Badshahi Mosque at Sunset
I've finally unraveled the red tape! Both of my visas: present-tense Pakistan visa and future-tense Iran visa are now squared away. Whew...
Renewing the Pakistan visa was a real mess. Getting a mere 15-day extension took several consecutive days of visiting various government bureaux. Almost nothing in this country has yet been computerized. Every office I went inside had high stacks of paper lining its walls. On every desk lay some long, bound register book into which each visa applicant's particulars were written out by hand along ruled pages. All the long hours of waiting aside, just stepping into such an inefficient setting felt depressing.
Every morning I'd arrive early at whichever ministry. Every day I was told that there was some small irregular detail that meant I couldn't extend my visa. Various officials at the Passport Office suggested several idiotic alternatives including, "Just continue traveling and depart the country on your expired visa. It might not be a problem," and "How about applying for an 'Exit Permit' which is ordinarily issued to stateless persons with no papers?"
Hookah and Mint Tea
Exactly four weeks after I submitted my application the answer came: "Your approval code has come in. You can come to the embassy to pick up your visa."
Whiling time away in Islamabad (aside from my hours stuck inside government offices) has actually been a lot of fun. Since I've returned to Islamabad I've been spending every day with two other westerners. Like me, Irina has also settled what she'll be doing over the next months: her Pashto language classes at Islamia College in Peshawar are now scheduled and about to start. But as her instruction won't begin until this afternoon she managed to slip back here to Islamabad for a few days of play before the start of her studies.
It's now Monday afternoon; I'm about to return to the Iran embassy. I dropped my passport off this morning. I was surprised when they said that the visa would be ready for pick-up at 3:00 P.M. on this very day. I expected that I'd have to leave my passport at the embassy for several days and return for it.
If my passport actually does have another visa stuck inside it an hour from now then my time in this city will be done. Then, later this evening Emma and I plan to take the Daewoo bus to Peshawar to visit for a few more days.
It feels so good to think that I'm about to actually be traveling again--rather than making motions through visa limboland. From Peshawar I'll head south to Mohenjodaro, west to Quetta, then across the border and into Iran.