Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Project Out of India -- Complete!

Written Monday:

Well today was it!  We are done with Project Out of India, having secured Neve's exit visa this morning. Free to leave India, we have booked flights out on Friday.  The plan is to head to Singapore where we will hang out for the weekend with one of Hamish's best friends and his family (they too have a new baby - born on the same day as Neve!).  And then on to Australia on Monday where we plan to stay until roughly May 2.  We have been busily trying to find an apartment in Australia (at the last minute - in case anyone has any suggestions)!

All that is good. I would say great, but I'm feeling much less than great (even less than good) - yuck! So please do not mistake my lack of enthusiasm for jumping through the last bureaucratic hoop here in India as a lack of total excitement to be DONE!  I woke up this morning to nausea and a headache and other bad things and it has not gotten much better over the course of the day.  Looks like my daring foray into salad and fruit was NOT a great idea!  Delhi Baby's Momma has an official case of Delhi Belly!!

Not to linger on the disgusting, let's move on, shall we?!  I'll tell you a bit about how you go about getting a child born in India (but who is not an Indian citizen) out of India.  This might come in handy for you some day, so please feel free to take copious notes.  To review, once your baby has been granted citizenship and a passport, to actually leave India you need the elusive golden ticket -- an exit visa!  The exit visa process requires two trips (morning and afternoon) to two different Indian agencies (reasons unknown) and the patience of Gandhi (plus some extra cash)!

On Friday, we picked up Neve's passport from the very nice orderly Australian consulate and then headed to the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (the MHA - the first agency on the path to an exit visa).  To help with this part of the process we hired an attorney in Delhi.  I have heard of people going it alone and to those crazy cowboys - I take my hat off to your kahunas! I assure you we would still be stuck in one of those buildings waiting for our turn (cause we do actually wait our turn in lines unlike the general population here) without a facilitator!!

We were met in the parking lot of the MHA by our attorney's assistant and he ushered us upstairs to the visa area within a large complex - mostly open air, fans going, babies crying.  This place is exactly what you might think of in your head as a typical bureaucratic agency in India - something right out of a movie.  Seemingly unorganized, tons of people everywhere, lines not being obeyed.  Inside the foreign visa area is a small seating area crowded with humanity (like the gate area in an airport) with little desks shoved into the corners - officials behind them and more humanity crowding in.  This place is like the United Nations!  People of all kinds from all over the world all descending to get visas to stay in India, to get visas to get out of India, to do what?!  I'm not really sure - but it was totally fascinating?!  There are instructions written on the walls (in English) - turns out that each of the desks represents different countries.  So, if you are American you go to desk 3 and if your Australian you go to desk 5, etc.

What become clear once we had a seat was that not many (or any) of our fellow visa seekers were native English speakers-- but ALL of the instructions and ALL of the forms for the visas are in English.  What then became clear very quickly to them is that we did speak and read English.  As our lawyer assistant went around from desk to desk butting in line and moving our case along, we held court in the gate answering questions for our brethren in the waiting seats about how to fill in the forms -- yes, you have to fill out two forms for each person (no copy machine I guess), yes, put your surname in the second spot, etc.  There was a young Russian woman with a chubby baby boy wearing only a diaper tossed over her shoulder.  A gorgeous family from Burma (we think) - dressed in colorful head scarfs, kids running around madly.  Japanese students traveling as a pack and men from the Congo who held a certain command in the room.

When it was our turn to go up to the desk, mr. assistant nodded to me to follow and up we went to the front of line (leaving the poor Japanese students to wait!) and the official started through our pile of documents.  He looked over each page with great care and then asked me - "what is your occupation?" to which I replied, "I am an attorney".  He then followed up with "who is going to take care of the baby when you get her home" to which I quickly responded - "I am!!".  I thought better of going into the gory details of maternity leave and nannies and just kept it simple.  Had I answered otherwise would he have preferred that Neve stay in India parentless?  Weird, but anyway, he accepted our papers and we left.

The next part of this strange system has me totally flummoxed.  Hamish had to go BACK to the same agency that afternoon to pick up a sealed envelope that we then had to take to another agency on Monday morning at 10am sharp - to be opened only by this agency 2 - the FRRO.  Mind you, these are BOTH agencies run by the Indian government so why on earth two different agencies had to be visited in the first place was let's just say "unnecessary" to keep things G rated - but to have to haul some sealed envelope from agency 1 to agency 2 for a grand unsealing?  We have truly entered crazy town (ie Delhi)!

So here's where we are catching up with the start of this blog.  We wake up on Monday morning and - you guessed it, that's when my Delhi illness had set in.  And - this is the only trip of the whole confounding process that requires the FULL FAMILY - me included.  Puking or not, I have to go along with Hamish and Neve to the FRRO! The mr. assistant meets us in the parking lot of agency 2 and he suggests that me and Neve wait in the car because we would be "more comfortable" and drags Hamish off into the building (which from the outside looks much worse than agency 1) before I can clear my head long enough to protest.

It's over 90 degrees so the driver pulls the car up under a tree next to a pile of construction and garbage with about 10,000 flies and some guys nearby smoking and cooking something on an open flame - and turns off the car and gets out to chat up some pals.  Charming.  I'm as sick as a dog and this just could NOT GET ANY WORSE!  I try to think cool, non-nauseated thoughts and consider storming agency 2 with fists full of money to ensure that we are done in the next 5 minutes.  Neve is totally pissed off (not really, she's sleeping, cause it's so hot she's basically gone into a coma) - but still, like her Mom, she would prefer not to be sitting in hell with flies I'm sure.

About an hour in Hamish and mr. assistant come back and say, ok, time for all of us to make an appearance at the FRRO.  I'm carrying Neve and Hamish and mr. assistant are bobbing and weaving through the hallways and through crowds of milling people - I'm sweating and gagging and thinking wow, Neve has put on weight!   Now the FRRO is worse than Agency 1 - clearly - but the visa room has a/c and seats and is a PALACE compared to our former digs by the garbage pile under the tree.  But . . . I am thankful to be almost through this process and instead of questioning the sanity of leaving me and Neve in the garbage heap "for our benefit" -- I choose to sit quietly, drink in the a/c and pray to god to let me crawl back in my bed!

We finish up (I don't think they even saw me, so why I had to go is still unclear!) and head home.  Again, Hamish has to go back that afternoon for the results and what do you know -- exit visa was granted!  It was an ordeal, it was surreal, it reminded me of many movies about courthouses in Turkey and other mob movies where money is paid under the table - but it's over and that's the best that can be said.  We paid our facilitation fees and we were facilitated!!

Break, break, break . . .

So, this post has taken DAYS to get done!  Very sorry, again!!

Written today:

Last night we were graciously invited to dinner by some new friends in Delhi!  They live over near the American Embassy in a really beautiful, charming apartment and they have an adorable lab.  It was picture perfect.  We had beef (yummy!) and wine (yummy!) and got to hear about what it's like to move from Indiana to Delhi.  We found each other over blog land - what a way to connect!  I could not tell my Mother in advance about this meeting as she has us on Neve kidnapping watch.  Rest assured they loved Neve, but did not try any funny stuff.  Blog love and good vibes to D & C! 

Today is the Pakistan vs. India cricket game in the Cricket World Cup.  It's the semi-finals, but I have been assured (by some guys in the parking lot while I was waiting for the car) that everyone considers this to be the "real finals" (sorry Sri Lanka!).  It's like the biggest deal ever in India!  Half of Delhi is shut down; there is very little traffic.  I went out to run "time to leave" errands and it was a total delight for a change.  In the M Block market they had set up a big tent with a tv screen and all the men (I have no idea where the women are in Delhi, cause it's seriously like 80% men always) -- were watching and cheering.  Hamish and I have Dellip and Mr. M all set up in our second bedroom with the game going on the flat screen and we just ordered Pizza Hut and on my shopping trip I bought some of those big tasty Kingfisher beers.  We're having a bit of Super Bowl party (Grand Finals for the Aussies) if you will, but this cricket thing requires stamina!  Starts at 2:30 pm and is still in full swing at 10pm!  Now that's a game!

Dellip's phone keeps ringing and his ring tone is this loud song that goes "we know how to party, let's go out and disco" or something like that.  We have a baby nurse over to help out for our last two nights and she's cooing to Neve and making bottles and clipping nails and rubbing lotion on Neve's scaly legs and watching cricket.  We are just like one big happy Indian/American/Australian family!!

PS - Pizza just arrived and they were out of "family" size and instead brought us double the order all in medium size.  It's literally raining pizza here!


G, H & N (and D, M and J)


  1. You have earned your exit visa stripes! So many seemingly unreasonable steps employs a lot of people in India! Welcome to the next leg of your are expected to keep writing now that you have taken us this far!!!! Enjoy your final few will be surprised how quickly you'll look at each other and say...'I miss India!'

  2. Lordy. Hope you have stopped puking in time for the flight! See you very soon. xx

  3. I remember when it was that game! I heard the results on NPR and thought of you all. You've been there to witness some major milestones!