Monday, August 17, 2009

The 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th circles of Hell

Below is my promised post about our experience at the FRRO. This is out of chronological order, since we're all now safely back in Denver. Will post some photos of our arrival in Denver and first few days at home in the next day or so.......

August 13, 2009. Mr. Fahrenbach, I'm sorry I don't remember our 9th grade discussions of Dante's Inferno well enough to remember whether hell actually had so many circles.... if it did, it would feel a lot like our 8 hour stay at the FRRO office. As you'll all remember from my last post, the only flights out of the country that I was able to find were from Delhi, not Mumbai. I thought that all of my pain and suffering for this decision would be the hassle of the additional connection. WRONG!

We arrived at the FRRO office at 10 am when it opened, and our agent waited in the first line -- the one where you get a number to see an agent. He got to the front of that line and found out that he needed to make some photocopies before he could get another. There's another line to make photocopies. About 40 minutes had passed by this time; when he got to the front of the first line, the clerk took a look at our airplane reservations and said there was no way they could help us; we'd have to apply for an exit visa in Delhi. We were shocked. Cold sweat, trembling, the whole works. Even if we could have gotten to Delhi earlier in the day, tomorrow is a public holiday so the FRRO office was going to be closed.

We start trying to pull solutions out of our hats. At some point Adam suggested that we show them a copy of our original itinerary, which showed us leaving Mumbai on 28th August. To do this, I left the building with Dilip, our "Your Man In India" concierge, to trot around the neighborhood for a half-hour tour to locate an internet cafe, then an ATM in case lubricating cash was required. All told, we were probably running around the neighborhood for an hour and a half, all the while on the phones with our friend Amit to research other travel options, and other people who were familiar with the FRRO operation. We get back to the FRRO office with this print-out showing our prior ticket, but discovered after another wait that this wasn't going to be helpful -- that the exit visas are port-specific, and getting an exit visa from Mumbai wouldn't help us in Delhi. Over and over, people told us that we'd just need to change our airplane reservations to leave from Mumbai, but in truth that would have required staying through the middle of next week and either buying new tickets at a cost of $2100 or changing our tickets on continental again for a cost of around $2000 plus many additional days of hotel stays and meals.

By this point it is around 12:30, and Adam has another brilliant idea, to contact the American Embassy. We contact the vice consule, Marissa, who has come to know us pretty well over the last few days. She agrees to try to call the "superboss" -- the Deputy Police Commissioner - at the FRRO and see what she can do. We feel pretty good at this point, sure that it is just a matter of time. We tell the clerk at the front that the American Embassy is going to call her boss, and she agrees that we can see him after the call comes. By 1:30 we're still sitting around waiting; the FRRO tells us that the embassy never called. We try calling the embassy staff, but they're now at lunch. By 2 pm, we speak to Marissa again and she tells us she's tried to call, but hasn't the secretary hasn't put through.

At this point, we plead to speak to the Deputy Policy Commisioner even if he doesn't speak to the embassy, and we're ushered into his private waiting room - smaller, with just an overhead fan going and the sound of chickens clucking on the street below. We haven't eaten anything since breakfast, and we're starting to get very drowsy and dizzy. There are 2 other people in line to speak to the DPC; we all sit there unmoving for over an hour. At a few minutes after 3, we're finally invited to speak to the DPC, whose office is chillingly air conditioned. I would have sold him Micah at that point if he let me continue to sit in his office and take a nap. He immediately told us that there's nothing he can do for us, that he's explained this to the embassy already, and that we must change our reservations to leave from Mumbai or get the exit visa in Delhi. Finally he makes a few calls and tells us that if we'd like to put our request in writing, he'd consider sending it to his colleage in Delhi when he gets back from a meeting at 4:30. He alluringly tells us that we're free to leave the building and come back at 4:30. Later, I wonder if this is a trick for him to see whether we're really committed.

So we go back to his waiting room to compose our letter. No one seems quite clear on what we're supposed to do with this letter once we're done; do we wait for the DPC to return, ask his admin to fax it to Delhi, or what. As we wait, Adam and Dilip try to convince me that we should go get lunch and come back, but I refuse to leave, and send them to pick up something for me at McDonalds instead. Keep in mind that all this while, from 10:00 through 4 pm, Micah has been either in his sling, or dozing on a couch, fussing a bit because his diaper wasn't getting changed frequently enough, but otherwise fairly peaceful. He really needed to be fed before we saw the DPC, but I suggested that the DPC would be more eager to help us out if our baby was a little unhappy.

Finally, at 4:30, as we were wondering whether the DPC was really going to come back from his meeting, or whether his counterpart in Delhi would be there on the eve of a 3-day weekend, one of the interview clerks called us into his cube. Jon of Bonjour Parenthood, you'll love this: It was Mr. Ireni. Anyway, basically he said "I've seen you sitting here all day with an infant, I'm going to help you. This is something we never, never do in any situation, to issue an exit visa from Delhi. Go fill out the application; the servers will be turned off at 5 pm." So with trembling fingers I filled out the application, then came back and gave a different clerk all of my documents, one by one, which she shuffled, stapled, and then sent me back to the waiting room to pay for the visa ($80 US, in Rupees), then back to her office to give her the receipt showing that I paid, then back to the waiting room for another half hour while they put a stamp in Micah's passport and filled out an elaborate form giving us permission to leave via Delhi -- sort of a fancy "hall pass" complete with Micah's photo, an embossed stamp, and someone official's signature. (Later, at the airport, two different people examine this note, reading every word of it. The immigration official kept the form, and we tried to explain that we wanted it as a souvenier, but he kept insisting that it was only good for one day and therefore we couldn't have it back. I wish I'd taken a photo of it before we had to surrender it!)

Outside, as we waited for our cab, we were absolutely wrung out and surprised. We did not think we'd be successful. Why did someone finally take pity on us when all day we were told that nothing can be done? We don't know. Was it our tenacious stupidity in staying there all day? Was it the calls that were made on our behalf by our embassy, or the hotel's security officer? We actually think the latter may have done the trick. Aparently when a foreigner checks into a hotel in India, each day that you stay there, the hotel's security officer has to send a copy of your passport to the FRRO, so they know that office very well.

After that, all it took was a 2 hour cab ride to our hotel to finish up the day. We made good use of the hotel's dinner buffet, since we barely ate between 7:30 am and 7:30 pm. If you know Adam, that, as much as anything, will tell you what a stressful day it was.

Dear reader, if you are in the midst of pursuing surrogacy in India, do NOT attempt this trick. Plan to leave India from the same city where your exit visa will be issued.

So, as we hopefully wind down our trip, we have to say that parenting isn't very hard yet, but we are exhausted, spent, wrung out, mystified by India, and very very much looking forward to getting home. However, this adventure could continue: It wasn't until we were in the cab that I read the visa Micah received more carefully and saw that he only has until the end of the day on the 14th to leave the country. In other words, if our 10:50 pm flight is delayed at all, we could run into trouble (Jon, why didn't I read your comments earlier????) Let's assume that, since everything is going wrong for us, that this will go wrong too, and that my next post will cover our adventures with the FRRO office in Delhi.....

1 comment:

  1. Great Post.....

    I found your site on stumbleupon and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. I just added your RSS feed to my Google News Reader. Looking forward to reading more from you down the road!

    Thanks for sharing....