I am having to re-visit a nightmare…and I am not particularly happy about it. However, as its work I feel I have to go and brace myself. Its quite a beautiful place and very interesting but the last time I was there, I was arrested. Now before anyone gets too excited it wasn’t, on this occasion, my fault.
I had been invited to visit the current Squeeze du Jour’s place as he had just got a job flying for a Kazakhstan Prince or the equivalent thereof. As it had a rather mystical and certainly mysterious feel about it, I jumped at the chance for a week in Almaty.
Sadly, Almaty didn’t immediately jump at the chance of having me stay there!
Now when I checked on the website it wasn’t immediately clear but the Squeeze du Jour said it was fine to ” throw 50 bucks” (his words )at the Bloke in a funny hat at the Visa Counter and Lo and Behold I would have arrived! Or that was how it was supposed to be……
Now I was also visiting because at that time Almaty and its country was the subject of quite a famous, but not particularly good film, called BORAT. Some of you may remember it. Not so memorable but ok on a Friday night after 3 pints and a curry! So out of interest and because I really did want to see the Ascension Cathedral there built without a single nail and all in wood, ( Yes I am quite a history buff as well) I thought I would go. So we open the doors. Okay, the Hosties do but I am there at the front and off we go.
Its quite an interesting airport and the luggage soon came off. In fact by the time we had reached the building you could see it going round and round on the only carousel there. On the way over, I had made friends with a fellow traveller who was going to meet his daughter. ( Now pay good attention to this character because he becomes a vital part of my escape plan.) Anyway luggage comes bounding off the carousel and you can see its within reach and so I line up for one of those ” welcome to Khakhstan” stamps on my passport and off I think I will jolly well go-go.
Others in front of me had a nod ( no smile, well it is still part of Mother Russia) a flick of the wrist for the entry visa and off they go. How hard can that be? When its my turn I hand my passport over to a very very terse looking lady the wrong side of seventy. Okay I have exaggerated but I can tell you she is a trifle older than the regulated age to still be in charge of a rifle. ( this was a picture of her in her youth so you can see how old she is!)
” No entry for you. Go back on plane” and she snaps the passport shut and sticks it in a drawer
A moment of silence. From me.. which is pretty unusual. My head was swimming and I didn’t understand. As many thoughts go through my head ( most of them containing a shot gun and my fella!) the only thing I can reply is ” but there isn’t a direct plane back to England until Tuesday” … it was only Saturday at this time and I didn’t know where I was going to spend those few days ” I was told I could buy a Visa at the Border” I stammered. “Niet. Buy Visa in London. Not Almaty. You go home”
I had lost sight of my passport which was very daunting and by now everyone had gone through and was collecting their luggage. There was a glass screen between me and my Fella and he was talking, rather animatedly and in good spirts to my fellow traveller and his family. In fact I will go further and say they were all sitting at a table having a few G & T’s without care or thought as to where I was!
I called him ” I cant get in. They wont let me and they are sending me home” I started to cry
I could see he was bemused ( but it could have also been amused for all of the interest he was showing). “I told you I needed to get a visa in London” I blubbed.
“Well if that was the case, they shouldn’t have let you on the bloody plane in London without a valid visa” and I cried even harder. All the time under the stern glaze of the Baboushka who probably thought ” soft western woman. Have a winter here with us digging up frozen potatoes and that will give you something to cry about”
“Well give her a hundred bucks and see if that changes her mind”
Isnt that bribery?” I ventured?
” Don’t worry they do it all the time here. Have you got a hundred bucks in your purse?”
And with that I cried even harder.
I could hear him purse his lips. The response wasn’t exactly what I had hoped for. ” Don’t cry darling. Be British. Stiff upper lip and all that. Now go and flash a hundred bucks under her nose and see what she does” and the bastard put the phone down and went back to his conversation with my said fellow traveller and family.
The Baboushka came out from her office and took my arm. I thought it was an act of kindness but she merely led me to a wooden bench and left me there. She had my passport but not my phone so I didn’t feel completely helpless. I could hear voices in the background. One of them was my Fella’s voice booming out ( soon to be ex fella if he didn’t get this debacle sorted) Baboushka voice reading him the riot act and then another voice. An unknown one but a British voice, calm and gentle. Hope returned to my heart as I heard him say…” You know who I am. I will vouch for her. Let her in”. The voice of calm and reason.
There followed silence. A sort of stalemate. I held my breath, scared to miss another moment of this conversation ” Please issue her visa and return her passport to her” he spoke again. Footsteps heard. More silence. A door opens. I didn’t have a lot of hope left in me. A nine hour night flight and then this.
” Hello. ” The man with the very British voice said” ” I am the Consul here. Come on, lets get out of here before they change their minds” and he took me arm and lead me out to the carousel where it was only my sad suitcase still going around and around until it must have been so dizy. He picked it up and walked me through
” My passport” I mustered in between breathy sobs
“It will be out in a minute when your visa has been added” and he winked conspiratorially. Oh do you know how much I could have kissed that man? How much I would have worshipped him and kissed his very nice expensive leather
“You are lucky. We were waiting with your bloke when my father came though and told me of the story of the visa. He sat next to you on the plane and said you seemed pretty trusty worthy. I wouldn’t necessarily get involved otherwise. That and the fact that my wife was rather taken with the romantic idea of rescuing Brits abroad. She told me to go and get involved..otherwise you would have been on that plane home on Tuesday and believe me, spending a few days under lock and key would not have been nice, even if it was only a minor mis demenor”
“Thank you. I am very very grateful”
“Ha ha My pleasure. What’s wrong with power if you cant abuse it? Believe it or not, its my job and what you pay your taxes for. Just lucky I was here which saved a lot of time. ”
We walked out and my fella sauntered over to greet me , finally.
” Hello sweetie… Good trip” and he laughed and bent down to kiss me…..
” Oh fuck off ” I said and left my suitcase for him to carry!
There will be more on this episode later because, as they say in the movies, it will run and run!
And Boy, how it did!!!!