Foreign Dispatch: The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

By Courtney Kealy


I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

-T.S. Eliot "The love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock."

Applying for visas is the bane of my job. The supplications, the waits, the hopes, and then the sucker punch: you get the visa to travel to a dangerous sometimes-dictatorial regime.

A friend told me the other day, "You need a new travel agent."

It's a joke often told.

When I said to my brother I hoped to head into Somalia one of these days he said it wasn't his idea of a holiday destination.

It's my ideal of a great job- traveling into Yemen... Baghdad... -wherever there is news.

But it's been a long weekend waiting in Dubai re-rolling my clothes to fit neatly into my suitcase while at the mercy of the Pakistani Consulate here for a visa to Islamabad. I often dissolve into tears waiting in situations like this one. Frustrations with Libyan and Syrian authorities have often triggered the waterworks in the past.

Thinking I'd be here for a short wait, I booked into a cheaper hotel to save the company cash. The sealed windows overlook a dark atrium. A slow Internet connection and the constant cable news updates of Bangkok clashes have been witness to my sporadic gut-sucking teary meltdowns.

As David Bowie said, "its lonely here in outer space."

One hundred degree heat and sand filled sky greeted me outside when I left my den-like hotel room Sunday morning. I wore a dress suitable for church or Sunday brunch to the Pakistani Consulate. A white shrug covered my arms; the somewhat loose dress grazed my calves. After several hours waiting in the Consulate, with the disappointment of no visa being issued, it felt like a flimsy nightgown. I hadn't covered enough.

I no longer felt church-ready pretty; I felt exposed. It was the neckline - demure in New York, but almost plunging in this circumstance. The silky jersey dress, flowing at home felt clingy and inappropriately sexy here.

A headscarf and black cloak is unnecessary in Dubai but would have felt much more comfortable. I have three different versions but they aren't the cotton salwar kameez worn in Pakistan, long loose tunic over trousers with a matching scarf loosely draped around the neckline. That was what the consular officer in charge of press was wearing. The consulate was packed with hundreds of Pakistanis who work here in the UAE but dress as they would at home. I hadn't realized it would feel like I was already in Pakistan while waiting.

I have planned on having a few simple ones made for me when I arrive in Islamabad. But I am still waiting for the visa. Despite top authorities in Islamabad giving the ok, it seems it's not enough. My colleague in Islamabad is valiantly shuttling between the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, the Interior and Information.

Meanwhile my blackberry buzzes and jingles with the arrival of emails from colleagues and acquaintances replying to my email questions with editorial and logistical advice. For reporting outside Islamabad, an incredible experienced and courageous cameraman wrote, "cover up, head, arms and legs, go in get what you need and move out fast, the refugee camp Chinese whispers are faster than mobile phones."

The hotel accommodations have been deemed to be safe and comfortable according to a state department personal protection expert, but he also wrote "keep in mind it has been attacked three times in the past three years."

That's what I look forward to while I hope to get my visa.

A new travel agent indeed.