A Comedy of Errors: The Baku Edition – 3

Did I ever mention that time I had to attend a literature forum in Azerbaijan during my exams and there were no direct flights to Baku?

April 25, 2013:

In the previous post I talked about the preparing for the exam which I gave in the evening, that ended by nightfall and wearily made my way back home. After passing a cursory glance at my packed up suitcase, courtesy Mother Dear, I collapsed on my bed from sheer exhaustion after four consecutive days of cramming and giving exams while trying to get the travel arrangements done with due approvals for the event I mentioned in the very first post.

I barely heard my father talk about back-to-back flights and the need to be quick on my feet. My last thought before dozing off was that “tomorrow is going to be a long, long day.” For the first time in my life I was dead-on correct…on an unrelated note, perhaps more sleep leads to such epiphanies. *scribbles furiously on random piece of tissue*

April 26, 2013:

Here is where the fun begins…all incidents in local times.

11:00hrs:

Got up, put on the first T-shirt and jeans I could find, had breakfast and was driven to the airport where my dad handed me the tickets and all travel documents with another packet of the same travel documents and their 4 copies. Fathers, they just don’t trust you with the originals, do they? As a final precaution, he put a tiny padlock on my suitcase because he also doesn’t trust anybody else.

13:30hrs:

I had gone through the airport security checks, cleared the immigration line and had finally checked-in, sitting in the airport lounge answering my parents’ various queries about how I had fared so far. Yes, I am a mature adult. No, I cannot stop the parents from worrying. My Emirates flight was at 14:15 and I figured I had plenty of time to reach Baku.

Until I checked my ticket. Approximately 11hrs+ travel time. Why you ask?

BECAUSE THERE WERE NO GODDAMNED DIRECT FLIGHTS TO BAKU. BECAUSE I HAD TWO STOPOVERS AND THREE FLIGHTS TO BAKU. THAT’S WHY.

15:15hrs:

My first stop was Dubai, where I cried over my empty bank account for 4 hours or so at the luxurious and completely out-of-my-budget duty free airport.

dubai2

 

18:45hrs:

Then hopped on a plane to…guess where?

Tehran. Yes because there were no bloody direct flights to Baku, that’s why. And guess what happened when my plane landed at Tehran airport?

21:25hrs:

They didn’t let me off the plane because my head wasn’t covered. I couldn’t step on Iranian soil because my head wasn’t covered. This was their law and because I had no clue what was going on with my life I obviously also had no clue that foreigners had to cover their heads even at the airport as well.

So the embarrassed Emirates flight crew comforted an even more embarrassed me and held me back till everyone left so they could sort out the problem. Then they asked if I had a scarf. No. A jacket? No. Could I take off my shirt maybe and put it on my head? No biraather no. So they took out a blanket and the flight attendant taught me how to wear a it over my head like I was a retard who hadn’t worn a chaadar before in my life. They joked if I would pay for it. DO I LOOK LIKE I’D PAY TO PUT A BLANKET ON MY HEAD? I would’ve if I had the cash, but I didn’t. Eternally grateful to the crew though. Respect.

22:00hrs:

My next flight was at 23:10hrs but at the Tehran airport I couldn’t find a transfers queue, there were just two long immigration lines and I ended up one of them, when my turn came about twenty minutes later I told the guy I wasn’t really going to Tehran, I needed to go to Baku. he looked at me funny then called an airport security person who took me to a military guy, I mean he looked it, can’t think of him being anything else. So a soldier took my passport and told me to wait on a metal chair in this sad little corner where everyone could see the weird zombie wearing the blanket turban. While my flight was in an hour. Apparently I had to wait for the soldier to get me my boarding pass. Like I don’t even…a soldier. I can’t get my own boarding pass, the soldier will get it for me. I can’t move from the chair they put me on.

22:35hrs:

Hallelujah the soldier came back…and yelled NOREEN QAYAM! fml x 2.He handed me my ticket and passport and escorted me to the departure lounge. ESCORTED, because of course I would have the sudden urge to roam around the single corridor and get lost somehow, right? I was actually more worried that my plane had packed up and gone.

But flight delayed. By about an hour.

April 27, 2013:

00:30hrs:

So on Azerbaijan Airlines I went and came close to my destination.

01:30hrs:

The plane landed at the Heydar Aliyev airport in Baku and being so late already, at the immigration counter they stopped me. Asked me numerous questions which I could not really connect. They couldn’t understand why I came from Tehran.

They called the head of security who asked me the same questions. They couldn’t understand why I, a Pakistani, would come to Baku via Tehran. Honestly bro, if I had a choice I wouldn’t go to Tehran either, blanket or not.

But then suddenly he smiled and let me through. The person waiting for me outside holding a very nice banner with my name on it drove me to the lovely Radisson hotel and deposited me in my room with my luggage. I had a roommate. A Bengali girl. She was asleep.

It was 2am on Saturday morning now. THE Saturday morning. The event was in 6 hours. The Bengali girl woke up, said hi, told me to put on an alarm then fell asleep. In my haste to answer the luring call of the soft and comfy bed I tried to unlock my suitcase and yank out my pyjamas. I broke the lock. At 2am in alien territory I watched the springs and pins and tumblers of the tiny lock fly over my head and spread all over the floor. The lock was beyond repair. I collected the tiny parts and dumped it in the dresser drawer, changed into my pjs and drifted off to sleep.

6:00hrs:

I woke up, got dressed in my smart formals, had breakfast in the swanky hotel lounge, introduced myself to everyone who I found had already been introduced to each other at the dinner the previous night. Which I had missed. Because there were no direct flights to Baku. So then we climbed the bus and reached the convention center.

9:30hrs:

As soon as we were seated in the concert hall, a bombshell was promptly dropped on me that since I was representing Pakistan, I had to recite a piece of my poetry in Urdu to an audience of over 500. On stage. On national TV. And since I had missed the welcome dinner for the participants the previous night, I also missed the rehearsal that everyone else got to do right then. How bloody golden enh?

So I was handed a printout of my poem that I had emailed them back when I expressed my interest in participation, and I noticed something funky the minute I started reading my own poem’s Urdu translation. To those who do not know, written Urdu’s orientation is from right to left, similar to Arabic, even in the script. The version on the paper printed in front of me was left to right. Apparently my translation was reversed due to a glitch in the Microsoft Word version and now I was looking at my poem that sounded quite retarded to my own ears as I read ‘moment a takes only it’ in Urdu which sounds even worse. So what does one do? One reads backwards. So I tried and waited for an opportunity to rehearse on stage before the guests arrived.

Not to be so. Pakistan starts with the 16th letter in the alphabet, and it was probably by the time Miss Moldova stepped down that guests started filling in. I was so going to be so royally screwed. While I was silently rocking in my seat like a condemned prisoner, guess who shows up to meet me? THE DEPUTY AMBASSADOR OF PAKISTAN. He wished me well, said he was proud of me and completely ignored the silent calls for salvation I was trying to send him by blinking rapidly. Suddenly I realized I couldn’t go ahead with my plan to recite gibberish because obviously he knows Urdu.

12:45hrs ~

So I sat waiting for my turn and then climbed up on stage and “Salam from Pakistan”. For some very odd reason the crowd loved that. I then proceeded to recite my own poem’s Urdu translation to foreign dignitaries, Azeri government officials and famous poets. Once that was done I tottered back unsteadily on my heels to my seat and pretended I hadn’t just done the bravest thing ever in my life.

Nobody told me they were recording it on camera, as I later found when they emailed the link to my shaky, trembling performance. NOBODY is watching that I guarantee you. That’s me, third from left.

baku2

14:00hrs onwards:

Once that was done we were taken for lunch which was awesome possum. Then back to hotel to change for dinner which was also awesome possum. And then I mingled with the girls from 19 other countries and somehow they thought socially awkward was acceptable. I do love them for that. Here I would like to mention that my numerous flights to Baku had resulted in my ears popping so many times that I had become nearly deaf. Some ppl probably still think the poor girl from Pakistan is deaf. And that is how I spent my weekend in Baku. Feeling like I’m underwater. I think a blog post is due on what we did in Baku itself. I’ll think about.

April 28, 2013:

18:00hrs:

So  the event wrapped up, I had to pack up my suitcase and suddenly I remembered I had no lock. My delicates could be easily be seen by anybody who bothered to open my suitcase on a whim because people like to do that sometimes no? So began a quest to find a lock. Asked the hotel reception, they said this was the Hotel District, no such markets around, will have to walk far. So Miss Bangladesh and I set off to find it a lock whose Azeri name we did not know, ignorance on my part as I realized when I made some apparently indecent gestures at shopkeepers while asking for a lock. Someone realized I wasn’t actually asking for strange favors and exclaimed “Achaar!” so we started running around asking for an achaar and the shopkeepers still thought we were stupid.

At one newsstand the guy handed me a bunch of keys and I looked at stupidly for a while till Miss Bangladesh said asked for the lock which the keys go into. The guy exclaimed “Kiffel!” so basically we had been asking people for keys and not locks which are called kiffel and obviously that was terribly stupid of us. Long story short, nobody had a kiffel anywhere nearby, but people had lots of achaars which were completely useless for me of course.

April 29, 2013:

00:00hrs:

I was dropped off at the airport for my three flights back to Pakistan, beginning with the one to Tehran in half an hour. I got my suitcase plastic-wrapped and because I’m smart, I kept a scarf this time.

01:10hrs:

I was prepared for Tehran, I even smiled at the soldier like he was my chacha ka beta. He obviously didn’t believe we could be related. But this time I had a stayover in Tehran for four hours, so I found my way into the Emirates lounge and failing to connect to the wi-fi, went and drowned my sorrows in free orange juice till my 5am flight to Dubai, occasionally dozing off and waking up to different people sitting on my table every time I opened my eyes.

06:35hrs:

The flight to Dubai was a breeze. It also landed half an hour away from the main airport where I had to go for my next flight in an hour and a half. I believe I found a hidden talent of biting my nails while maintaining my balance in that flat bus-shuttle thing that takes you from the plane to the terminal.

7:00hrs:

My flight to Karachi was at 8am. Obviously I’m no Rehman Malik for whom the plane could wait, so like Anjali in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge, I ran to my bullet-riddled Shahrukh Khan, i.e. the plane.

anjali

I was the last passenger. I was also late. And I was also too embarrassed to travel with Emirates ever again in my life.

11:00hrs:

I was completely deaf when I landed in Karachi. I was high on orange juice and air pressure.

Happily ever afterwards:

 

I didn’t have to give the exam I missed. The teacher said he didn’t have time to make another paper so he would give me the class average score coupled with my overall marks in quizzes and assignments. I would’ve declared my undying love for him but the thought of his wife and daughter stopped me. Yes I’ve stalked him on Facebook.

So then people asked me if two days in Baku were worth it. I say hell yes and I would do it again because once in a lifetime bro.

So who wants to go to Baku with me?

*the end*

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A Comedy of Errors: The Baku Edition – 2

Did I ever mention that time I had to attend a literature forum in Azerbaijan during my exams and there were no direct flights to Baku?

April 9, 2013:

GSW emailed me with the finalized dates that I had to be in Baku and guess what? It was going to be an ALL-EXPENSES-PAID trip. Get that? Everything paid for. EVERYTHING. They needed confirmation of my participation, how could I say no? Actually I could because remember how I said in the the previous post that my exams were in three weeks? My exam schedule was right in front of me as I slowly marked the days of the event on the calendar on the days I had my exams, there was an overlap with two of the papers. I might have felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, but I wouldn’t say that because:

A. a rock can be a hard place too, why discriminate against it?

B. It just sounded wrong tbh.

C. I wasn’t really stuck anywhere.

So I had a choice: I could either fly out, miss my exams and retake them when I return, or, I could forego this event, give my exams and just keep swimming like this particular individual here:

dory-486x326

 

The only problem was that IBA wasn’t letting me go ahead and skip an exam, even when I promised to give it when I get back, cuz dat aint how we roll homie. Excuse me, that was not deliberate. Basically the only way I could make it happen was by getting the official documents from GSW to show to the administration that I was not exactly going on a two-day vacation to ex-Russian territory. Simple? No. Why? Because I did not have the documents. Because you cannot start a sentence with because.

April 10, 2013:

GSW emailed me the official document, sent a letter to the Azerbaijan embassy and told me to get in touch with them for visa processing. I sent the documents to the IBA program director, who sent it to the associate dean, who sent it to the MBA office, who forgot about it.

April 14, 2013:

I emailed them again so they sent it to the associate dean who sent it back to me saying I needed the teachers’ approval. I emailed both the teachers who had the papers on Saturday, 27th April. They agreed to make separate papers for me to give when I returned, so I forwarded their blessings to the administration. Meanwhile GSW was pushing me to contact the embassy and also asked me for a hi-res photograph of yours truly, which I later found out was going to be a part of a catalogue. I would’ve hired a professional photographer and not cropped a random smiling picture from a vacation in Dubai if I had known the bit about the catalogue.

April 16, 2013:

My call finally got through to the Azerbaijan embassy based in Islamabad and where the operator promptly informed me that all visa applications are to be done in person. Also, the process would take two weeks apparently. Two weeks. Too much LOLs in my face.

I spoke to the GSW representative who told me that a letter had been sent to the embassy so I need not worry and just apply.

April 17, 2013:

I skipped classes that day and flew to Islamabad by the 7am flight to apply for the visa to Azerbaijan. My best friend sent her driver who I had no idea about but thankfully he saw the sign on my face saying ‘Blundering Idiot’ and brought me to her home safely. From there is took me an hour to reach the Diplomatic Enclave where I had to hop on a shuttle that would take another hour to drop off applicants to their respective embassies. The driver dropped a family of 9 at the US embassy, followed by a family of 5 at the British embassy, followed by a family of 3 at the Afghanistan embassy. He was happily on his way back to the shuttle port when I meekly asked him how far the Azerbaijan embassy was. Perhaps he thought I was part of the pathan or baloch families that had been dropped off earlier, although I highly doubt I have any resemblance to either of the ethnicities, but he did not understand how I came to be on his cruiser. Shaking his head in disbelief, he dropped me off at the imposing Azerbaijan embassy building where I entered, spoke to the Counsel General who could not believe I had been told to fly to Islamabad for this, promised me that the lousy operator would be dealt with and then took my documents and sent me on my way. Basically I was in and out in 5 minutes. Not more, not less.

A two-hour flight to another city, then a two-hour road trip to an embassy, to get done in 5 minutes. A trip that apparently was not even required. NOT REQUIRED. I did not have to skip my classes, I did not have to fly to the capital and get mistaken as the child of someone I do not even know, I did not even have to meet the embassy dude. I just had to send the passport and papers and chill out. BUT I DID NOT BECAUSE I WAS TOLD OTHERWISE BY THAT LOUSY OPERATOR WHO HAD BEEN DEALT WITH. I hope. I think. Maybe not. Ok no I don’t want him to lose the job.

So I flew back to Karachi at midnight and resumed classes, waiting for my visa that takes five days apparently. The event was in ten days.

April 18, 2013:

I still hadn’t booked my tickets in case the visa didn’t arrive in time, or if the exam schedule changed, meaning more trips to administration. Luckily one of the exams was moved earlier so now I just had one paper to take care of. The administration still had not given me a go-ahead that it would allow me to retake the examination, so the situation was still dicey, I suppose it is part of their agenda to train us in the art of dealing with difficult people. How else would my MBA degree be complete eh?

April 19, 2013:

I got the call that the visa had been issued, but since this was Friday, the earliest I could pick it up was on Monday, the 22nd of April. The event was starting on the evening of the 26th. *bites nails*

April 20, 2013:

I received an ominous email from the Head of Examinations at IBA summoning me to his office, with an eerily calm “re-takes are arranged by the Examination Office, if approved”, notice how the last two words are practically screaming at me in horror at my gall asking them to retake my exam?

scream

April 22, 2013:

Exams had started by then and I called in a favor to get my passport with the visa back to Karachi because the couriers would take two days.

I met with the Head of Examinations and can someone say Lucifer, because I totally felt like I was making a deal with the devil when I told him how lucky IBA was that it had me as a student, like, could it claim it had any other student going all the way to this tiny country for an event completely irrelevant to a business school? I think he was in a good mood because he said ok. Not that his face ever tells you a thing, it doesn’t, one might speculate that the lines in his face hint at digestive troubles but you would not hear it from him.

April 24, 2013:

By this time GSW was sufficiently panicked about my possible cancellation and a suggestion to laugh it off as a national characteristic was shot down because that is not how we portray our country. Nevertheless I called the travel agent in the middle of exams with instructions to book the fastest ticket to Baku without asking me too many questions. Also sent in my confirmation to the event organizers and let my mother pack my suitcase while I prepared for exams. Should’ve packed it myself.

The agent emailed me the e-ticket which I blindly handed to my dad as I aggressively crammed marketing strategies for dishwashing soap for my exam the next day. The exam was on Thursday evening. My flight was on Friday morning. The event started at 8am on Saturday. Cutting it close, yes we were.

You would suppose this was the end of my troubles.

The fun was only beginning.

*continued here*

A Comedy of Errors: The Baku Edition – 1

Did I ever mention that time I had to attend a literature forum in Azerbaijan during my exams and there were no direct flights to Baku?

No? Let me tell you all about my misadventures in the Spring of 2013 when I did something I never imagined myself capable of doing even in my next incarnation. And no it is not singing in public because trust me THAT is never going to happen. Not even over my dead body, despite the fact that it would be physically impossible to do that actually.

Anyhow, so I dabble in poetry sometimes and given the fact I have a blog set up here I certainly feel myself capable of writing a masterpiece once in my lifetime just like the other 300 million or so bloggers out there. Eventually, some day, maybe. So my attempts at rhyming words was apparently good enough for an old professor of mine to be interested in; the said professor was a poet by passion and an educator by choice and had often joked about being the founder of the Noreen Qayam poetry fanclub…the punchline being that he remains the only member. During one of such conversations he had asked if I would travel for poetry to a far off land, I said sure if there’s a sale on shoes. Ha Ha I crack myself up. Not. This was way back in 2012 while I was probably more concerned about the amount of food left in the cafeteria for me to pay heed to his golden words, because they were going to change my life. Quite literally.

So in early February, the professor calls me up out of the blue with a mischievous “How would you like to go to Azerbaijan?”. Now while I was trying to string together a coherent reply to his very strange question, he proceeded to tell me about having been approached by an international organization who wanted him to nominate a female to participate in poetry forum in Baku. I’m pretty sure he mistook my bewildered “Baku?!” as “Why yes of course I would love to travel to a desolate void on the world map that not many people venture to!”. The very next day I received an email from a representative of the Great Silkway International Youth Union, asking me to send me a few of my details for further processing of my nomination. And so I typed a short response while scraping my jaw off the floor at the sudden realization that the professor was not actually pulling my leg. Thus began a conspiracy to make me have the time of my life and actually do something worthwhile with the pocketful of talents I might possess.

March 29, 2013:

After nearly two months of silence the GSW representative emailed me again, explaining how she had been waiting for the dates of the event to arrive for her to get in touch with me again. She needed me to send in a poem I had written in Urdu, along with its English translation so that they could short-list the candidate. The only poem I had ever written in Urdu was when I was 6 years old and its rough translation in English would be something like ‘I am a Barbie doll and I will eat your food…‘ So being the resourceful Pakistani that I am, I translated one of my English poems into Urdu and sent it off laughing to myself at the silly notion of competing with all the other authentic Urdu-loving candidates who probably quote Ghalib and Iqbal when talking about the weather.

April 6, 2013:

The GSW representative sent an urgent email asking for my passport scan because my poem had been selected.

MY poem.

MINE.

A poem written by ME.

So in that state of statelessness I answered her email, and while I was contemplating the many ways in which my identity could be stolen, she replied back with the confirmed dates of the event: April 26-29. Basically in three weeks’ time I was supposed to be in Baku.

I was still processing that when my inbox pinged again, this time from IBA with the mid-term examination schedule that I had forgotten about as completely as one forgets the hiding place of the secret stash of money we keep for rainy days.

My exams were going to start in three weeks. The same time as the event in Baku.Things had suddenly gotten very interesting.

*continued here*