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Kabul – A Lunch in Chinese Embassy

The grand complex of Chinese embassy. Not big enough? This is just one among dozen of buildings in the complex. It’s grand. It’s just like a Chinese garden from the Middle Kingdom being transported to the middle of dusty Kabul. Mr. Yang, Mr. Li, and Mr. Yu were waiting outside the grand embassy building with strong Chinese-style architecture. Mr. Yang is the ambassador, Mr. Li is the counselor, and Mr. Yu is the protocol staff. They have been waiting for about 30 minutes. We came very late, due to jammed Kabul traffic. And we, two women and two men, felt very much embarrassed. How suddenly an ordinary man like me being invited to have lunch with his Excellency Chinese Ambassador? In a diplomatic function held for the Indonesian National Day, the Chinese Ambassador and his very two staffs paid a visit. A friend of mine, a Chinese Indonesian working in UN, expressed her curiousness on Chinese culture. The hospitable Ambassador then invited her to come to the embassy to have lunch together. A month after it is proved that the invitation was not a mere lip service. She received an email from the protocol staff about the meeting and she [...]

September 24, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Bom Blast (Again)

What? A bomb blast? Come on, it’s just a bomb blast. Let’s continue with the party and plenty of food here. It was like a morning call. A big blast even rocked me from my sleep. I opened my eyes, thought a while, “it might be a bomb blast”, and continued sleeping. Later I just found out that it was a suicide bomb. The location is nearby the airport, about 4 km from my place. But as the sound was very loud, this should be a big bomb, a car bomb. The attacker targeted a NATO-led ISAF military airport, just next to the main military airport. But the target seemed to be very miraculous, as always, as the attacker only killed two Afghan soldiers and injured some others. Suicide attacks have been quite rampant in Kabul in last three months, since the big blast which killed 35 Afghan police cadets and other minor blasts targeted to ISAF soldiers. Calculation on casualties shows that most of the attacks kill civilians or locals rather than foreign ‘enemies’. As it becomes routine, the morning attack didn’t change so much for the people mood. The ladies in our embassy were busier on cooking food [...]

August 31, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Indonesian Role in the Hostage Crisis

The diplomat-in-charge announces the detail of the story to the community of Indonesian expats in Kabul (which is less than a dozen) If there is one more reason to be proud as an Indonesian, then this comes from the southern part of Afghanistan. Yesterday we were very relieved to hear that a breakthrough had been achieved in the negotiation between Taliban and Korean delegates after a face-to-face meeting held in Ghazni city. The two sides agreed at 5 points of agreement: first, all Koreans will quit Afghanistan by the end of 2007; second, Koreans working for NGOs in Afghanistan will leave the country by the end of this month; third, no more Korean Christian missionaries are allowed to enter Afghanistan; fourth, Koreans will not be attacked when evacuating from this country; five, Taliban have canceled the demands of prisoners exchange. There is not much known by the media and international world, that Indonesia has a big role in this breakthrough of the hostage crisis. A quote from The News When asked whether there was any secret deal also, Taliban commander Abdullah said there was none. He said an Indonesian diplomat, an official from the ICRC and Afghan tribal elder Haji [...]

August 29, 2007 // 1 Comment

Kabul – Midnight Rocket Attack

The target was US Embassy “Blaaaaarrrrrrr!!!” I heard a blast, quite shocking, when chatting with a friend. This friend is an Afghan journalist based in Wazir Akbar Khan area, about 2 km from my place, and heard the same strange sound. “Did you hear the sound? What is that?” he messaged me on my chat messenger. “Maybe it is a rocket,” he answered his own question, and disappeared immediately. It was 11.00 p.m. I was thinking it was a bomb blast, but who will blast a bomb at the middle of the night, and if it was indeed a bomb why it could be heard so loud both from Wazir Akbar Khan and from my place, which are separated by 2 km of distance. My friend was probably right: it was a rocket. I talked with a Pakistani colleague, Mr. Mudasser, about the sound. He didn’t hear anything. But when I said it might be a rocket, he just showed a very normal expression, “Well, in this kind of country, this is not something extraordinary. People are get used.” The second day (today) I just get it confirmed. Yes, it was a rocket attack in the vicinity of the US [...]

August 25, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – My Red and White in Kabul

Red-and-White in Kabul What a feeling. I see the Red-and-White flag flying proudly on Kabul sky. Today we celebrate again our independence day. Indonesia is celebrating its 62nd anniversary. And for the Indonesian community in Afghanistan, this day is as special as it is for our other countrymen in Indonesia. Flag ceremony was a routine for most of us when we were receiving education in Indonesian schools. Who had never experienced boredom of attending flag ceremony? Who had never grumbled to be given task to be flag-ceremony commandant or national anthem choir? At least I did. When I was in elementary school and high school in Indonesia, I used to hate Saturday after-school time as it’s the rehearsal schedule for weekly Monday morning flag ceremony. I used to grumble for this so-called nationalism development, discipline training, citizenship building (bla, bla, bla) to justify the routine flag ceremony. I used to grumble when my headmaster forgot to stop his long and dull speech while we, the poor little students, have to stand helplessly under the scorching sun. But all of the dull memories of flag ceremony turned when I left Indonesia to study in China. In my five and half year [...]

August 17, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – Indonesian Products in Afghanistan

Indonesian exhibition booth in Kabul, Afghanistan The first Asia-Europe International Trade Exhibition and Conference is held in Kabul for five days to commemorate the 88th anniversary of independence Afghanistan. The exhibition was attended by several Afghan national and international companies, but we may be proud as Indonesia joined the exhibition as the sole country participant. Indonesia, represented by the embassy, has quite a sizeable booth in the exhibition. The ambassador himself, with full contingent of all diplomats (we have 5), attended the opening ceremony. There were all ladies from the embassy wearing kebaya national dress. Compared to other booths (TV companies, supermarket, design company, carpet products, etc), Republic of Indonesia booth was an obvious distinguished one. Why Indonesia has to be represented as a country and not by any national companies? “It’s a pity that our businessmen are not interested at business in Afghanistan. Actually if we dare to risk, the market in Afghanistan is quite good. We (the embassy) have offered to Indonesian companies, but as they are not interested, so we come to exhibit here,” said a diplomat friend told me. Indonesian embassy is not a company, so what they can bring to exhibit? You can see a [...]

August 13, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Indonesian Family

The only place to taste genuine Indonesian food in Afghanistan ‘If you are abroad, remember, embassy is your home,’ said my elementary school teacher, explaining the function of embassy in a moral education class. This, at least in Afghanistan, is proven true. Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Shahr-e-Nao Kabul is indeed warm shelters for small Indonesian community in this Islamic Republic. There are not too many Indonesians in Afghanistan, and for sure less in Kabul. Not more than 30 Indonesians seen regularly in the embassy in the capital, and that already includes the embassy staff. People come and go. This small community always welcomes newcomers with smiles and prepares farewell party (sometimes almost rained by tears) for those who leave. In the last three months of my stay here, already two long-term Indonesians leave the country. For small family like this, the feeling of losing a member always hurts. The embassy people dominate this little community. Not before December 2006 the Indonesian embassy in Kabul is led by an Ambassador (Duta Besar Luar Biasa dan Berkuasa Penuh – Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary…what a title). As anywhere else, the ambassador comes with his wife, head of domestic affairs (Kepala [...]

July 30, 2007 // 0 Comments

Kabul – The Americans and the Indonesians

Crushed Kalashnikov The US embassy has a very special program today, to celebrate the destructions of more than one million small arms or light weapons worldwide. That is to show to a bunch of Afghan journalists from selected media of how an AK-47 arm is being destroyed by their Ambassador. So important that the program is, a limited number of the selected media have to come an hour earlier and being scrutinized thoroughly before being able to cover the speech of the Ambassador (which last only for 6 minutes, compact and short, no Q&A session that a female reporter complained the program to be very bland), people from disarmament organization, followed by a demonstration of the Ambassador destroying a Kalashnikov being turned to pieces by an unforgiving drill machine box. Kalashnikov, the Russian branded automatic rifles, had been invented more than sixty years ago (1943), and the AK-47 has the reputation as one of the most reliable rifles. There were already 100 million of Kalashnikov weapons produced worldwide, said the ambassador. The crushing of an AK-47 by his highness American ambassador was in fact a symbolic ceremonial of U.S. government commitment to destroy excess small arms worldwide. From the press [...]

July 9, 2007 // 0 Comments

Tehran – Turkmen Visa (2)

The beautiful Turkmenistan visa…. Give one to me, please… I returned back to the Turkmen embassy. It was always a long journey here. A metro to Mirdamad (750R) continued by a bus to Nobonyod (200 R), then a 1 kilometer walk to the junction of Dr. Lavasani street, a shared taxi to Vatanpoor Street (2000 R), and at last, a short walk to the embassy. A journey to hell. A couple of a German guy and a French girl from the same hotel simply took a taxi from Mirdamad. They also brought flower and chocolate to be presented to the consul, who might help for the visa. When it came to my turn, the consul said, “Nothing can be done.” The photocopy of passport was already sufficient for the visa application. Nothing else. The application was forwarded to Ashgabat, waiting for approval. If the answer was positive, after 7 to 10 days a visa would be issued. The application form given to me yesterday was to be submitted when my visa was already approved. Now what I could do was only waiting. I also visited the Afghan embassy. It was crowded, full of Afghans. The visa section also closed as [...]

March 5, 2007 // 0 Comments

Tehran – Turkmen Visa (1)

Uzbek visa was really a piece of cake. Smooth and delicious. Getting Turkmen visa was always tricky. I got very early to the Pasdaran Avenue to the Turkmenistan embassy just to find out that since January this year, the embassy had moved to a new address: 5 Barati Street, Vatanpoor, Farmaniyeh, which was quite a distance from its original place. The new location was more difficult to reach. I had to change transport three times and asked around until I found the building, exhausted. To get a transit visa for 5 days, one should submit a photocopy of the passport and Uzbek visa. I forgot my Uzbek visa photocopy and I had to return back to Farmaniyeh to find a photocopy shop. The embassy location was deep in the alleys of housing complex and the closest photocopy machine was two kilometers away. I returned back to the embassy. It was still 11 but the embassy operated from 9 to 11 only. The small window was closed. I knocked the window and the man accepted my photocopy and let me go. “Come back 7 to 10 days later,” said him. I even had not filled any application form. He gave me [...]

March 4, 2007 // 0 Comments

Tashkent – Iran Visa

The embassy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Tashkent is notorious to be very reluctant to issue visa. My Iran visa struggle has started long before since I was in Kyrgyzstan. The Tashkent Iran embassy said that they wouldn’t issue any visas for Indonesian passport holders because now Indonesians don’t need visa to go to Iran. It was strange reason anyway, because visa free for Indonesians is only for 2 weeks and difficult to extend. But my friends in Indonesian embassy in Tashkent were trying their best to help me. A staff said, “Let’s try to call them on different day. Maybe different staff will give different answer.” She was right. Another day the Indonesian embassy phoned the Iranian embassy, and it was another man who answered the call (I have never seen any women working in Iranian embassies that I have ever visited). The man said it was possible to apply with a letter from our embassy and we had to wait for 2 weeks for the result. On 12 January 2007 I have heard that the visa was ready and I could pick up. It was almost 1 month since we applied for it. I went to [...]

January 22, 2007 // 3 Comments

Bishkek – Kazakhstan Visa

Visa of the Republic of Kazakhstan Getting Kazakhstan visa in Bishkek was not difficult, but as for any countries in Central Asia, Indonesian passport holders need to be ‘consulted’. The visa application should be approved by central government by the respected countries. Only for Tajikistan we recently got exemption for Letter of Invitation (LOI) and entitled for visa-on-arrival at Dushanbe airport. Getting a LOI meant you have to get a pre-arranged invitation approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This can be arranged through a travel agency (30-80$). Many nationalities, included Malaysians, don need this invitation letter stuff and they could directly apply for visas in any Kazakh embassies. The Kazakhstan embassies were well-known all over the world for their cold service. And for this cool winter in Bishkek, the staff faces were even much colder. The embassy had moved to a new location recently, south part of the city. I came early but there were already many people queuing. Most of them were Kazakh and Turkish. Other Central Asian nations are exempted for visa to enter Kazakhstan. Armed by the invitation letter that was approved already by Almaty, I was given an application form and asked to make payment [...]

November 27, 2006 // 0 Comments

Bishkek – Uzbekistan Visa

Another bureaucratic thing to do in Bishkek For Indonesian passport holders, Uzbekistan visa requires Letter of Invitation. Recently getting Uzbekistan visa is more difficult then before, since the Andijan massacre in 2005. Before the American passport holders were granted multiple entry visa, but since the Karimov president kicked all the American soldiers out, the visa is now only for one month, single entry, same for anybody else. Only the Japanese passport holders still enjoy the privilege of no LOI, no visa fee (they only pay 15$ for the visa). I got my invitation from the Embassy of Republic of Indonesia in Tashkent. It is a personal invitation from one of the diplomats there, Mrs Sunarti Ichwanto. It is also a 1-month, single entry visa. But they said that the visa can be extended. The Uzbekistan embassy requires invitation per telephone for people who apply for visa, and as interview will be conducted, everybody either should speak Russian or bring a Russian translator. I came very early today. The snow just started. It was very cold to wait outside the embassy. I got the first turn to enter, as I called 3 days earlier. The application form was completely in Russian. [...]

November 22, 2006 // 0 Comments

Dushanbe – The Kyrgyz Visa … Finally

The Kyrgyz visa, finally It has been about ten days I am stuck in Dushanbe (and with side-trip to Istaravshan), due to the Kyrgyz visa application. I will post the comment of Istaravshan and Dushanbe later when I get proper Internet connection. Now, if you dont mind, let me share the struggle to get the Kyrgyz visa. As an Indonesian passport holder, I need an invitation to get the Kyrgyz visa, and the invitation should be approved by the ministry of foreign affairs in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. I applied through the Indonesian embassy in Tashkent. The Indonesian embassy contacted the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs and they said that my visa was approved, I just needed to go to the Kyrgyz embassy in Dushanbe to pick up the visa. Monday, October 9th I went to the Kyrgyz embassy. It was well hidden in an alley near Insititute of Teby. The embassy only accepts visa application one day in a week, that is on Tuesdays. Not wanting to repeat my tragical Tajikistan visa (which cost me 250 dollars for the red tape), I called my embassy in Tashkent to ask for confirmation about the approved invitation. They called by [...]

October 17, 2006 // 5 Comments

Dushanbe – Greetings from Tajik Capital

Stamps of independent Tajikistan still use Russian Cyrillic alphabet along with Latin. They portrays local heros and culture, also other colorful cartoonish and big stamps with unrelated topics for collectors, like: outer space, Euro football competition, Elvis Presley, Bruce Lee and panda Finally, I arrived in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. The Tajik border is located across the river from the Afghan port of Shir Khan Bandar. It’s an expensive fare of 10 dollars per person to cross the river by boat. The Tajik immigration is located somewhere further, and it was another 1 dollar to reach the immigration office by bus. And they still charged 5 dollars for luggage checking (customs). I befriended the old customs officer. We talked in Farsi and he was so happy looking at Indonesian photos. Actually he already signaled me to leave soon after the custom check, that way I could avoid the 5 dollar fee. But I really didnt know about the 5 dollar game, and I insisted to get a registration slip from him, as I presumed in Central Asia if you leave the country without the slip, you will have problem. He told me that for Tajikistan, registration slip would only [...]

October 7, 2006 // 0 Comments

Kabul: Tajik Visa SCAM

The US$ 250 Tajik visa The ex-Soviet countries are notorious for difficult paperwork and expensive bureaucracy. The Central Asian republics are just example of this draconian governments. From my previous experience in Central Asia, the visa fee for Uzbekistan was 75$, Kyrgyzstan 55$, and 5 day transit visa for Kazakhstan was 35$. For Indonesian passport holders, the matter was complicated with ‘Letter of Invitation’. This is a procedure where someone should be our sponsor during our stay in the countries. The Letter of Invitation (LOI), or in Russian: priglashenie, or in embassies’ term: calling visa, then should be sent by the sponsoring organization to be then authorized by the ministries of foreign affairs of the appropriate countries. The process can take weeks. Fast service from Internet cost me 30$ per LOI. I am aware of these complexities of obtaining Central Asian visas. I have contacted my embassy in Tashkent who told me that they could arrange the ‘calling visa’, or LOI, or whatever its name, free of charge. And with the invitation from embassy, it’s almost 100% guaranteed that the invitation will be approved by the concerning countries. I sent an email to the ambassador of Indonesia in Tashkent as [...]

October 1, 2006 // 2 Comments

Tehran – Indonesian National Day

The border to Iran The Afghan-Iran border is a busy but very strict border, both on Afghan and Iranian side. The border is about 120 km away from Herat, can be reached by bus, Falancoach, or Volvo. I was in rush to go to Iran right after getting the Iranian visa, and I took the luxurious Volvo to go to Islam Qala, the border. The Afghans had to queue very long outside the immigration office. There were hundreds of people crossing the border, but they still had to pass many checks before being able to go to the ‘outside world’. I also queued. The people grumbled about how hot the weather was. Suddenly a soldier grabbed me from the queue, and put me directly to the gate. “Khareji! (foreigner!)” he said to his colleagues. In fact foreigners didnt need to queue together with the Afghan nationals outside the immigration hall. They were queuing for a slip for luggage search. I was not given the slip and was asked to go directly to the passport stamp window. “Get to line! Get to line!” screamed the Afghan border crossers when I went directly to the gate to get my passport stamped. They [...]

August 17, 2006 // 2 Comments

Herat – Iranian Visa

Iranian visa applicants “Come again at 11” – Visa officer Tomorrow is the national day of Indonesia, and from here, Herat, the closest Indonesian embassy is in Tehran. I do really wish to spend this year’s national day in an embassy with fellow Indonesians. Somehow the feeling of nationality arouses tremendously after long period of traveling, and “Agustusan” – our national day which is on August 17, doesn’t only mean Indonesian food party with fellow countrymen. I miss the ceremony, something I used to condemn as nationalism propaganda when I was in high school. Anyway, I have to be in the Indonesian embassy at this national day. Tehran is in Iran, it’s another country. According to the recent news, Iran is a visa free country for Indonesian passport holders for 2 weeks. But Iranian embassies and consulates say different things about it. The consulate in Peshawar said that the visa free agreement was valid for all land borders, the embassy in Tashkent (thanks to Indonesian embassy in Uzbekistan for the enquiry) agreed about it, but they said it would be only for a week. Iran embassy in Jakarta (thanks to Maria Asten for successfully enquiring the always-seem-to-be-busy phone numbers) was [...]

August 16, 2006 // 3 Comments

Bamiyan – Being Penniless in Afghanistan :(

No money! How can I survive here? I was so excited to continue my way from Bamiyan. Everything in my mind was about the blue crystal water of the Band-e-Amir, and the adventure that I would have to experience in interior Bamiyan province. I was so excited, until this incident, which evaporated all of my dreams, happened. Yesterday, just before sleeping, I counted my money. My money was put together with my passport, wrapped in an envelope, placed in the zipped pocket on my left chest of my jacket. It was always wrapped properly, and always my habit to count the money every day or every other day. That night, at about 7 pm, with Ayatullah, the Muslim teacher who has religious program in Radio Bamiyan watching me. Actually there were about 5 people living in this room, in the same office where Akbar Danish from the NGO worked. I was a guest, with Ayatullah and other two Hazara guys, plus the servant boy. I was listening to nice dangdut song from my MP3 when trying to pluck out my money from the envelope and to count it. First my passport jumped out. Then I was waiting for the Afghani [...]

June 23, 2006 // 6 Comments