When I woke up this morning, I didn’t know where I was going to be sleeping tonight but definitely knew not anywhere in Turkey. My 4-month stint had ended on Sunday, my last day of teaching in Istanbul. As per the grand travel programme, I am now 1 month behind schedule and as I write this post I’m highly strung out from the events of the past 3 weeks. Phase 2 of the travel plan was to make my way into Europe overland from Turkey. Every little step in the process of making my way into Europe from Turkey was so bureaucratically linked that it’s a small miracle that I made it through to write this and had not thrown my hands in the air and taken the next flight home.
In the briefest possible way – In order for me to travel to Europe, I needed a Schengen visa. To apply for a Schengen visa in Turkey, I needed to be a Permanent Resident. And the only way to prove you are a Permanent Resident is to physically present your Ikamet at the time of application. So if it happened that even if you were a bona-fide permanent resident and had paid all your fees and done your all paperwork and were just waiting on receiving the actual PR book, it still isn’t acceptable. A copy of the receipt or the slip confirming your status was useless, you need the bloody blue book. My residence permit in Turkey expired on the 16th of July (and no way I was going through the process again to extend it). I got the actual Ikamet in hand on the 9th of July. Therefore I roughly had 10 days to apply for a visa.
To get out of Turkey on land to Central Europe, I had to cross Romania. Romania is not part of the EU therefore that was another set of separate visa requirements and applications…and visa fees! However I couldn’t apply for a Romanian visa till I had proof of my way out of Romania into Europe and I couldn’t buy my way into Europe just then because I didn’t have my schengen. Hungary being the next country to Romania and naturally my first entry point, I visited the Hungarian consulate, I didn’t even get to see the insides of their office. The security guard gave me an email where I could email my queries and directed me to a automatic appointment system and the first appointment it could give an ‘other’ passport holder was on the 15th of July and I couldn’t call them ‘because I had to email’ and several emails later…bottom line they were just ‘too full.’ So with that failed, I tried the Greece consulate. The lovely lady I spoke to a few weeks ago was on holidays and the guy who could speak a little bit of English directed me to their call centre. The call centre had never heard of Fiji and outright refused to accept my application because ‘I was not working in Turkey.’ (I couldn’t tell them I was working under the table now, could I?!)
So the original plan to travel via Romania was definitely out by this stage. I didn’t have enough time to apply for both a Schengen and a Romanian visa. So I sat down and called every other EU consulate in Istanbul for an appointment that would process a Fijian passport. I would strongly advise you to avoid situations like where you don’t speak Turkish and you are trying to find out some information and are closely aware of every ticking moment on your pre-paid mobile. Its frustration, desperation, exasperation wound in a tight ball slamming your guts at 5-minute intervals. Just…make sure you don’t ever get yourself into something like that!
With the 2nd option out the way, the plan was I would fly out to any country that would give me an appointment. (Because you have to apply at a country you will stay the longest or your first point of entry -I hope you are keeping up with all this) So finally I found an EU consulate that worked on pre-paid appointment basis where you paid their service centre and they fixed an appointment for you at the consulate. For several reasons, I am not going to reveal which consulate this was. Slightly relived, I went to
book buy my tickets in and out of the EU region. Booked my accommodations and worked out a travel plan that probably wasn’t what I had in mind but…it was better than not being able to go at all being this close to Europe. With all my documentations in hand, a 40-minute metrobus, a 10-minute metro and a 15-minute dolmus rides later I arrived at the said consulate. I waited for about 45-minutes before I was called and it took the girl over the counter less than 3-minutes to tell me that she could not accept my application.
Just like that.
I will not bother writing about the state of my mind then. I asked if I could speak to her manager who was a lovely woman with perfect English and who explained that they had no means of verifying who I was here and because I was like in a 3rd-party country. If I wanted a schengen, I had to go back to Australia/New Zealand and apply there as technically a Fijian passport would get assessed there. But I had left Australia 4 months ago and they wouldn’t have processed my application there anyway because it was out of the within-3-month travel period. She looked at me really apologetically but said that was true but she couldn’t do anything for me. I don’t know what did it but horror of all horrors, my eyes teared up. I AM NOT A PUBLIC CRYER. And then to make it worse, I had to justify myself by saying “I’m not crying because I can’t to go Europe but I’m crying because I have bought all my tickets and they are non-refundable!” I had even bought my Lonely Planet. It took every bit of my strength I had left to man up. Finally the fog cleared and I had to say their service centre knew about me at the time of the appointment, if you were not able to process my application – why did they take my appointment in the first place? Now I do my homework. I had the name and whom I spoke to and the manager was genuinely surprised that it was their cock-up. They quickly assured me that my visa fees would be refunded. I left.
After finding the time to cry between my IELTS afternoon class, I began to get angry and I was in a rage by the time the class ended. What do they mean – they can’t verify me? Granted I am from one of the smallest countries around but by all means, I am no any different from an American or a Briton and how dare someone treat me any less? Why is it that these Americans and Canadians can waltz in and lounge around in Europe for 90-days with no questions asked and I not only have prove who am I but pay a cost just so that they can say..haann you’re correct. You are indeed Sharon. Is my physical make-up any different from these humans who come from these other countries? Somewhere along the line there is this sub-standard mentality about people from countries that don’t matter. Why is travelling the world a white man’s dream? Why can’t people from 3rd world countries who don’t fit the traveller stereotype roam around freely in Europe?
Somewhere along the line there is this sub-standard mentality about people from countries that don’t matter. Why is travelling the world a white man’s dream? Why can’t people from 3rd world countries who don’t fit the traveller stereotype roam around freely in Europe?
In my rage, I wrote to the Australian embassy in Ankara requesting if they could verify me. I am long-term visa holder of Australia, my relationships there run longer than my age and I have paid them a lot of money in taxes over the years and it would be great if they could verify me to the ‘said consulate’ because it was absurdly stupid to return to Australia just to apply for a visa and copied the said consulate to that email. I didn’t hear back from the Australian consulate and I’ll never be sure of what happened…whether it was me crying and they felt sorry for me or that that email had something to do with it or they realized their fuckup but next morning I got an email from the said consulate to kindly come in again on Tuesday early morning with all my documentation. Tuesday was the 16th – I decided to take my chances, not cancel my tickets and go for the appointment. I missed my flight at 11.00.am but after a 2½-hour wait, I got my schengen visa. But by then I was too exhausted to feel anything.
I am writing this post as I fly to my first destination in Europe out of Istanbul on a 7.45pm flight. The border control officer couldn’t help but point out the date and that I had just made it out. No shit, bro!
Here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter what country you come from or whether EU sees you as a threat to their precious 26 countries, you must be proud of who you are. It doesn’t matter if your country is considered ‘3rd world’, there is nothing 3rd world about you and your identity and you MUST fight for the dignity of your passport when you have to.
PS. – I did have a backup plan incase the schengen didn’t work out. (incase you were wondering!)