced a word with the helpdesk guy, just so I could confirm my plans. He informed me, rather coldly I thought (or maybe it was the cold sweat that broke out at his words) that new SA passports take 3 - 4 months from the date of application to arrive back in the UK, and I first had to make an appointment by phone to get that application handed in. With a rising sense of panic, I asked him if temporary passports were quicker. He informed me that the British government was no longer allowing South African citizens to travel on temporary passports unless they were dual SA/UK citizens, as fraud and corruption in our country's Home Affairs office made these documents worthless and, more often than not, falsified. He let me know in no uncertain terms that my only chance was to get my new passport before I left for Turkey. I asked if there was any way this would happen, and he looked at me like I'm just asked him to lick my feet.

So I embarked on a week-long frantic attempt to find a way over, under, around or through the obstacle set so obstinately before me. In the beginning, I really thought I would do it. I phoned the Turkish embassy, I phoned the South African embassy, I googled fast tracking passport applications, I harrassed people about temporary passports and travel documents and I got my parents to try and apply for my passport from CT to make it happen quicker (no dice - it has to be done in person). The only thing I didn't do was go to the Turkish Embassy and get down on my knees and beg, and then only because I know from previous experience, you are only allowed into an embassy with a letter of appointment, which I didn't have as I of course had not applied for my visa. When I phoned the SA Embassy that week to make an appointment to apply for a new passport and got the earliest available date of 3rd April, I knew the game was up. There was no way, even with a miracle, that I would get my passport inside of a month.... even if God had wanted to help me, I doubt even He could have found his way through the nuclear wasteland that is Home Affairs. Being African, I knew that a well placed bribe would have got me sorted out one time, but I didn't know who to bribe, and felt that asking my parents to fly up to Pretoria to find an acceptably corrupt official was perhaps crossing the line a little bit.

So I had to come to terms with my fate. Signed, sealed, delivered - take that, you third world country citizen, ye of worthless passport and corrupt government officials. And after some infrequent moments of murderous rage (mental image of boyfriend and housemates relaxing on a beach while I struggle through the crowds in a tube) and devastating misery (being away from boyfriend for 10 days - the longest we will have been apart in 7 years, AND missing his birthday), I came to terms with it, and it faded into the background of daily life.

Up until 2 weeks ago, when the white elephant raised its trunk to taunt me again - this time in the form of Eyes and Scarves and their last minute master plan. They decided I should accompany them to their visa appointment and have a chat with (read shamelessly beguile) the officials there about granting me a visa. I almost feel for it - after all, what could it hurt? The worst they could do was say no, which was nothing new. But at the last minute, I pulled out, and I have good reason. Even if I had managed to coerce one of these nice Turkish men to give me a visa by way of dimples and cleavage (not a very real prospect in the first place, as jobs are most probably on the line for international immigration law breaking), I would then be walking across a border into a foreign country, incorrect travel documents in hand, and have to charm the airport officials (only the most sullen and uncompassionate human beings in the world) into letting me through. When they turned me away, as would inevitably happen, I would have wasted £50 on a visa and £250 on a plane ticket, and have to suffer the humiliation and utter despair at watching my friends walking through for 10 days of sand and sun while I was deported back to dreary England, probably never to return (they are pretty anti second chances in Europe).

So, I am staying; they are going, and I am alternately resigned to my fate one minute, and horribly, speechlessly miserable the next. I will save the rest of this paragraph for when they're actually gone though, as although I am going to try and get through this as a person I like and respect, I'm sure there will be moments I will be anything but; and there's no better way to let off steam like that than on a blog - it certainly must be a relief to my friends that they won't then have to hear me go on about it for 10 days. After all, when you get tired of reading a blog, you can just close the web page.......

Have to add a post script here though: Shoes wanted to stay. He was all set to stay, and didn't for one second contemplate going without me - but I persuaded him to go, and oddly enough, I really meant it - not in that way where women go: no, it's fine, you can go, but their tone of voice suggests mass murder if you do. It's an amazing opportunity, I've seen more of the world than he has (10 countries to his 2) and I would have wanted him to do the same for me. Yeah, when I call in that favour, it's gonna be the size of King Kong!


phillygirl said...

Shame hon, I'm sorry to hear your woeful story of silly passport requirements! I will be thinking of you ... and you can think of me wiling away my days in the equally un-beachy environment of Jhb ;) You'll survive and appreciate the next trip even more!

Cara said...

baby girl, I'm sorry to hear it, but I think it was great that you convinced your man to go... you know we here for ya! And stoopid home affairs!