16 March 2007

Visa: It's Everywhere You Want to Be

Welcome back to another episode of "Where's My Visa?"

Previously on WMV, I handed over my entire identity - visa, passport, registration, measurements (ok, not those) - to the office at the University that coordinates international students and faculty. I should note that the gentleman that runs that office - A.M. - has always been very helpful and for that I am very grateful. In any case, in the previous episode I was given the phone number of the office in the University that would actually issue my new visa and told to call in about a week to find out when they would be ready.

I called as instructed, politiely told the person on the other end of the line my name and my purpose in calling.

"I have no idea when your documents will be ready. Come to the office between the 14th and and the 17th and we'll look." The man hung up before I could clarify whether he was referring to the 14th-17th of March, or if he was referring to the hours of the day: 14:00-17:00. You see, Russia runs on 24-hour time, and when a gruff man is dismissively growling at you on the phone it can be hard to tell the difference between the date and the time. At least for me it is. So, I decided to hedge my bets and show up on the 16th of March at 15:00, well within the safety zone for both interpretations.

I found the office, and instead of the gruff man, I spoke with a young lady, giving her my name and what I was there for (finding out when the visa would be ready). She pulled out my registration but not my passport or visa. After searching the office for my passport and not finding it, she simply stated, "we don't have your passport."

My heart fell to the floor and I lost a little more hair on my head, along with at least a couple of months off my life expectancy. My passport was missing.

The next 10 minutes can be summarized as follows:

Them: "We don't have your passport, are you sure it was brought here?"
Me: "Yes, AM brought the whole packet with all my documents."
Them: "Well he didn't bring the passport."
Me: "But my registration was in the passport. You have my registration here. Where's the passport that it came from?"
Them: "I don't know. We don't have your passport. Maybe AM still has it."
Me: "But why would he have it? He brought it here."
Them: "Why would he bring it here? We don't need it for your registration."
Me: "But I don't need a registration, I need a new visa."
Them: "Why do you need a new visa, didn't you just get here?"
Me: "No, they're extending my old visa."
Them: "Well, we don't need your passport for that."
Me: "So why did AM take my passport?"
Them: "I don't know. We don't have it here."

In the meantime I call AM to tell him what's going on. Then he calls the office where I'm standing to ask them where my passport is:

Them, to AM: "We don't have the passport. You didn't give it to us"
I don't know what he said on the other end of the line, but I have a feeling it had something along the lines of, "Yes, I did give it to you."

Another round of searching for the passport.
"We don't have your passport. You should talk to AM and find out where it is."

Normally this wouldn't be so urgent, except for the fact that I have a trip to the U.S. and the U.K. planned for early April and need my documents before I can leave. All of a sudden I saw those plans melting before my eyes...

Fuming, I went to AM's office and found him on the phone again with the office. As I stood there he spent a good 5 minutes explaining everything in great detail to the woman on the other end of the line. I was comforted in knowing that it wasn't just me and my broken Russian that was preventing the ladies in the office from understanding the problem. Even a man fluent in Russian was having a hard time getting the point across.

Finally he hung up the phone and explained what had happened. Apparently the computer had crashed the day my documents were delivered and they sat there for a week without anyone doing anything. The were just rediscovered on Tuesday and were in the process of being processed for further processing. AM assured me that I would have them back in time for my trip.

"Thank God," I told him. "I was worried that they had been lost."

As I left his office, he told me with a slight grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye, "In Russia we don't lose things. We just take a long time looking for them!" Touche, AM!

Of course, this little saying puts the familiar (and tired) question of "who lost Russia?" in a new light: maybe Russia isn't lost after all - maybe we're just still looking for it...


amelia said...

dude, my nerves would be SHOT. i'm gonna rock at field work.

La Russophobe said...

Some people interpret these types of events as indications of Russian incompetence, and they might be. People think that since Russians are known to demonstrate hospitality to visitors, these outrages must be unintentional. But I'm surprised how few people make the connection between Russian xenophobia, the Kremlin's need to preserve its chokehold on the population, and events like this. It seems to me it's just the third side of the triangle of power in Russia, simply a sign that Russians simply don't want outsiders in the country. Say what you like about Russians' willingness to cook a bowl of soup for a foreign guest, if they're prepared to look the other way while their government commits these kinds of outrages (to say nothing of providing funding to terrorist organizations and weapons to rogue states like Venezuela), then how friendly could they actually be? After all, who knows what the Russians say when the foreigner is out of the house.

SovietCity said...

what a nightmare ! Glad they eventually found your passport.

I've sometimes had to hand over my documents in Russia to different organisations, and always been terrified of what would happen if they were lost.

Imagine trying to get a new passport/visa in Russia?