…things were moving on…very slowly. I knew the routine by now, and even a few of the faces, this being my third visit. My first was to ensure I was fully aware of all the required paperwork necessary to submit my visa application, which was closely followed by the second, when I was told I did not in fact have all the required paperwork to submit my visa application, dispite being informed some 24 hours previously what was necessary. So, third time lucky.
It sounded as if I might need some luck as I sat listening to the raised voices of the Indian consular staff in the adjoining room, processing foreign visa applications. Overall the whole experience felt pretty surreal, the passionate shouting, the bright blue plastic chairs, the lime green walls, and in amongst it the most beautifully carved wooden door I had set eyes on for ages. Somehow it began to resemble pupils waiting to be called into the Head Master’s study for some minor playground misdemeanor. Tension was tangible on the faces of those waiting, eyes widening as voices raised another decibel or two.
Personally I couldn’t help but find it amusing. Not that this was going to help me in any way when my number was called. Thirteen? Yes, that unfortunately was me. I couldn’t believe it when, as required, I had scribbled my name and passport number on the security guard’s list on arrival. In I ventured, the smile almost wiped off my lips, but perhaps lingering slightly as I witnessed the fraught but comical interrogation of a poor man attempting to travel to Madras for medical purposes. They were having none of it. He was sent packing to produce yet another letter he knew nothing about from his surgeon, before they would even consider looking at his application papers.
They went easy on me. I had, after all produced everything previously demanded. My passport and three thousand taka, the equivalent of approximately thirty pounds, were handed over, and I am destined to return in four days time to collect the permission required to fly to Calcutta.
Myself and three of my colleagues are traveling there on an exposure visit. Our HIV Helpline has been in operation for a year now and we have arranged to meet with a number of similar Indian NGOs, to learn how we can better integrate this service and further develop its capacity, cranking up our efficiency to our end user, as well as improving donor value for money. With such an eclectic mix of cooperating organisations, I believe I’ll also appreciate much more about the lives and challenges of those people living with, and at high risk from HIV/AIDS in the Indian sub-continent today.
FOUR DAYS LATER:- Yippee…have my visa in my hand, in and out this time in under 20 minutes! Calcutta here I come…watch this space!