This adventure will be told in three or four installments. Stay tuned.
The week before
The week before I left on my trek to Everest Base Camp, I was banned from going on the trip; my passport was still at immigration; I did not have my visa for Nepal (which was okay, but I wanted it in my hand when I boarded the plane), and finally, I was sure that I was about to lose my job. I was a wreck, ready to come home, give it all up.
As I licked my wounds, I tried to get my passport back. It is a universal truth that when it comes to dealing with anything government, you are speaking another language. Throw in living in a multi-lingual culture (Tamil, Malay, English with a heavy accent, Mandarin…) and you can only imagine how I felt swimming through the system.
The US embassy processed my new passport in a week. A week before my passport was due to be returned, Malaysian immigration said that they had changed their policy (what policy?) and it would take a month more to process my work visa. When I rejected that idea, they claimed that I had not paid my taxes. When I showed them my receipt of payment, they claimed that a holiday had held up the process.
I got messages like your passport is ready. I would go over to get it, and immigration had no idea who I was. Then the message came on Tuesday before it was time to leave: your passport has not been approved; call us back; come get your passport at 4 pm. Yes, I did proofread that sentence. Since I was communicating through four people who spoke several different languages, I decided to go down to HR to see if they could translate this mysterious message for me. She looked up the status of my case on the computer and saw that my passport was ready.
I took an Uber to immigration. It was much easier this time because I knew where it was. On my previous trip, I discovered that the immigration branch that deals with expats is not on the GPS system. When I got there to pick up my passport, they told me to wait in the lobby for some guy whose name I could never pronounce in a million years. Down to the lobby, I went to ask the dudes at the front desk if they knew who this person was. Either they had absolutely no idea, or they couldn’t understand a word that I said, OR I couldn’t understand a word that said or all of the above. At this point, I confirmed my serious problem with anxiety, which did not help the situation.
I sat in the lobby repeating the serenity prayer and waited for the guy with the unpronounceable name to show up. A guy did show up and made some kind of muddled announcement several times before I heard the words Learning Port mingled in a garbled, possibly English, sentence.
My passport had arrived. From what I gathered, telling me to come get the passport was translated into we will drive the passport to Learning Port. As an English Major, a writer, a woman with her master’s degree and a decent command of the English language, the multiple ways of speaking this English astound me. Malaysia may be a country where “everyone speaks English” but that what kind of English that might be is questionable.
It was Tuesday, so I ran to the Nepalese Embassy (I could write a novel about that experience), but they only processed visas from 10:30 to 12:30. I went the next day, to be at the front of the line at 10:30. There are a lot of people from Nepal who work in Malaysia. People ship them in by the planeload for decent and cheap labor. I had plenty of time to talk to several business owners about this while I waited for the two hours it took for the electricity to turn on before I could get in to get my tourist visa.
I was the only person getting a travel visa, the only woman, and the only non-Asian, so I did stand out a bit. The two people behind the desk serving about 150 people trying to renew their work visas beckoned me to plow through the mob. When I got there, the clerk pointed out that I needed a photocopy of my passport. I looked at the photocopy machine sitting next to him, gave him the I-have-been-waiting-on-a-spit-filled-sidewalk-for-two-hours look, and asked him politely to make a copy for me. On Wednesday, the day before our departure, I retrieved my passport from the Nepalese embassy; this time, they had electricity.
Another glitch in the preparation
Four days before the trip to Everest Base Camp began, the group leader had kicked me off the trip and out of the Happy Hikers. I was guilty of not being a team player, and hiking as if I was trying to catch a plane. I am guilty as charged of both of these crimes. I have always moved too fast. For the sake of my credibility, I will not detail my qualities as a team player.
Also, four days before the trip, my supervisor told me that there was no more work for me to do at my company. My passport was still at immigration for my work visa and I needed to get it back to get my visa for Nepal. (I was planning on going alone at this point.) Things were not going well.
Do I work here anymore?
The undercurrent of all of this chaos was that I was beginning to figure out that my days as a Subject Matter Expert were drawing to a close. I had discussed this feeling I had with a supervisor, but we had not come to any conclusion. Rather that describing this Ring-Around-the-Rosie, let me just say that I did the communicating this time in writing, which is my best medium. I wrote a letter to my boss with a proposal of how I wanted to write a blog for Learning Port that would draw potential buyers to his website. What did I have to lose? I want to be a writer. He agreed and on Monday, I will move up a floor to write and to edit. Unless something has happened while I have been trekking in Nepal, I am looking forward to starting again on Monday.
The short version is that I was allowed back into the group. I got my passport. My work visa was renewed, I had my tourist visa for Nepal, the trip leader allowed me back on the trip, and I gained some humility on the way.