Saturday, December 23, 2017

India - Day 0: Doha Departure & Mumbai International Airport

We didn't have anything else to do on Friday, so we had a leisurely day of packing. In the evening, our cab arrived on time and we went to Hamad International Airport as we would on any other similar occasion. Everything went well when we checked in to our flight and we received all of our boarding passes so, after landing in Mumbai and re-checking our luggage, we would be able to proceed directly to our next boarding gate. As scheduled, our flight departed from Doha at 11PM. Finally boarding the plane after our week of hurdle after hurdle to make the trip happen, we felt invincible.

The plane landed in Mumbai International Airport the next morning, and even tho we had approximately 90 minutes to make our flight, we missed our connection. Moreover, we were separated almost immediately, which is not a comfortable situation. Because Angela had an e-visa, she had to go to a separate window to clear customs and pass the security checkpoint. We agreed to meet at the boarding gate for our next flight and that, whoever made it through first, would take care of retrieving the luggage, which had to be re-checked before proceeding to our departure gate. It was a tall order with the numbers of people swarming the checkpoint and the time running away from us. We went our separate ways, Vito staying with me. I lost track of Angela in the crowd; there were too many people and her line was far from our line. Things were not happening quickly and our situation was looking dire. It's a real shame that they divide families in that way. at the airport Anyway, the lines were insanely long and moving at a snail's pace. After about 45 minutes, I jumped the queue and explained that we were late for our flight and needed to pass thru if we were going to have any chance of catching our flight. Everyone looked at me like they didn't understand, but no one seemed to object, waving us to the front of the line.

On the other side of the security checkpoint, we found the belt with our luggage, one large suitcase and one small one, and looked for Angela. We didn't see her anywhere so we decided to check the baggage and make for the gate, but there were even more people waiting to exit the terminal! Streams of travelers were lined up at every possible exit. I don't think I have ever been in a more crowded airport and, if we had to wait in any of those lines, we were surely going to miss our flight. I was desperate and stressed out and Vito kept asking me where mommy was. I approached an officer. He appeared to understand me so I explained my situation briefly, and he escorted us to the front of the nearest line. We took our suitcases to the drop-off point and left them without further incident but, when checking the gate information, we could see that boarding for our flight had closed. Vito and I started running. It was quite early in the morning, and we were both tired and frustrated, but I think we traversed almost the entire length of the airport without stopping.

At the gate, the jet bridge was cordoned off and two attendants were thumbing through ticket stubs. We asked if it was too late to board our flight. One attendant picked up the phone and called the pilot, but she said we would not be permitted to board. Everyone had been checked in already and they were preparing to depart. I asked if they could check and see if Angela had boarded and, after checking the flight register, they told me she had not, and it was at that moment, out of breath, that she turned up! We couldn't do anything to persuade them to let us on board, but at least we were all together again. We could see that the plane was still connected to the other end of jet bridge, but there was no use in making a bigger scene without worsening the situation. So the attendants directed us to the rescheduling desk, which was all the way back to where we had started. We just hoped that our luggage was not traveling without us!

We waited about one more hour in line behind one person. By the time we booked our flight, the airport had cleared out and, compared to how it had looked when we had arrived, it almost appeared deserted. I felt like we were the only people who missed a flight. The woman helping us wanted us to pay for the new tickets, but Angela strongly objected, and, after consulting with her manager, we received new tickets for an early afternoon departure.

Pacified, we returned to the boarding area, ordered pastries and hot beverages at a coffee shop and then looked for a quiet place to sleep as it was still quite early in the morning and we were tired. We found a nice secluded corner at the end of a long hallway that was empty and quiet, but, more importantly, had unoccupied couches. While it was quiet without people, it made the Christmas muzak that was raining down from the ceiling speakers seem quite loud. I did a loop around the airport window shopping. A roving band of merry-makers wearing red stocking caps, complete with a band, were roaming the airport singing Christmas carols. After circling the shopping area, I returned to find Angela and Vito asleep and joined them.

Friday, December 22, 2017

India: Last-Minute Heartbreak?

There were many barriers to the successful departure on our winter trip to Kerala, a state of India along its southwestern coast, also known as the Malabar Coast. The main barrier involved the procurement of the necessary documents for travel. I will try to relate the mess to you in its complexity, now.

About a week before departing, Angela applied online, without incident, for the e-visa for travel to India. Unfortunately, when she tried to apply for Vito's, she discovered that his passport did not have the necessary validity required. His passport was only valid for two more months, but, to obtain the e-visa, it should have validity for six months. So, having booked and paid for all of our flights and hotels, we were a little panic-stricken that we would not be able to travel! Would we be able to renew his passport in time? We thought that was the only problem.

I immediately contacted the American Embassy in Doha and made an appointment to renew Vito's passport. The representative at the embassy told us that, cross-your-fingers, we would get it back on the 19th of December, the day after Qatar National Day, three days before our departure. We were still worried, but relieved when we received his new passport on the date predicted. We went home and tried to re-apply for the e-visa, but met with another barrier: to complete the online application, we should have applied four days prior to travel. Unfortunately, we were trying only three days before our departure.

So, imagining again that our travel plans would be shattered, I completed the application for both myself and Vito, printed the forms, and took them, in person, to the Indian Embassy on the following morning, December 20th, only hoping that they would be able to accommodate us. We didn't wait long, submitted the necessary documents, and were then assured that we could return in the evening to collect everything. Miraculous! When we received the passports with the visas for India, we felt like we had won the lottery. Everything was coming together. Soon we would be sunbathing on the golden sands of Kerala.

The next morning, Thursday, December 21st, we made plans to have lunch with one of my colleagues. We met and, over a bowl a ramen, discovered to our dismay that we also needed a new Residence Permit (RP) for Vito. The RP shows that we are residents of Qatar and that we can enter and exit accordingly. Vito's RP was rendered invalid upon acquiring a new passport, the number of which was linked to the RP. We hadn't thought to connect the two. Our hearts sank. Would we be able to overcome this new obstacle in time?

We finished our lunch and hurried home to get Vito's passports, both old and new, to take to the Immigration Department to beg for a last-minute new RP for Vito. It looked bleak as it was quite late in the afternoon on Thursday, the end of the work week here. We would not be able to get any help on the following day, Friday—the Islamic holy day in Qatar—a day on which all government offices would be closed. We were supposed to depart in the evening on Friday, as well, so everything needed to happen on Thursday. We went in and the services that we needed were clearly closed for the day. Angela did the talking as women seem to receive greater deference in such situations, and, after denying us multiple times and then speaking with "the commander" in the kind of broken English that passes here, we were told to wait. After about one hour, Vito had received a new RP.

Incidentally, we had been driving a rental car (my Nissan Juke had been destroyed in a car accident in May and I had never replaced it—which is a story for another time—and Angela had been rear-ended about a week before in our second car, a Honda CR-V, so we were making due with a temporary insurance-provided replacement vehicle) and had planned to return it on the way to the airport on Friday evening. However, while we were waiting for Vito's RP, we called the rental company and discovered that they would not be open on Friday and that we had to return it on Thursday. So, after procuring Vito's RP, we returned the car and took Uber back to our apartment. By the time we got back home, it was around 8:30PM. The last minute change in plans had delayed our dinner and our little family Christmas celebration. As we were going to be away from home on Christmas, and as we didn't want to bring gifts with us, we had planned to open the Christmas presents from each other before leaving. So we ate and opened our Christmas gifts. It was quite late when we were finished., but a welcome reward from the trials of the week. We were exhausted, but everything appeared to be in order for our eventual departure on the following evening. Now, we just had to pack!

Thursday, December 21, 2017

One Fog to Another

The morning started with fog, the thick, white, billowy stuff of dreams, and lingered through the morning. Fog is not unusual here in Doha and not nearly as unusual as rain, but it is certainly not very common. I didn't know if it was a good omen or just another sign of the continued combustion, confusion and obfuscation of this year, but I looked at it positively. What other defense is there?

I can't divulge all of the difficulties of this year, but 2017 was hard on Marcacci & Co. My social media has not revealed much, and much was too sensitive for you run-of-the-mill e-stalkers, but this is about all you're going to get as a summation. Many of you (any of you?) know one part or another of the story anyway, but both Angela and I are glad the year is coming to a close. The one saving grace in this trying year is that Vito has done well at his endeavors despite the difficulties that his parents faced. I hope y'all had better memories. At least, we've all lived through them so far.

At night, the fog returned. It was nice to walk out in it. What's in store for the rest of this year? What's in store for the next one?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

In Some Small Moment

Fanar, Qatar's Islamic Cultural Center
Today was the last day of work before the winter break. I dressed and arrived at the office as usual. The ABP Student Services sponsored a Qatar National Day breakfast for the staff and we assembled at the appointed hour. I ate a chapati (a sort of thick Indian tortilla) breakfast burrito and drank two cups of karak (black tea with cardamom, milk and sugar). There were also National Day souvenirs to gather and I came home with a Fanar magnet. The Emir blockade t-shirts were too small or I would have grabbed one for Vito.

After breaking our fast, we milled about and visited with one another until grades were verified. It was the last day for one of my colleagues, Christine, who will not be returning in January so it wasn't an entirely festive occasion. Then we trickled out, most of us looking toward holiday travel plans. I had my own travel plans in mind, but the three of us will remain in Doha for another week before departing for Kerala, India next Friday.

After leaving the office, I went to get Angela and then we went to Vito's school to help with the National Day / Holiday party that was planned for his classroom. I put napkins on the table and served cake and juice. It was fun and we spoke with Vito's teachers and met a few of the parents of some of his classmates. We felt lucky that we had a chance to get involved with Vito at school.

Our day didn't end there: we ran some errands, picked up Vito when school ended, ran into some friends, spoke with all our parents and watched a double-session of Survivor before retiring to our bedtime rituals and sleep. These may not seem like incredibly memorable experiences, but I am always surprised at how much I forget. The more I write, the more I realize what I am leaving out, what will be forgotten. This is a small way to capture some of those memories. Perhaps you were there is some small moment.