My second week has been spent trying to navigate Kabul's bureaucracy. What I thought was a six month visa, purchased at the accordant price, now appears to be valid for only one. I have two weeks to exit the country.
Working strictly from hearsay, the only apparent source of information here in Kabul, I can now either fly to Dubai and brave the lines at the embassy, armed with a convincing yarn on why I am deserving of the scarce commodity that is the six month multiple entry visa. Alternatively, I can work towards finding a trusted Afghan fixer who can work the system and, for a modest fee, secure any visa.
Most firms here have dedicated staff to resolve such issues. As a freelancer I'm left to rely on the kindness of others or fend for myself. From what I've gathered a successful freelance journalist cannot be above the transparent calling-in of favors or even the forging of official documents.
On a recent mission to scour the streets of Kabul for a cheap iPhone, my companion, an Afghan of few words and gentle features, explained that Kafkaesque bureaucracy is nothing new to this country. Under the Taliban he was forced to wear a beard of at least eight centimeters. Erring on the side of caution he kept it at ten. Looking back at pictures as a bearded 29 year old, he thinks the facial hair added at least ten years. For the first two months the beard constantly itches but then you get used to it, he says. Sleeping was difficult though, the whiskers tickling at your face and neck. Now clean-shaven and baby-faced, he doesn’t plan to sport a beard until at least 50. Apparently a gray beard in Afghanistan is license to make your own rules.