The joy of obtaining visas

I got a 30-day visa on arrival at Dhaka International Airport, paid my US$75, got the usual questions and stamps of approval, and was on my way within 10 mins.  You can only get a 30-day visa at the airport so I knew I would have to apply for an extension as soon as I got settled in. What did we do without the internet?

I found out where I had to go to get my visa extended and after much negotiation with the driver, I got a CNG to the Passport & Visa office about an hour away. As we neared, I saw a long long long line of people and groaned, guessing it was the building I was going to. After a little bit of investigating (everything is in Bangla) I realize the Visa Office is a block down and thankfully there was no line up.  I eventually found the office I needed on the 3rd floor.  The line up was not too bad, maybe 30 people, so I was off to a good start.  And the staff spoke English!

I got the form I needed to fill , completed it in a jiffy, back up to Window #1  for a guy to review it, stamp it, initial it.  Then tell me I needed to get a photocopy of the form plus my initial visa plus the first two pages of my passport.  And a recent colour photo which I had anticipated needing.  So out I go onto the street, hoping against hope there would be some young enterprising guy with a photocopier. Sure enough, literally at the side of the road with traffic mere inches away, there was a guy with a small Canon photocopier I suspect illegally hooked up to an electricity wire overhead.  A tarp kept the sun from beating down on this photocopier.  I did not even have to tell him what I needed, he just took the paperwork, asked me for my passport and copied everything for me for the outrageous price of 20 BDT which works out to be about 3 cents Canadian.  I was such a happy camper as I really thought I would have to head back to the apt to get all this together.  The entrepreneur is alive and kicking in Dhaka.

I return to the office and get back in line for Window #1.  The guy looks at the photocopies, signs them and stamps them again, and refers me to Window #2 ….. which you would think would be the next window, but that would be too easy. It’s the fourth one down.  I line up there, pay my fee, get my receipt and then am told to go to Window #3, which is actually next to Window #1.   A guy takes all the paperwork I have and I am told to sit down and wait. The fan overhead the seat I find is broken, it’s sweltering.  Even the locals are perspiring and fanning themselves so I do not feel too bad.  I sit and dream of cool water, swimming in the ocean around Bowen, which as many of you know I’ll no more swim in the Pacific Ocean than the man in the moon.  But I was desperate, feeling very hot and in need of cooling.  Mind over matter and all that.

I thought I would be waiting forever, but within 10 mins I am called to the window and given a confirmation slip and told to come back on June 22nd to collect my visa extension.  Woohoo!  All in, I am in the office for a total of 1 hour – pretty impressive to my mind.  I skip out the building, flag down a CNG and am home again within an hour.  Easy Peasy.

On Sunday at about 5pm, my mobile rang – which is odd in itself as I do not know many people here.  It’s an Inspector from the Special Branch of the Bangladeshi Police and he needs to “urgently meet me regarding my visa application”.  My heart is in my mouth.  I have nothing to hide but of course I immediately second guess myself and wonder what I have done wrong.   He gives me the address of his office and we arrange to meet Monday morning.

I can’t find this address on Goog-lie Maps (remember it’s failed me numerous times in the past) so I can’t get an idea of where it is or the directions. Next morning, I hail a CNG, show the driver the address.  He has no clue where it is.  I show it to the helpful building security guard and he has no clue either.  Nothing for it but to call the Inspector, grumpy and all as he was the previous day.  He was nice as pie on the phone!  Much less gruff than the previous evening …. but I suppose if I was working late on a Sunday evening, I would be grumpy too.  He gives directions to the CNG driver and off we go.

It takes two hours to reach the office! The traffic was awful.  Just awful.  At one point we were at a complete standstill for 25 mins.  The only interesting part was when we were at the complete standstill, a few local women spotted me.  Neither of us had each other’s language but it is amazing how you can communicate without words.  Of course I did not bring my camera which was such a shame.  One of the women went off to get a little girl who had some English, so the poor little thing (maybe aged 7 or 8) had to interpret between the women and me.  They asked where we were off to and when the driver told them, they handed both him and me a deep-fried samosa-like little snack each. That should have told me we were still a long way away.  What a great encounter!  I was nearly sorry the traffic moved!

We finally arrived at the Special Branch office, which is located right next to Criminal Investigations Department – CID, both behind a large gate with airport-like security.  My name was on the list so I got in.  I finally found Room 301.  It was no bigger than the office I had at PHNIC in Vancouver, and I counted 7 people working out of the office with 4 computers, a printer and filing cabinets.  I will never complain about my work area again!

I didn’t have to announce who I was surprisingly.  They were expecting me so we got stuck in right away. I needn’t have worried, they were more interested in the fact that I moved from Ireland to Canada, and wait for it …. that I was not married.  They even got out an atlas for me to show them where Cork and Bowen Island were located. There was more form filling, more signing and stamping, more photocopying (but this time they did it) and at the end of an hour, they told me they would recommend me for my visa extension for the next 30 days.  Yay! Kind of.  Because of course I would have to repeat all of this in a month’s time.  At least I know what to expect now.

I head out, flag a CNG and am home in Gulshan within two hours.  So all in, a 5 hour adventure to extend my visa by another 30 days.  And the great part is knowing I will have to do it all over again next month.  Sigh.

About Kate Coffey

After 30 or so years in the investment management industry, 2013 saw me turn my life up-side-down, making my way first to Nepal, then Bangladesh during that first ‘year away’. The year took me on a journey I did not expect, had me fall in love with Nepal and its people, and become inspired at the work of Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre (SIRC) located in Bhainsepati - 2 hours east of Kathmandu in the Saanga foothills. Since 2014, I have returned to SIRC numerous times, working closely with the folks there in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes. In Bangladesh I marvelled at the strength and resilience of marginalized women who have the courage and audacity to break the rules and make a better life for themselves and their children through microfinance programs with BRAC. 2016-2017 saw me embark on a totally new experience in Sri Lanka, a place I never would have chosen to end up in. It’s the 40C+ heat, big humidity and tropical snakes & animals that scared me! But I ended up love love loving! my time there, working with predominantly Tamil small business owners in remote villages in north and east of the country, trying their best to recover their businesses and the lives of their employees, after decades of a civil war. My time in Sri Lanka made me realize my hard-earned business skills and experience can really be put to good use! The work the BIZ+ team and I did there ended up earning me International Volunteer of the Year Award in December 2017, presented on Capitol Hill, Washington DC no less. I am currently home on Bowen Island, in the west coast of Canada, shoring up my finances before I head off to who knows where, for my next expert volunteer assignment. This blog initially started out as a travelogue of sorts to keep friends and family worldwide updated while I was off on my travels in 2013-2014. Since then it has morphed into a life story of the many places I have lived and worked and of the wonderful people I have met along the way. I hope you enjoy.
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2 Responses to The joy of obtaining visas

  1. Katherine says:

    Being an unmarried woman raises red flags and curiosity. One time a group of women in Nepal actually wanted to see what was under my skirt! And they gave me an infant to nurse!
    Maybe someone in the office thought he could marry you off to a spare son.

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