Today’s office alternates between the elegant reception at the Afghanistan consultate in Beijing and the white linoleum of a nearby illy cafe.
Despite an early morning flight out of Hongqioa I almost didn’t make the 2 hour window when visa applications can be submitted. You have a fair idea how the the rest of the day’s schedule will work out when, with the passengers already seated for take-off the cabin attendants serve breakfast and appears in no hurry to collect the trays. (The journey back was no better a 3 and a half hour delay from Beijing, a battery dead iPhone – sorry US folks for missing your early morning meeting).
But thanks to a taxi driver whose middle name is now ‘careen‘ we arrive at the consulate gates with minutes to spare, and it only takes a wink to turn the steely stares of the stand-to-attention Chinese guard into something resembling a smile. The only other person in the queue is a 50-something Afghani gent dressed head to toe in a muted heavy woolen suit an act that in this humidty strikes me as a suicide pact with convention. However unlike everyone else I’ve come in contact with today – his features are distinctly sweat free. Given that he’s just lived through a stolen wallet and passport the black, red and green of the afghan flag and the nuances local mannerisms must be a home coming of sorts.
As is the norm for destinations that lie one or two forks from the beaten track the visa application process for Afghanistan is a reassuringly lo-fi affair – the consul greets applicants at the gate and after pleasantries invites us into a reception area of firmly uphostered chairs and sofas. His friendly, efficient manner includes a few probing questions about destination and purpose, but we are treated very much like the paying guests that we are. If the sign pinned to the consulate gates is to be believed the application process takes 4 ~ 7 days, but given that I have a flight back to Shanghai this evening and I need a passport to board the flight I’m hoping to condense the processing times into hours. Yes I will obey the laws of your country. No I will not be a burden to the state if I fall into disrepair. Honest. Guv. Eye-contact, a smile, “Come back at 3”. I stroll out the gates to my temporary, linoleum white office and hunker down for a couple hours of email and caffiene.
400 RMB (46 Euro) buys you a month’s stay in Afghanistan, one less page in the passport and a reminder that even the most bureaucratic processes can have a human face.
The wait for the visa to arrive is as good a time as any to share a little of what is planned in Afghanistan, more of which in the next post.