Traveling Raconteur

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Getting a Visa to SA and Failing Miserably

It seems that Saudi doesn’t need tourism and doesn’t give tourist visas. Photography is not allowed in the country. A woman is not expected to wander on the streets alone, she is not expected to be seen with anyone other than her father, husband, brother or son. If a woman wished to leave a country, she’d require a written permission from any of her male relations FHBS. Women are not expected to drive a car, not expected to speak with strangers, men. Smoking and drinking is not allowed, not sure if that’s against the law. It is of course mandatory for women to wear the abaya in public, no other way about that, if I read further I would find many things under intolerant ‘not expected to,’ list but I stopped right there so I can work out a plan, try several options, get down to the paperwork, work connections.

Being woman who usually, naturally does what the country’s government doesn’t allow, traveling around Jeddah meant extreme caution and danger. Isn’t that why we travel? To do the dangerous, risky stuff with extreme caution and smartness attempting to see strange parts of the world? The most complex Saudi got, the bigger my curiosity grew. I was secretly telling myself: I have to get myself into Jeddah, I want to see the place, the people, the sounds and sights of daily life, I really want to! One of my favourite travel quotes is by Edna St Vincent – ‘there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take, no matter where it is going.’

From the very few pictures of Jeddah that I found online, I could tell that this is a super-interesting city with great architecture and interesting food. I imagined walking on the streets alone in an abaya, all things begin in the imagination, it is funny to acknowledge now that even in my dreams I wasn’t allowed to walk streets alone. Even in my voluntary, conscious dreams, designed by self – even in those, emerged police that stopped me to question me. Lol.

Here were my plans to make this happen: be a traveler in a country that doesn’t want travelers like me

  1. Find friends and family: It seemed possible to prove friendship with a family that will invite me to Saudi Arabia so I can spend the 23 hours in Jeddah. This meant they would send me an invitation letter. I sure have plenty of friends with families and connection in Saudi, not one gave me any hope of sending an invite.
  2. Business Visa: Perhaps I could convince my office to send me on a customer demo or make an introduction of our product to a company based in Jeddah. Didn’t work.
  3. Use the religion card: My religious views are super complex but I am far from Muslim. Luckily for me, I am born into a Muslim family and have a Muslim name (cracking up as I type that), this meant, I could apply for an Umrah/Hajj visa. An Umrah pilgrimage is certainly great fodder, a great journey for a traveler. I was happy to fake being a devout Muslim, if only that helps me get into the country and also takes me on a pilgrimage! I was shocked when this didn’t work. Will elaborate in following paragraphs.
  4. Final Resort: Marry.

I hate smart ideas when they work against me. Just when I thought I could nail an SA visa playing the religion card did I find the catch – a woman is allowed to go on this pilgrimage only with a ‘mahram,’ – father, brother, husband, son – the only time I wish I had a husband or a son, I have none and my father and brother barely know where I am going forget going with me. What about women who has none? The govt. wouldn’t deny this right to a woman if she’s unfortunate to have no one t go with her. So I was still hopeful. Apparently, the only way a single woman can go on this pilgrimage is if she’s over 40 and travels with a group. I am neither 40 nor have a group.

To put my strange case forward, I visited the SA Consulate in Mumbai while I was there.

I expected to be sent back as I didn’t have an appointment to meet the PR official at the consulate. To my wonderful surprise, I wasn’t sent back and what’s more, the official met me almost immediately, unhurriedly, gave me due attention, listened patiently, empathetically. His kind, gentle smile inspired hope in me, maybe he’d give me good news! Maybe I will find myself on Jeddah streets in a month!

I will always remember this PR official at the SA Consulate. He gave me the worst news which basically said ‘Forget SA, there’s no way you can travel there,’ but the way he said it eliminated every emotion that comes out of hearing bad news. I wasn’t angry, sad, irritated, frustrated or agitated.

I just plain accepted the answer when the official said with the gentleness of a deer – ‘Sister, I am very sorry that there doesn’t seem to be any way that will make me tell you that this journey you want to make as a single 27-year old woman to SA is possible. Please have faith in Allah, someday you will get a better chance to make your Umrah/Hajj journey. Allah is kind and generous, you will have such a chance and then there wouldn’t be any complexity around your travel, please be patient, please wait until such a time arrives.’

And like that, with all Jeddah dreams squashed, I left the Consulate, yet with a smile. I still will be in Jeddah airport, on Jeddah land. That’s something.

Please allow me to explain ‘Marry’ in another post 😀




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This entry was posted on June 21, 2013 by in Travels.

Fighting An Additction

Not One MoreSeptember 12th, 2014
Addiction is a curse one allows upon one's self until it ceases to seek permission. I do not like the idea of a mind controlled by substance. If I can refrain for 30 days, I'd be very impressed with myself.

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