While I have applied for an Omani employment visa to work legally through Al-Burooj, it appears to be languishing in a somewhereministry and may not surface for a long time (we submitted the forms and payment in early October). The result of which is that I am obliged to repeatedly buy monthly tourist visas. So far I have bought two. I suspect that at a certain point the visa-stamping airport functionaries will cease to believe that I am a backpacker. On verra.
So I drove to the ministry on the 10th to check if I could buy a new tourist visa without exciting the country. After considerable consternation, I located the Hijra wa Jawazat (Emigration and Passports) building, and entered the incense-thick entry-room, filled with, give or take, a hundred closely-arranged Omani men in dishdasha. This would be an example of an occasion on which it would have been a fortuitous forethought to wear abaya, instead of my favorite Citizens For Humanity dark-wash denims and a button down.
I was very confused – there were desks around the entire circumference of the room, and everyone appeared to be waiting, but there was no evidence of a line or a place to get wait tickets – hamdulilleh I speak Arabic (at least shway), so I went maladroit-foreignerly up to one of the desked men and inquired about buying a ta’isheera seaww-heea jadeeda (new tourist visa). He kindly directed me to the center of the room where there was a wooden enclosure (smaller than my ex-dorm room for sure) whose walls reached 3/4 of the way to the ceiling. The sea of white dishdashas swept up their heads in a wave of observation at the fumbling she-ajnabi.
I hesitantly opened the wooden door into the…for lack of a better word, postchamber (that would be the opposite of an antechamber, right, because it’s inside/after the inner room, rather than outside/before it?), and masha’allah! It was filled with women! The fantasy of postchamberers everywhere! No but seriously, the reason the main room had been devoid of female comrades was because it was NOT devoid of female comrades! The other women were all there, removed from view casually in the middle of the room. The postchamber was quite full – all of us women pressing up against the ceiling-not-reaching wooden walls – as it was a rather small accomodation and there were nearly as many of us lady-occupants as there were men in the spacious exterior. Ya allah.
I chatted in Arabic for about ten minutes with some of the other women (upon whom I was indecorously pressed), and ultimately one of them explained to me that visas were actually taken care of in a separate building. She offered to show me the way, and we left that postchamber for good, hamdulilleh. On the way out I tried to ask the desked man from before why he had directed me to wait in there – a clearly erroneous instruction – but he just shrugged and smiled.
Upon my blissful arrival in building number two, I filled out a few forms in Arabic, and was promptly told that the system said my visa had expired on November 9th (it was November 10th). I pointed to the stamp in my passport that clearly said “Valid until 11-11-2013” and searched for the Arabic equivalent of “What gives?” My passport was passed and ported around for awhile by a number of on-the-other-side-of-the-glass employees, and finally a man came up to the window and explained that he could not sell me a new tourist visa because I had been residing in the country illegally since my return from passing Eid in Dubai on October 19.
Although it is not written anywhere on the visa, evidently Omani tourist visas are single-entry by default. When I bought my visa on October 11 everything was peachy. But then when I left again for Dubai during Eid holidays, exiting the country on October 14, the $60 one-month Omani visa I had just bought was (unbeknownst to yours truly) immediately annulled. Naturally, when I re-entered after Eid on October 19th, I had no intention of buying another $60 visa, because mine, as I mentioned, said it was “Valid until 11-11-2013.” I actually remember chatting with the rajul at Customs and hamdulilleh he didn’t know the single-entry rule either. Yani, I have a legal entry stamp from October 19th, but no legal visa.
Anyways, the behindglassed man told me I needed to leave the country immediately and was liable to be fined up to 200 OMR ($530) upon my exit. And, of course, when you are fined for a visa infraction in Oman, you are also blacklisted and unable to re-enter the country…like…ever. My response to which was, “But sir (dudebruh!), the Customs officer told me kul shay tammam, ma fee shay (It’s all good, ain’t no thang, common Arabic slang) and stamped me in, so this really isn’t (entirely) my fault!” To which he shrugged and actually said, “Oops.”
This was disheartening. So basically I booked it back to Muscat (all these immigration ministries are out in Seeb, a half hour west, near the airport), got some wifi, booked a verysoon billet d’avion and sent a supplicating Facebook message to my Burundian friends in Dubai asking for temporary auberge.