Sunday, February 21, 2010

Not-So Turkish Delight - Part the First

Mr. This Cat's Abroad & I are blighted with a particularly nasty strain of travel-karma which ensures that our taking leave of a country is always more vexing than arriving. I don't know quite why this should be the case - apart from the fact that it makes our ingresses (innies) far far more pleasurable than our egresses (outies), and of the two, I suppose that's the way things should be.

Case in point: on Friday we left Turkey for Iraq, our groovy new home for the next 2 years.
This past week, as we fussed and obsessed over last-minute minutiae and agonized over the bankruptcy-inducing overage charges facing us (or rather facing our Prodigious Amount of Very Heavy Luggage) at the Atlas Jet check-in counter, we realized that the one detail we had overlooked was how to actually get to the airport - which lies about an hour or so from Izmit. And although there is one which links Izmit to Istanbul's smaller airport, Mr. This Cat was convinced that there was no airport shuttle bus from Izmit to Atatürk International - Turkey's largest airport. That just doesn't make sense, I told him.

"That just doesn't make sense," I told him.
"Then find one," he countered - a little peevishly in my opinion.

And in spite of all of my pshaw's to the contrary and tippy-tapping online, he would prove to be correct. So after unsuccessfully dropping hints to car-owning
friends colleagues, after rejecting the idea of schlepping a total of 4 suitcases (all 4 of which exceeded the maximum baggage allowance twofold) and 2 knapsacks onto a bus and a subway, we bit the bullet and ordered a private airport taxi. At only 27 times the price of a bus (I did the calculations), we arranged to be picked up and whisked away to the Airport Without a Shuttle Service with our Prodigious Amount of Very Heavy Luggage.

At the ungodly hour of 6 a.m. - the taxi company insisted on picking us up 3 hours before we were required to be at the check-in counter - and as the Man in the Minaret reminded us in no uncertain terms about the greatness of God, we locked the door to our flat, loaded the van, and sped off into inky darkness to the Airport Without a Shuttle Service. Arriving there in record time (the sun was just dawning) we passed through the first security gate at the main door - amazingly not setting off the metal detector's beeps & whistles in doing so - and were greeted by smiling friendly faces. Good morning! they chirruped. Have a nice flight. Wow, I thought. We have so nixed our particularly nasty strain of travel-karma!

We hauled our Prodigious Amount of Very Heavy Luggage over to an unpersonned unmanned baggage scale. As a loving helpmate, I tried not to react too noticeably or draw too much attention to
Mr. This Cat's newly-formed hernia as he hefted each bag on top of the scale. We anticipated each of the four to weigh in somewhere between 27-32 kilos and - sweet mother of god! - combined (combined!) they added up to a scant 37 kilograms over our allowance. Given Atlas Jet's overage policy, that added up to a negligible $189 fine. Huzzah!

Since we were at the airport 3 1/2 hours early, we sat and drank coffee and giggled at our good fortune. The only fly in the ointment was the possibility that Atlas Jet would count my purse - which in truth is an oversized, overstuffed courier bag - as a 2nd carry-on item which, depending on the airline, is becoming a travel no-no. Can you fit it into your knapsack? the Check-In Wench might ask. Christ, no. I'd have to check it. This could be very very icky. Try to hide it behind the counter, suggested Mr. This Cat. Good plan, I replied.

Mr. This Cat peered over to the check-in counter and saw that Atlas Jet had opened up early. We sped over as quickly as our
Prodigious Amount of Very Heavy Luggage would allow and approached the Check-In Wench. Quite graciously, she neither rolled her eyes in disbelief (Milan) or tisk-tisked in disapproval (Casablanca) as Mr. This Cat further aggravated his newly-formed hernia hefting our suitcases onto the scales. We smiled a watery we're-really-sorry-smile and prayed she'd take pity on us. We're not travelling to Erbil as tourists, Mr. This Cat told her. We're moving there. Like tourists go to Iraq, I thought. Like that made a difference with the Check-In Wenches in Italy and Morocco.

I will charge you for only 20 kilos, she announced. Huzzah! I cried inside my head. Then, while Mr. This Cat paid our overage fee, I waited for both him and it - waited for the how many pieces of carry-on
luggage do you have? bolt from God. The can you fit it into your knapsack? clap of thunder. But there wasn't one. Moments later, Mr. This Cat handed her his receipt and she handed us our boarding passes. Huzzah! I cried - this time out loud. We have so nixed our particularly nasty strain of travel-karma!

Now as there is absolutely nothing to do in the general waiting area at the
Airport Without a Shuttle Service, we decided to pass through security and kill the rest of the morning looking in vain for Spanish sherry at Duty Free. We joined the line for Passport Control and tried not to be too galled every time a passenger ducked under the cordons and cut to the front of the line. This was Turkey after all.

I approached Booth #8 where scowled a rather Nasty-Looking Customs Officer, who was either having a truly awful day or just came out of his mother's womb that way. I refused to allow his refusal to smile and his oily comb-over to dampen my high spirits, but I did anticipate that my two passports would do little to raise his. Two passports? you ask. Yes, two passports. It seems that one can only enter Iraq with a passport valid for at least 6 months (ours were at 6 months plus 2 days). As there is no Canadian Embassy in Iraq, we would be in dire straits in 6 months plus 3 days ... so Mr. This Cat and I applied for and received new passports just four days prior to our flight. Naturally, the now-valid passport had nary a stamp in it, while the invalidated one had my Turkish visa. I pushed both towards him.

Nasty-Looking Customs Officer thumbed through both passports - I tried explaining the situation but abandoned all hope of communicating with him when it became apparent that he spoke no English - but after keying in every number listed on both passports (including my mother's phone number, I think), he stamped by passport. Huzzah! We have so nixed our particularly nasty strain of travel-karma!

Mr. This Cat did the same. But allow me to further muddy the narrative waters a tidge. When a friend of ours and fellow teacher
made his escape completed his contract at our Place of Questionably Gainful Employment, he found that his work (and hence residence) visa had been terminated by said shithole institution. Of course, he didn't know about this petty piece of underhanded business until he was trying to pass through Passport Control at the Airport Without a Shuttle Service. Detained for over 45 minutes, he almost missed his flight but did ultimately manage to talk his way out of it. Knowing that our Place of Questionably Gainful Employment would undoubtedly do the same to Mr. This Cat's visa - of course, I didn't have a work visa - he sagaciously bought a tourist visa when we returned to Turkey from Spain at Christmas. That'd show them, we thought.

The Nasty-Looking Customs Officer thumbed through both passports - Mr. This Cat tried explaining the situation but abandoned all hope of communicating with him when it became apparent that he still spoke no English - but after keying in every number listed on both passports (including his father's phone number, I think), he gave Mr. This Cat an especially filthy look and picked up the phone.

That would be the last time he made eye contact with us.

The Nasty-Looking Customs Officer leaned forwards and snatched my passports from my hands - one of which was stamped with a valid exit stamp. Before I could say anything, a police officer had appeared at our sides.

To be continued ...


Cath said...

Gasp! How will our intrepid wanderers make it out of this precarious predicament?

Di said...

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo how could you do that.

Sigh. My life is a mess, I always forget time passing and then I remember and I return to discover that you're moving to IRAQ.

Good luck and I'm presuming they don't have internet access in Turkish prisons and that you charmed your ways out successfully.