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We are getting one step closer in the preparation for our upcoming Christmas trip to La Habana. When we were in Indonesia last week for our cousin wedding, we managed to obtain our Cuban visa (tourist card). Yay!
Initially, the outlook of smooth application of the Cuban visa has been quite bleak because it has been very difficult to talk to the embassy secretary over the phone. Ms. Yuli, an Indonesian lady who's also the secretary is always unavailable and always goes home early, so by that time I call the embassy at around 4pm Indonesian time, she would have gone home already. We spoke to her over the phone prior to our departure and she would say, "Just come over to the embassy". Basically, we got the impression that she is a kind of lady that needed to be asked a lot of questions before giving out necessary information, and she won't spend any effort to proactively assist visa application. Sort of typical Indonesian civil servant. Nevertheless, we were hopeful that visa application would be easier once we visit the Cuban embassy.
On Friday 8 September, we rushed to the Cuban embassy after attending Santi's wedding ceremony. We really had to rush because Ms. Yuli told us that the embassy would close early on Fridays. It turned out that the embassy building was just a simple house in a housing estate inside Permata Hijau. It looked just like any other houses nearby, only simpler. If there's no cuban flag at the front porch, we wouldn't know that it is the embassy building.
We enter the tiny office on the ground floor of the embassy and finally met Ms. Yuli, who seemed to be all set to leave the office and was barefoot. We told her that we intended to apply for visa. Her response was, "You know, I was about to go because now is my lunch time, from 11am to 12.30pm. Also the office closes at 1pm on Fridays". I don't know what that means, so we just apologized that we disturbed her (long) break.
Then we asked her whether it is possible to get the visa on Monday, because we would need the passport for our flight back to Singapore.
She said, "I dunno, it is up to the ambassador. Right now, the ambassador is away and will only come back next month. Why don't you just apply through mail?"
We said, "Well, there must be a deputy that takes care of visa application?"
She said, "Hmm yes, but she very busy and fairly new, and not very familiar with the visa procedure. Also I don't know her very well yet. Right now we're very busy with Visa application for government officials for a summit in Havana, so we prioritize on that. It's unlikely that your visa would be finished on Monday. Why don't you just apply through mail?"
We said, "well, you said that we can just come over to the embassy, and that the procedure would only take two days. Your website also said that"
She said, "Yes, but still I cannot promise that your visa would be finished on Monday. We are very busy"
We said, "It's OK, we just try to apply for visa and we'll come back on Monday regardless the visa is finished or not"
Ms. Yuli finally relented to our persistence. "OK, up to you, but I doubt your visa would be finished on Monday. When do you intend to go to Cuba?"
We said, "27 December 2006"
She said, "What? 27 December? It's too long! Why don't you come back closer to the date, like early December? The visa would be valid for only one month."
We said, "Well, there is nothing in the website that says that the visa would be valid for only one month! Also, you never told us about this over the phone. We spoke to you several times about it already, do you remember?"
She said, "Yes. But the ambassador won't issue any visa if the departure date is too far"
We said, "But we emailed the ambassador already and discussed with him about our problem"
She said, "Yes but now the ambassador is away. You won't get any visa, the departure date is too long. You better come back closer to the date or apply through mail"
We explained that we live in Singapore and it would be difficult for us to come back and forth. We said, "Well, we won't be able to fly back to Jakarta again. Anyway, we have emailed Mr. Ambassador about our intention to come to apply for visa here directly, and he welcomed us. Also since we're in Jakarta already, we just want to try to apply for visa. If we can't get it this time, then we will apply through mail. We have emailed the ambassador about this visit. Obviously you were not informed by him about this. Can we meet with consular official??"
She said, "Yes, but the ambassador is away right now"
We said, "Since he's away, can we meet with the deputy so that we can explain to her about our situation?"
She said, "The deputy is very busy and does not like to be disturbed. And also you don't have prior appointment"
We said, "Well, please book us appointment with her on Monday morning"
She said, "Let's see, hmm yes she is available on Monday morningâ€ï¿½. â€ï¿½ you know, why don't you just email her directly and set up appointment with her? Doesn't have to be through me"
We said, "Well, we don't have internet access here, so we'd like to just do an appointment with her through you" (anyway we didn't see the logic why we should go home and email the deputy for the appointment, whereas it's obviuosly the duty of the secretayr to arrange appointments for the deputy. Was she just lazy to deal with us?)
She sighed and relented to our persistent request.
We said, "We still want to submit our visa application today"
She sighed again, and said, "It's not my responsibility if your visa wasn't approved. I have warned you about it. Anyway, you haven't got the required documents, right? If you do the application by mail then you can send the documents together"
We were getting tired with all the circular arguments that she brougth forward, and we finally said, "It's OK if it's not finished on Monday, at least we tried. Also we have all the required documents ready. Can we have some blank forms?
She reluctantly handed the forms to us and looked at the clock, indicating that she really couldn't wait to leave the office much longer. So we filled up the forms really quickly. We handed the filled forms and documents to her. She wasn't interested in being chatty and friendly to us. We could feel the negative aura that exerted by her unwillingness to help us.
So we went back and pray that she would despatch our application to the deputy.
On Monday morning, we went back to the embassy. It turned out that Ms. Yuli was out of the office. So the helper in the house asked us to wait in the living room.
A few minutes later, the deputy walked into the room. She was a beautiful young cuban lady, and really really friendly, really unlike what Ms. Yuli negatively described about her.
Indi and Yodhi stood up, greeted her and introduced ourselves, "Buenos Diaz, Senora Rodriguez! Como esta usted?", and she said, "Muy Bien, Gracias! How can I help you?".
After proper introduction in jibbrish mixed with Spanish and English, we finally sat down.
We said, "We'd like to find out the outcome of our visa application on Friday"
She said, "Ah, Si, not a problem!" and she quickly ran upstairs to her office to get our passports and visas. In less than 15 minutes, we got our visas in form of a Tourist Card (so you don't have to have a chop in your passport that shows you are going to or have been in Cuba for practical and political reasons). Evidently, there is nothing in the Visa that says that the Visa only valid 30 days from approval. What's true, is that, the visa is valid 30 days after our arrival in Cuba. So all along, Ms. Yuli had been informing us with false information, and has been reluctant to help us.
We learned that her full name was Senora Liurka Rodriguez Barrios and that she had been on a humanitarian mission for three months in Yogyakarta area alongside Ambassador Leon and dozens of medical doctors and surgeons from Cuba. We expressed our sincere appreciation for what the Cubans have done to Indonesia.
We were so relieved.
After returning to Singapore, I found out from Google that Senora Rodriguez had written this touching story about Cubans serving Yogyakarta people right after the massive earthquake.
Also, we begun to take a quick course on Latin American Spanish, by borrowing tapes from library and buying course set. I bought Latin American course set (books and CD) published by Oxford as Indi's birthday present. Also, we use Pimsleur Latin American Spanish tapes and CD borrowed from library, which I think the best method of teaching languages through audio.