Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Istanbul, summer 2010: A Chronicle Of Absurdity and Despair

We arrived in Istanbul on the 1st July.
When we arrived our main priorities were getting a flat, a job, and getting married.

To know properly about getting married we went to the British Consulate the day after we arrived (Lala had asked the Turkish embassy in Baku about this, but had been given the moronic answer that foreigners can´t get married there, while I did some research on the internet for the procedures). They told us that we had to wait three weeks before we could put up a marriage notice, according to the regulations. Very Well.

We then looked for a flat in the meantime. We were staying on Asmali Mescid street in Taksim, a routinely noisy place at night, and the noise and crowds of Taksim quickly wore us down in a matter of days. We first looked for a flat in Bakirkoy, but then switched to Atakoy and after viewing several flats, found one which we liked. Atakoy is not a cheap place to stay, but the price was reasonable (for Isranbul) for a fully-furnished modern flat with a sea view and surrounded by trees and peace and quiet.
That said, once we chose the flat, bureaucracy and fees got in the way. Requiring a deposit of two months up front, agents commission fees as well as a countersigner (though thankfully the landlord was happy for Lala to do the honours there), this gave us a day of stress and worry. Also, I had a stressful time trying to organise the money for these payments, which took some days and caused the agents a few insistent phonecalls to us. Not very pleasant, but we got the money and the flat, and moved in just under two weeks before we arrived.

It was at this point that I realised that my dear Istanbul was no longer the cheap metropolis I had once known. Money seemed to evaporate into thin air, creating more financial worry and stress on my part.

After the three weeks had elapsed, we returned to the UK consulate with my documents, only to discover that they needed a birth certificate with my parents name on it. I didn´t have one. This then meant I had to apply for one through the internet, and while waiting for this to arrive, sit around in our flat.

By this time it was early August, and the stress of trying to organise the marriage, and also try to get a job (though later in the month I was offered a job at British Side to start in late September; Lala still looking for work), we decided we needed a break from all the hassle and went to Bodrum for a few days. Even this, though, did not escape my financial worries (although hwe had a great time), as we had to stay two nights longer than we expected due to the coaches to Istanbul being so full.
We returned to Istanbul and my certificate had finally arrived, and so we could make the marriage declaration. I could then collect my certificate on no impediment three weeks later (at the start of September).
When the time finally came, we went to the Istanbul authority on the same day (this was a few days before our parents were due to arrive in expectation of our wedding day) to certify our documents. There was a problem. Lala´s Azeri documents had not been notarised in Turkey, but in Azerbaijan before we arrived. The Turkish authorities needed a document of no impediment from the embassy directly.
This then meant going to the Azeri embassy for two days (standing in a "queue", though this was just a list of names on a first-come-first-served basis, so we put our name on the list, went to a nearby cafe and periodically went back to see how the "queue" was moving). When she finally went inside, they said her document would take three days to process.
Then there was the medical certificate. We had to go to a medical centre to have a "check up" (in reality the doctor asked us two questions), and then, we had our birth certificates notarised and translated (although these had already been checked by our national embassies in order to get a document of no impediment). By this time, it was the third week in September.
Once Lala´s document from her embassy was ready to collect, we then realised that we had to get our passports translated and notarised as well. All these delays meant that our parents´time here would no longer include staying for our wedding. We went to the local registar in Atakoy, only to be told of a final, absurd, hurdle. Even though we were staying in a rented flat in Atakoy, because we didn´t have residence permits (we were still tourists at the time), according to Turkish procedures, we were supposed to stay in a hotel and get a document from the hotel saying we were registered guests there. It was the evening of this day when, hearing this news, we were almost ready to have a nervous breakdown. These procedures had not been mentioned by any of the authorities.

By this point, I had burned through a large portion of my savings (so that I was getting worried how I could possibly organise my finances), but I should also talk about Lala´s job-searching exploits. As an Azeri with a CELTA, after applying at countless schools, by late August only English Time had expressed an interest in her (then the woman offering the job went to the USA, leaving her Turkish understudy in charge, who then forgot all about the job offer). Perhaps it was for the best anyway, because by the second half of September, finally Lala´s luck changed and she got three job interviews. Two were part-time teaching positions, while the third was teaching Russian (Lala´s first language) at ILM. Then, when she called to confirm about the ILM job they replied that they only wanted "Russian" teachers; incredibly, they did not believe that Lala, being from Azerbaijan, could possibly know Russian so well. They never bothered to check, though, because they didn´t speak Russian.

So I started work at British Side while Lala was waiting for her visa run before she could start the part-time teaching jobs in October. We were both on three-month visas, and though I had managed to get a residence permit organised, Lala still needed to renew her visa.

To save on money, she got a bus to Georgia (Bulgaria and Greece requiring visa paperwork) on the 28th September. Then, at the Turkish-Georgian border, she was told that she had overstayed her visa by two months, and had to pay a fine and be allowed back into Turkey three months later. Or be deported and not come back for five years. Now, this is the thing: when she arrived the customs said her visa was valid for three months, as was mine. But, over the summer the Turkish aurthorities had decided to clamp down on their flexible regulations. The UK was also in the firing line, but the British authorities had managed to make the Turks see that tightening visa regulations would damage British tourism, so had postponed their plans for UK visas. The Azeris I guess had no such luck, as Azerbaijan had earlier this year tightened on its visa-free regime to Turkey (partly because Turkey had sought better relations with Armenia); in response, Turkey did the same to Azerbaijan. Now Azeris could only stay in Turkey for one month, not three. Except that for Lala to be fined retrospectively for overstaying what had been a three-month visa was absurd. Of course, we didn´t know about these visa changes until this morning. Teaching English is practically impossible for Lala in Turkey.

So now, Lala is no longer in Turkey, and I am stuck here for the time being. No wedding, no fiancee. Life without love is a prison. Going home to an empty flat full of your partner´s belongings is a heartbreaking experience. I only hope a solution and a way out of Turkey come up soon.

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