Up at 6:30 to be at the immigration office at 7:45. It’s called the Foreign Regional Registration Office or FRRO for short. It takes at least an hour to drive to downtown Bangalore but if you leave early you can beat traffic. We are no longer fazed by sharing the road with tractors!
In the summer, with all the foreign students, the line in front of the FRRO can go around the block, but today we were 5th in line, thanks to Leon, the immigration coordinator who stood in line for us before we arrived. That’s how nice they are here, they wait in line for you.
At 8:30, the office opens. You go into a room, walk around the velvet rope dividers and wait a few minutes at the counter (longer if you’re not 5th in line) and they review your file. You have to bring about 10 different documents, including proof of residence (signed by the hotel), letter of employment, salary grid, photos… Then you get a token. I thought it was going to look like a casino chip, but it’s only a small sheet of paper with a number on it. Bummer, I wanted a casino chip.
Then you wait again. Outside. The second immigration office, which is upstairs, only opens at 9:30. This is when we ventured a bit for the first time since we are here, and had “local” tea and coffee. Oh boy was that good! Milk in both and tons of sugar. Leon’s was in a glass, ours was served in a paper cup, because white tummies can’t handle drinking from glasses washed in non-filtered water.
At 9:30 you mozy on upstairs for the second round of document review. The exact same documents that were presented and reviewed downstairs. But 9:30 is only the time at which the government workers sit at their desk. Then it takes a while to start the computers, launch the software, have the coffee lady serve coffee (none for the immigrants), check the angle and positioning of computer monitors. You wait. Then they call your token number. And review the documents again. And take your picture. And ask you to come back later. Our next appointment, the third of the day, is set for 1:00. We were lucky everything was in order, but a French man was up in arms because some forms were missing.
Round two of living dangerously today: we were hungry. What does the driver, who has a great sense of humor, suggest as a lunch place? TGIF and McDonald! No no no! So he brought us to this South Indian restaurant where they serve wonderful dosas. Guess what I had for breakfast/lunch? A cheese plain dosa. And another tea. In a ceramic cup. Washed with water that was probably not filtered. But I am hoping the hot tea will have killed the bacteria. However, “someone” who was willing to risk spending the weekend in the hotel bathroom ate (by mistake for the first bite) his dosa with the chutney/condiments. Condiments are not always refrigerated properly, nor are they prepared with clean vegetables, hence the precaution. Lunch was under $3.00.
Next stop, the pet store. We are running out of the American pet food we brought and the “kittens” are about to go hungry as well. There was only one choice for cats, so our adult American shorthair cats are now eating Persian kitten food. Maybe they will become fluffier and younger!
We still have quite a while before the immigration appointment, and we see a bakery. Indians love sweets. And our driver too I believe. He keeps mentioning that his kids like cookies, but I suspect he has a sweet tooth! Indian cookies are very good. From the simple butter cookie to salt cookies, to cumin cookies (my favorite, jeera cookies) to masala cookies. Those are an acquired taste: chili peppers, or black pepper in a cookie. Did I mention I am getting fat?
Back to the immigration office’s waiting room. It is now much hotter, and smellier! About a third of the people waiting are from West Africa, most fairly young, probably students. I noticed four French families. Among other countries present were Thailand, Yemen, Iran, China, and Sudan. I looked at passport covers, that’s how I know! A lot of the younger crowd had textbooks, students in engineering or pharmacy.
Right on time, they call our first name, give us a nice sheet of paper stating we are now official residents of India. That’s it. But a young man next to us was being asked to go back to his country. “No more extensions, no more”.
And we get to do that all over again once we have a permanent address. Cookies and all!