Coming to Uzbekistan!
November 26, 2009 3 Comments
By Rob Packer
It’s been a tense week and a half while my Uzbek visa process has been going through. Uzbekistan is notorious amongst Central Asia veterans and novices as being the second-hardest of the ‘Stans to get into (number one is famously bizarre Turkmenistan). So I stayed sceptical of my chances when I arrived on a cold Tuesday morning last week at Bishkek’s Uzbek embassy as a citizen of a country, which does not have a fantastic relationship with Tashkent, with nothing but my passport, some photos and a visa form. For a select number of nationalities, these are supposed to be all you need, but for everyone else you’re supposed to be invited by a travel agency and arrive at the embassy brandishing a letter of invitation. None of these were required and as I sit here with an Uzbek visa in my passport, I’m left wondering whether Anglo-Uzbek relations have thawed, the fierce look I tried to give as I went in worked wonders, the woman took a liking to me, the rules really have changed, or I’ve just seen the consular equivalent of an astronomical conjunction.
Although I didn’t have to come bearing paper, I did have to deal with the bureaucrat’s other weapons: multiple visits (three), a long wait (10 days processing) and slavishly following your request (I may have the world’s only 11 day visa). And then there was one last hurdle and CIS special: the soiled note. This is when you give someone a US bill and they decide it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on because it’s dirty, torn or has some other imperfection. My $100 bill’s crime? That note had a very small stamp mark, probably done by someone in a bank. This is a fight that can only be won with a new bill. So I jumped back into the car with the driver from work who took me to the nearest bank while I was sweating inside my coat. On the way back from the bank, where they seemed to be getting their dollars straight from the US Mint, Zakir was telling me about when he’d been at the Russian embassy in Tashkent and had been asked to explain why they was a pen mark on his bills and who’d put them there: I decided the best answer would be Barack Obama. At least when my unsoiled Franklin was changed hands, I got the crispest notes I’ve ever seen in return.
Happy Thanksgiving, any of you USA people!