Wednesday, July 05, 2006


You know those illegal immigrants, and how they're the problem with everything? Living places without permission, leeches on society, don't speak the language, something something about health care and education? Funny thing about that. As of midnight last night, I suppose I'm one of them.

God, if it's not one thing, it's another.

It's not strictly customary to celebrate Independence Day with near-deportation, but sometimes, see, you just get something set in your head. Maybe it's your mother's birthday, maybe it's the time of your flight to Pittsburgh, but you're so very sure about it that you don't even think to check the calendar or the e-ticket, or what-have-you.

So it was for me and my visa to stay in the Republic of Georgia. I knew it was wrapping up at some point, I just didn't know that that point was yesterday. The 4th of July.

Luckily, I caught wind of this yesterday morning, and in the 45 minutes of spare time I had, I hustled down to the consulate division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get my one-month extension. Done it before, it's no real hassle if you don't mind throwing the odd elbow at pushy pensioners now and again.

But it's never really so easy as all that, and I couldn't even summon the requisite outrage when I faced down the consular officer and he intoned the dread words that have spelt defeat and doom for Soviet citizens and their descendants for generations: "I'm sorry. There's been a new law."

Three days ago, they passed it, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs no longer issues visas. At first I laughed brightly and proffered my passport a second time. "Very funny!" I chirped, suspecting the old dog was just flirting. "Anyway, one month please."

"Do you think I'm lying to you? We don't issue visas. I can't do anything for you."

"You're the consulate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and you don't issue visas," I barked. "So what do you do?"

Well, young lady, that line of questioning gets you briskly sent out of the consulate of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and on your way to the Ministry of Justice, with 15 minutes until you must be elsewhere, and no idea what department you need.

So what you do is, fling wide the doors of Justice, walk entirely at random into a room, and with rising agitation, start waving your US Passport about and asking "Visa? Visa?" until someone ushers you into the appropriate line, behind an antediluvian old codger who seems perfectly willing to while away his final hours on this good earth jawing about the ages of his grandchildren to the desk clerk while you fume ostentatiously over his frail shoulder.

When I finally earn the attention of the desk clerk and explain my needs, she sweetly responds, "There's been a new law." They no longer do one-month extensions. One must instead present themselves with notarized translations of invitation letters, diplomatic documents, receipts from any educational stipends received, hospital certifications showing that the bearer is HIV and Hep C negative, and a whole lot of USD.

"This visa expires today," I impress upon her, stupid stupid tears starting in the corners of my eyes.

"You have a ten-day period to gather these materials. Thank you!"

Oh New Georgia with your new laws and your aspirations of anti-corruption. Back in the day, they say, it would just be a crisp bill across the table and I'd have whatever stamps I needed. And a few have whispered to me that they have a brother, or a cousin, well-connected you see, who can do this no problem. But it's just not the way, these days, so I'm opting for the less bureaucratic alternative: this ten-day window, so they say, will also allow me to cross an international border and return with a new Georgian stamp and a new 90-day visa. So this weekend I'm making a run for the border, Underground Railroad-ing it probably to Armenia, where I'll walk across, then U-turn back to Georgia, hoping the whole way that the border guys know about this ten-day rule and that nothing goes wrong in the gray space between nations where there are no laws, new or old.


Post a Comment

<< Home