Of the time I spent in Cyprus, the thing that will stand out most in my mind is the bureaucracy. There are some things that have happened in the last year or so that has made me laugh. I found out my grandparents weren’t married because they hadn’t paid their marriage tax (based on the bride’s weight) and my uncle having to become a citizen using a name he has never had because his surname wasn’t suitable (you can’t trust a man with two first names). Now it was my turn. I previously mentioned Malta had a gold star for disorganisation, well if nothing else, the Turkish influence on Northern Cyprus has sent Cyprus to the head of the class.
I’ve been to Cyprus a few times, but it has always been coming from Turkey, straight to Northern Cyprus. So, it actually means I’ve always entered the country illegally, from the perspective of the southern Cypriots. This time we flew in to Larnaca, and then went through the buffer zone to get to the North. Quite simple, and straightforward. No dramas.
And then Leigh and Ryan arrive. One of the border people on the way into Northern Cyprus mentioned they will need to get the okay to leave, as their mother is a citizen and therefore they are supposed to do military service. Fortunately, they live abroad, and it is easy to get the okay to leave without doing it. “It’s easy, 30 minutes” says Oya.
At this stage, Jon and I are thinking “If Leigh and Ryan need permission, do we need permission?”. We’ve been in and out a few times, and it has never been a problem, why would it be this time? Apparently, things changed a couple of years ago. Not sure what changed, but for 30 minutes of effort, it was worth not joining the army.
We arrive at the recruitment office and grab a ticket each. Many jokes were had about Saving Private Ryan and the military in general and how none of Leigh, Ryan, Jon or myself are cut out for life in green while we waited for our number to be called. We were about eighth in line, and the wait was relatively short.
Our number is called, and although we have four tickets, the lady sees us all and explains what we need to do.
- Go to the post office and get a stamp for each of us;
- Go to (a particular) police station and get a print out of our entries and exits; and
- Get a photocopy of our passports
Nothing too difficult. I wasn’t quite sure what the stamp was for, as we didn’t have to send anything anywhere, and I wasn’t quite sure why they weren’t able to take their own photocopy. But it isn’t my place to question the efficiencies of an entire government.
First stop was the post office. Just across the road. Stamps were bought, and we are 33% done.
Second stop was across another road. Photocopy done, 66% complete and we’re at about 25 minutes of the 30 we were promised. A little longer than expected, but still acceptable.
The police station proved a little more difficult to find. Google sent us to police headquarters, which was not the right place, but they happily told us where it was. It was pretty close, but there was no parking, so ironically, we parked illegally outside of the police station, grabbed a number and we only had to wait a few minutes again. Step three complete, the rest is just a formality.
We arrive back at the recruitment office and grab just one ticket this time. The queues have grown a little, and we have about a 40 minute wait before it is our turn. We are finally called up, and the lady sorts Leigh out. When we hand over the doco for the rest of us, she says “do you have tickets for everyone?”. Silly us, we only grabbed one this time, and despite our pleading, she was pretty rigid about only serving people with tickets. No point arguing, it only makes things worse. So we grab three more tickets, and proceed to wait another 40 minutes.
We are called up again, Jon and I are called at the same time, and Leigh gets to wait a bit longer. At this point, there wasn’t much more that we thought could go wrong. Apparently, there was. Having been born in Turkey makes life difficult because there is pretty much an open border between the two countries. So, to make sure that we aren’t skipping national service by hanging out in Turkey, Jon and I had to chase down the entry and exit information for Turkey as well. This was going to require our Turkish identification cards, which we didn’t have on us, so we did what we are good at, and argued.
The thing about arguing is, the only way to get a result that you are happy with, is to argue with someone that either has an open mind, willing to concede that your point of view may be more valid than theirs. Or, at the very least, see things from another perspective and be understanding of the predicament they are in. The Turkish Cypriot government does not fall into this category. So, rather than wasting time, we conceded defeat and asked directions to the Turkish consulate.
In the meantime, Leigh fixed himself up, and was able to walk out of the recruitment office with his bit of paper. So, at this point, we were about 3 hours into our 30 minute job, and we had sorted two out of four people.
The Turkish consulate was only around the corner, so we went straight there. We got there 15 minutes before it closed too, so that was lucky. There was a lady who was helping people telling them which window to go to so they could receive the help they were after. Her first question was to see the Turkish ID, which we didn’t have, and then explained that we are trying to sort out the Northern Cypriot national service, so we could leave the country in a few days, but in order to do so, we needed our entry and exit info for Turkey. We don’t have our Turkish IDs, because we are from Australia and didn’t think we needed them, as we weren’t going to Turkey. The response was essentially “No ID, we can’t help. Sorry”. Apparently the Australian passport doesn’t count as ID, even though all of my entry to and from Turkey has been on my Australian passport.
At this point mum was starting to get cranky. She was putting on a brave face and trying to hide it, but the thing about mum is that she doesn’t have a high tolerance for people that steps through a process without deviation, because that is the process, when there is clearly an alternative path that can satisfy both parties. To be honest, I was also starting to get cranky as well, but my Turkish isn’t fluent enough to argue, so I left it in Mum’s hands.
The lady eventually asked us to go to the window that dealt with citizenship issues, which didn’t have a long wait. But we were told that we had to go to the national service window. Another short wait, and kudos to the guy that we were speaking to. He said that he couldn’t help us, but got on to the phone to the head honcho and got us a meeting with someone in an office.
Mum, for what seemed like the fifth or sixth time, explained the situation. We must have found the only Turkish official who was able to think outside of the box. She worked out that the Turkish ID wasn’t actually required, and that it was at their discretion as to whether they could help us or not, so she ordered one of her minions to help us out, and we finally took a small step forward.
After about thirty minutes of waiting, we finally had the printout that we required. But, the recruitment office was closed for lunch, so we went to visit Phyllis’ school friend and grab a bite to eat ourselves. We weren’t there for long before returning to the recruitment office, as it opened at 2:30. We arrived at 2:35 and grabbed our tickets, making sure we had one for both Jon and myself, and then sat down to wait. It seems that in the five minutes that they were open about twenty people had already queued up. Nevermind, we have what we need, what else could go wrong?
We are finally called up at the same time, and hand over all of the info that has been requested. I was asked to take a seat while they sort it out. Neither Leigh or Ryan had to take a seat, so alarm bells were ringing. What could possibly be wrong now?
After some comparison between both of our information, they finally came over and said something along the lines of…
Looking at your 2013 entry and exit, everything is okay, but you don’t have an exit for Turkey when you went in 2007, and you don’t have an exit for when you went in 2010. And it was the same for both of us. It took me a few seconds to comprehend what they were saying, and asked them to clarify.
“You entered Turkey in 2007, but there is no record of you exiting. You then entered in 2010, and again, no record of exiting. Then you went to Turkey in 2013, and we can see the exit for 2013”. We pointed out the obvious, that if I went in 2007 and didn’t exit, there would be no way I could enter in 2010. Using the same logic, there must have been an exit for 2010 as well.
Had this have been 15-20 years ago, the Turkish Cypriots would have had a completely different mentality. They would do you a favour because your grandfather’s friend was the second cousin of their mother. But today, we needed a way to show we exited Turkey. Jon had a great idea of showing them the exit stamp in the passport, and after some deliberation and some discussion with an old school Turkish Cypriot, they decided that it would be acceptable. A few minutes later, we had our bits of paper that would allow us to leave the country. The easy thirty minute job had taken us about 6 hours.