Our “Eat Pray Love”-meets-“Steel Magnolias” trip to India is set to begin a week from Monday.
Will all three of us – my mom, my daughter and I – be on that plane bound for Bangalore?
I still don’t know. Here’s an update from my last post, along with what what I’m choosing to learn from this experience:
Mom’s passport was finally returned to her yesterday, stamped with an official Indian visa. So she’s all set. She can go.
My daughter’s visa has been approved and her passport stamped, but it’s being held by an agency in New York until it can be overnighted along with mine. Assuming it’s mailed back in time, she, too, is good to go.
Mine is in Washington, D.C., at the Indian consulate, waiting for my second visa application to be approved (or not). I’ve been rejected once already because I am a journalist, traveling as a tourist, and India apparently doesn’t make a distinction between one’s personal life and career. I’m trying to work around this problem.
I’ve been told I’ll know Wednesday whether my resubmitted visa paperwork has been approved. If it is, it’ll be shipped from D.C. to NYC, from NYC to Nashville, and we’ll leave Monday. We are taking this thing to the wire. If it’s rejected, we’ll change our departure date, though it will cost us several hundred dollars.
I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me since first writing about this situation. Friends with lots of experience traveling to India have given tips and support, including colleagues who’ve ventured there as journalists. Friends with connections in government have called on my behalf. Mom and I have shared a seesaw of hope and defeat, defeat and hope.
From our frequent email exchanges:
Me: Not feeling optimistic at ALL.
Mom: What happened?
Me: Indian embassy does not answer the phone. My third-party expeditor agency says there is nothing they can do. Marsha Blackburn’s office making me fill out more forms. Travisa (recommended by my own expeditor plus another friend who goes to India all the time; they handle journalism visas): Their phone has been perpetually busy for the past hour. (String of particularly heinous profanities.)
Mom: I just called the third-party I’ve been going through. The first woman I talked to said my visa was delivered in April. When I told her that was not true – she checked again (told me I was right) and said that now their email server is down so they can’t check the status of anything. What you said!!!!!!!!!!!
Me: I’m in tears. Travisa finally answered the phone and won’t help unless I start over and pay all their fees.
Mom: What hope does Marsha Blackburn’s office offer?
Me: Don’t know. Working that angle now. Calling my friend.
Marsha Blackburn’s office: Dear Ms. Stivender, Thank you for contacting Congressman Blackburn’s office to request assistance with a visa to India. Unfortunately, since this issue does not fall under the jurisdiction of the United States government, we are limited in how we can help, as other countries do not honor U.S. congressional requests. Hoping to be of some assistance, I have provided a link and contact information to the Embassy of India in Washington, D.C.
Me: This isn’t good. Have you called the airline to see if it’s possible to change the date on those plane tickets? There may be a rebooking fee, but it might not be too bad if we explain the reason for it. Or – Workaround Option Two: You and Lily go on to India and I stay in London. Workaround option three: You go on to India and Lily and I stay in London.
Mom: I just talked to the people at Travelosity and they’ll be happy to change our flights to another time for a $350 per person fee plus whatever the fair difference is at the time of the change…
Me: I’m still trying. Have an Indian friend who may have some insight. Meanwhile, talking to my agency. AGAIN. They say there’s hope, to reapply, not to worry “just yet”.
Me: Filled out a new application and it’ll be at the consulate tomorrow. My agency will let me know Friday an estimated turnaround time as to how soon I can expect an answer one way or another. That way we can make a decision about rebooking the tickets. They don’t seem too stressed out and continue to hold out hope that this will all work out. I’m not sure how, since they’re still going to have to mail everything back to Tennessee – after mailing it to NY to DC back to NY again… But that’s ok. Nothing I can do about it other than trust.
I knew I was going to learn a lot from this trip. I didn’t know I’d learn so much from the preparations. But ok, bring it.
Among the early takeaways: People want to help you; just ask them. And in an absence of control, trust feels better than rage.