Sunday, 3 November 2013
So, my dear friends back home, in Azerbaijan…I have some sad news for you. You know how you have been struggling for decades to simply be allowed in and out of your country? Starting from the Soviet times when you could not get out; and ending recent days, when theoretically, you can but then you have nowhere to go, as any decent European country refuses to let you in? You know how you struggle to get a visa constantly, and have to then take revenge by spreading gossip about certain embassy staff asking for huge bribes to give you a visa? (Like the Schengen one...) Well, now it seems like Qatar does not really want you here, either.
I remember the feeling I had when I finally got my British passport. It was such a relief! No more humiliating begging to let me visit a country! I could fly practically anywhere in the world and be welcome! It is like officially being accepted in the white guys' club. (Only never entirely, of course. Once, in the JK airport, I got held for a bit, as they quickly noticed that, despite having a trustworthy British passport, I was still BORN in the dodgy place. That was obviously suspicious, and had to be checked. I could see the dilemma the immigration dude was facing there. He really did not want to let an Azeri in the country. He was given a list and in that list, Azerbaijan was BAD. But, I was a British passport holder. And Great Britain was GOOD. Hmm...A difficult one, really. In the end, he had to let me go though.)
What I did not realize back then, was how hard it was going to be for my mother to visit me. Surely, I thought, a mother is the closest family, someone who will always be allowed, no questions asked, to visit someone who is a proper citizen now! But some of you might remember my problems with the British Embassy back in Baku. I don't think we will ever forget this one particular 40-minute interrogation, during which the official was asking my mother how come my husband, who was a management consultant, could not afford to pay for tickets to fly us all to Baku every time we wanted to see her, rather than flying her to London.
Just a wee example of how unprofessional and abusive of their power some guys can get! But hey, no hard feelings. I realize where you are coming from. I appreciate you are there to guard your lovely country from the third world citizens like my poor mother. I realize it is your job to protect the NHS, and whatever other resources you suspect she might be abusing while visiting her daughter and grandchildren.
But, forget the UK. I thought, naively, that having moved to Qatar, I would at least, improve this aspect of my life. Don't quite know why I thought that. And, just in time for our relocating here, QA started direct flights! I saw that as a good omen.
So, imagine how I felt when my mother's visa, after a few weeks or requests for one paper or another, got rejected. Oh, no. I thought. Not again!
There are certain similarities between the cultures of Azeris and Qataris. And that often helps in my understanding of how things work here. But, there also is one major difference which makes things hard to comprehend. When the officials cause problems with your paperwork back in Azerbaijan, it usually means one thing- they want money. Very simple!
Here, that is clearly not the case. So, when I went to the immigration to try and ask for help, nobody was expecting me to bribe them. Neither were they enjoying and abusing their power like the British Embassy dude back in Baku.
So if not money, what would help my case, I wondered.
I remember my friend warning me when I tried to get my mother to visit us in the UK, just after the new baby was born. 'Do NOT mention the baby!' she exclaimed. 'Never mention the baby, or they will not let your mother in the country!'
Such an alien concept to an Azeri person. Surely, that would help our case? But not for the UK officials. To them, you having a new baby and asking for your mother to visit means you are not going to hire an expensive nanny and pay more taxes. See how it works? No emotions. Just bureaucracy and rules. But here, it is different.
'If you have the baby, bring her with you to the immigration!' I was told by almost everybody.
Because, and this is where another cultural similarity becomes apparent, for Qataris, just like for Azeris, family is of a crucial importance. And, as soon as I mentioned it was my mother I was trying to get to visit us, I could see it in their eyes. Understanding.
So, in the end, I managed to get my mother a visa. But, who knows what caused the problem with it in the first place, and how long this situation will now last?
'Is it her age?' I asked (as someone on Twitter suggested that the age might have caused the problem with the visa). No, the official said. It is where she is coming from.
So, yes….It is where she is coming from, guys. Sucks, doesn't it?
Not sure if the Azeri authorities are planning to do anything to make travel easier for Azerbaijanis in future. So far their strategy seems to be 'Oh, so you are making it difficult for our people to visit your country? OK then, I will make it almost impossible for yours to visit ours! There! Get that!'
Interestingly, that sophisticated strategy has not worked very well so far. And Azeris are still as unwelcome everywhere in the world as they have always been. Sadly.