Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Sri Lanka… Shortcut to Delhi

Selected for an internship at the Smart Cube (TSC), I was eagerly waiting for the company to send me the documents required to get an employment visa and was ready to jump in the first plane to Sri Lanka… The next few days were going to be hectic but I was confident I could reach Delhi on time, before the 3rd of January!

Dec 13th

The internship was confirmed and TSC sent the documents by courier on the same day.

Dec 19th

Still waiting for the docs, I called TSC to enquire about the delay. A few hours later, the courier company called me as they couldn’t find my PG house in Cooke Town, Bangalore. Alternatively, I gave them IIMB's address hoping to get the mail the next day. In the meanwhile, I checked Srilankan Airline website (They really have cheap flights to Sri Lanka!). There was a flight to Colombo the next day… in the morning… There was no way, the courier guy would come early enough as it was already 6pm.

An hour on the phone later, still fighting in a mix of English and Hindi against the inefficiency of some small companies, Vikas finally managed to get the address of the courier. On the bike for half an hour, got the mail, went to an exchange agency to exchange my traveler checks into cash, went for a few drinks as my landlord was not available, went to my PG house, finished the packing while Vikas was forced to wait outside, collected the deposit, back on the bike with 40kg of luggage’s on my back, knees and in my hands, stopped at a cybercafé, checked if all the necessary documents were in the mail, booked the tickets to Sri Lanka, went to one of Vikas’s friends to store my bags as I was not supposed to stay at IIMB, chatted for a little while, went back to the campus and packed our bags for the next day. Pfff, all set! At 2am.

Dec 20th

We got up at 5am, were back on the bike, went to a friend living near the airport, caught an auto, reached the airport, flew to Colombo, got some Srilankan rupees, took two buses to the capital (tight budget from day one!), got a double room at the cheapest YMCA, got some ID pictures for the Visa and went for a walk…

I had mixed feeling about Colombo: I loved the fact that, unlike in India, people didn’t stare at me! I disliked the omnipresence of security guards.

We roamed around for a while near the seaside then decided to head back to the hostel. Unfortunately, given the late hour and the high security level, some streets were blocked and we were forced to patiently wait while Vikas suddenly felt a pain in his upper leg. A bite followed by a second one below the knee… The painful sensation didn’t go away and we went to the nearest hotel’s bathroom to have a better look at his skin. It seemed to be some kind of rashes… By precaution, we went to a pharmacy where an afraid clerk announced us that it must be the chicken pox (sic!). The rashes had spread to his whole body. He was sweating and hitching himself like a furious man. On the way to the hospital, I simply touched his skin through his clothes. Not knowing if it was contagious but willing to signal him that I was there on his side. At the hospital, he received an injection against allergies and took rest on a bed in the emergency room with a Baxter in his arm. The rashes were almost completely gone. In the meanwhile, I went to the pharmacy to get his tablets, checked if his IIMB insurance was valid outside India, got something to eat, and repetitively went back and forth to his room. We had a problem… To get a room and further check-ups, the hospital asked a deposit of 25,000 Srilankan rupees (10,000 Indian rupees). We didn’t have them… I rested with him for a while on the ER bed, half asleep in his arms and the nurses smiling… He was feeling better. We were not going to stay. Dinner and back to the hostel at 1am.

Dec 21st

Up at 7am. Vikas was still sleeping when I left the hostel and went to the High Commission of India. They open at 9.30am but the queue was already huge when I arrived at 9am. I had everything: the application for an employment Visa on which I had written “internship at TSC” as occupation, the pics, a copy of the passport, the US dollars, a recognition letter of TSC and an agreement letter saying that I was going to do an internship with the company for a period of one year (even if the real initial duration is 36 weeks but the one-year period was a must in Sri Lanka to get an employment visa). I re-checked… Yes, I had everything according to the High Commission website and according to the trainees who had recently gone to Sri Lanka for the same purpose… BUT at 11am when I finally reached the counter, I was harshly said that I needed four additional documents. Near me, a girl was almost crying out of desperation, she had tried to get an employment visa for the past two weeks… I asked for the Commission’s fax number, left the High Commission, went to a cybercafé, sent the information to the HR person at TSC and crossed my fingers.

We had planned to stay in Sri Lanka for six working days as five working days were officially required to get an employment visa and I had added one extra day by precaution. I went back to the hostel where Vikas, in a much better shape than the previous days, was waiting for me. A few hours later, I called TSC and as they confirmed the sending of the documents, I expected the mess to be over… Really?

Dec 22nd

I was up at 6.30am and back at the High Commission at 8am where I reached the counter at 10am. They made me wait till 11.30 in spite of me going back and forth from the waiting room to the counter every 15 minutes. In the meanwhile, the next people in the queue, future interns in India, miserably got the new list of required documents. The lady in charge of the employment Visas was supposedly not there but knowing that the High Commission closes at 12, I finally threatened the counter clerk to get inside her office without permission. I was strangely let in, with authorization, 20 minutes later. The additional documents nicely faxed by TSC were lying on her desk. “You are doing an internship” said the lady. I was surprised that she highlighted this fact as it had already been written on my application form the day before. “You can’t get an employment visa” she declared. And to my highest surprise, she added “Anyway, we have enough unemployment in India. We don’t need additional workers”. Trying to think outside of the box, I convinced her to give me a student visa for the length of my internship with the obligation of being registered in Delhi. Pfff!

As my Indian tourist visa was still valid, I managed to get my passport back with the new visa on the same day and didn’t have to wait the usual five working days. We had time to go to Hikkaduwa. Time to get some fun, at last!

We reached Hikkaduwa late at night, took an auto and hunted for cabanas (huts) which had sadly all been destroyed by the Tsunami. The auto driver had worked abroad and knew Hindi. As he saw we had a tough time finding a hotel suiting our budget, he offered us to stay at his place. We finally ended up in the guesthouse of one of his friends. Free of charge for the night!

Dec 23rd

The auto driver came back early morning and we went to a retired outdoor place to try a local coconut alcohol. The kind of place where you bring your own empty plastic bottle, you get it filled with a strange mixture, you sit on the ground and you hope your stomach will survive. It did!

Then we headed for the beach where we went for snorkelling. The boat bottom was made of glass and we could see truly colorful fishes and amazing corals. I jumped in the water followed by Vikas. We swam away from the boat, me leading. When suddenly I turned around and noticed that Vikas was not following me anymore but was moving his arm for help. I swum back and Vikas almost drown me while trying to maintain himself out of the water! I enjoyed the water for a little longer then we went back on the beach. Time for a shower but where?

Again, we were homeless and the auto driver didn’t have current water and electricity at his place. We went to one of his friend’s who had a shower. An outside cold-water one! They provided me with a piece of cloth which I was supposed to wear under the shower. Honestly, it’s tough because you have to (un)dress in the open as well. Fortunately, Vikas helped me to make sure my naked body wouldn’t be visible. Then we went to the auto driver’s place for an appetizing lunch. Later, we roamed around in the town, had local food for dinner and beers in front of the sea. At night, we went to the auto driver’s place. He had made the necessary arrangements and Vikas and I were to stay in his room. Nice!

Dec 24th

We went to a westernised buffet restaurant to celebrate Christmas. A few pieces of BBQ fish and chicken, slides of pizza, salads and drinks later, I started feeling nauseous. Thinking the fresh air could help, we went for a walk. Unsuccessful! Pretty strange as I have a wonderfully strong stomach which had never let me down during my stay in India… It must have been a germ… And a really tough one (you don't need the details!). An advice: Always eat local!

Dec 25th

Our last full day in Sri Lanka… The whole trip had been quite chaotic but all in all I had enjoyed my stay in the country. Vikas had greatly helped me lowering the tension when needed, after my two visits to the High Commission, and being far from the campus had allowed us to fully relax without constraint.

Dec 26th

Back to India. Now that I had the Visa, I could book my ticket to Delhi. But with such short delay, the plane tickets were abnormally expensive and I decided to go my train. The waiting lists were crazily long but, as a foreigner, I benefited from the foreign quota and luckily got the last seat available!

We spend the next few days on the campus, a bit tensed as always before our separations. And to continue the long list of our recent misadventures, I managed to badly burn myself on the bike.

I finally left…

Dec 29th- 31st

A 40-hour journey in sleeper class and 241 card games played in Hindi later, I reached Delhi… An AIESEC member was supposed to pick me up at the train station. I never saw him…

As my mobile card was invalid, I dropped my bags at the luggage room and tried to reach my AIESEC contact from a booth. As the number was not reachable, I called Vikas hoping that AIESEC had contacted him as they had his number as well. They hadn’t.

I rushed to a cyber café, found additional AIESEC member’s numbers and tried them out until I reached one of them who gave me the traineehouse address. I got my bags back, caught a taxi and reached the place. Nobody. Door locked. I attached my bags with chains and checked the neighbourghood. The flat was empty according to the neighbors.

I stopped a pedestrian on the street and asked to use his mobile. The call went through and an AIESEC member came to pick me up. At last, I reached my finale destination! At least for the day!

I dropped my bags and got ready for the New Eve party. Fun!

Registration on the 2d and first day at TSC on the 3rd.

1 comment:

Rita Gupta said...

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