The Russian Dilemma04 Aug 2010, by Uncategorized in
The past two days have been a roller coaster of emotions and contradictory bureaucratic responses from the Russian Consulate in Istanbul.
On Monday, we went down to the Consulate, even though we were still waiting for Kim’s new passport, and explained our situation to them. In my rudimentary Russian, I explained “I am going to Russia, Mongolia, My wife, lost passport and visas, police report”… The diplomat we talked to was sympathetic, made a phone call, and told us “no problem”. Incredulous, we asked if he was sure, and how long did he think it might take. He said “maybe 1 day”… WOW! 1 Day! We started thanking him and he begged off, saying he couldn’t promise anything, but to come back the next day “zaftra” with her new passport. After getting some food and returning to the hotel we had another pleasant surprise, Kim’s passport was already waiting for us. In less than 1 day the US Consulate had prepared her an emergency passport and couriered it over to the hotel. We ended Monday on such a high note with everything seeming to go our way.
Tuesday morning, we returned to the Russian Consulate with new passport in hand, copies of the old visa, and invitation letter all ready to go. We had to wait in the line again, with the Turkish tourism mafia guarding the door and seemingly entering freely… somebody was paying off the Russian’s well for such frequent access (there are several tour agencies across the street that specialize in Russian visas)… but the Russian bouncer who works the door, and the rail thin girl who works security behind it both started to recognize us and we were able to work our way to the front of the line (visa issues get worked before more complicated passport issues). We made it inside the air conditioned office to wait some more and eventually got to see another diplomat. The man we talked to on Monday was gone, and the diplomat we talked to on Tuesday looked over our papers, including the police report, and flatly said “is impossible”. I pleaded with him to call as the other diplomat had and make sure, telling him that we’d been told a different story the day before. He left, made a phone call and was gone for about 20 minutes. When he came back he actually came outside his booth into the lobby, and said again “is impossible”. He was a little more sympathetic this time and told us he had talked to the Vice Consul and the problem was we can not replace a visa issued in Seattle here in Istanbul. The only other option would be to apply for a new visa, for which we would need a Turkish residency permit, or we could send her passport back to Seattle to try to get the Seattle Russian Consulate to replace her old visa.
We were getting close to giving up when we received a phone call from a Turkish friend of a friend who apparently knew somebody at the Russian consulate. Here is where it would probably be better if I didn’t go into too much detail, but we were told if The Adventurists would fax a letter confirming Kim was in the rally and had to travel through Russia that we could have the visa replaced here, in as little as two days. We tried not to get our hopes up too much, but I was able to sleuth out a phone number for the hard to reach Adventurists HQ and they kindly sent the fax right away. I also received calls back from the offices of Senator Cantwell and Congressman McDermott, as well as an email from the office of Patty Murray. They all offered to help Kim with her passport, which we fortunately already had, but they sympathetically and diplomatically explained that they couldn’t intervene in the sovereign affairs of a foreign country and that we had to continue to pursue our visa issues without their help. I was more touched than I expected to be contacted by them so quickly even though they were not able to assist us with the Russian visa.
Today, we returned again with our new super secret contact at the consulate in our back pocket. When we got there and mentioned this name, we were actually told we could not speak with this person as they were too high up, and when we got to speak to a diplomat again (a 3rd totally new guy to explain the story to, in my broken Russian) I think he was in disbelief that we actually had any contact with this person. Granted, I haven’t shaven for a week, I have no clean clothes, and I must look a site in this sweltering heat… But we provided some phone numbers, he made some calls, and he even seemed a little nervous when he told us to come back at 2pm when they could confirm with Moscow the details of the rally. We returned at two, “v’dva chsa”, and explained ourselves all over again to a 4th diplomat who seemed to already be familiar with our story. He then explained that yes, Moscow confirmed, and yes they could in fact replace our Seattle-issued visa here in Istanbul… but that it would take no less than 10 business days.
This was the last heart breaking blow. We had prepared to alter our route and take a ferry from Turkey to Russia, traveling 3,000 miles from the Crimea to Siberia and then into Mongolia, if only we could get Kim’s Russian visa, but even that route would require us to catch the ferry next week, not more than 10 business days from now.
With that, we spent all afternoon trying to figure out the least worst option for splitting the team up to complete this journey. I think we all felt ill at some point with most of the options presented… I tried to think of some way Kim & I could stay together sending the rest of the team on to meet us in Mongolia (which does not require a visa for Americans)… but the cars are registered in my name and each border we cross as we get further from Europe the more sketchy we anticipate it being if there is any discrepancy in the paperwork. Sending Kim on alone to Mongolia for a month did not feel like a very team-like thing to do either, but asking any of the other team members to sacrifice the rest of the rally to join her was equally difficult.
We wrestled with every scenario for hours until we were starved for dinner and finally settled on a plan where Amy & Kim will take a breather here in Turkey for a few days while Tom, Jean and I press on along the original route, cutting out some destinations to make up for lost time and get to Mongolia as quickly as possible. Amy will re-join us in Kazakhstan at the same time Yasmin flies in, and Kim will head to Mongolia to scout out UB for us and maybe volunteer with Mercy Corps for a little bit. We’ll all meet up again when we cross into Mongolia and resume the original plan from there. It’s incredibly hard for us to split up after a year and a half of planning this together, but we believe we can complete the journey this way and finish strong together at the end.
This is when somebody says we’ll all look back on this years from now with a good story to tell… right?