How to stay in Afghanistan, legally.

 Your aim is threefold: you need to have a visa to stay in the country, a work permit so that you can officially work, and to be in a legitimate job, in this case, the new NGO named Hagar…

  1. 1.       First, you will need to go to Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get your NGO registered. Because if your NGO isn’t registered, you can’t get a work permit, and if you have no work permit, you can’t get a visa. Then you will be kicked out of the country or imprisoned. So, off you will go to MFA. This will be difficult because you don’t know where it is. You will accidentally go to Ministry of Economy, and there you will walk around a large set of buildings until finally someone directs you to the NGO department. There your kids will charm the staff, but you will be told to go to Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that registration begins there. You will leave, but not before your son loses his thongs.

    2.       At Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you will have to be searched before being allowed to enter. You will give your passport to a man, who will give you a little tag, and tell you to go ‘over there’. This could mean the next building, or the next country. the Ministry of Foreign Affairs compound is huge, like the size of the Vatican. You will walk aimlessly, asking people where NGO people should go to get registered. Your kids will love it all, because of the pretty flowers and mulberry trees. Their clothes, designed to impress the Minister and make him want to grant you everything you need, will be blotchy and purple splotted.

    3.       Someone will wrongly direct you to the media department. There you will explain at length, it faltering Dari what you need, and they will listen with interest and politeness and then ask, ‘What is your country’, and you will tell them, and then they will tell you they do Media and PR, and the building you want is elsewhere. Then someone will point you to a far distant building. You walk there, the kids trailing purple splats.

    4.       At the NGO department, you will meet with very amenable men who are impressed with your Dari, your charming wife, and your purple kids, and they will give you a form to fill out and a list of things you need: passport copies, NGO bylaws, list of personnel, a three headed pigeon, six other things. You thank them and leave.

    5.       After a week or so, when you have got all the documents and the pigeon and translated it all into Dari you go back to MFA. It takes 45 minutes to get there. You ask to submit the documents. But you have not put them all in a nice clear plastic folder, and Afghans love nice clear plastic folders. And you have not made two copies. So off you go home again, and head off to the stationary shop. But the stationary shop only has poxy plastic folders and the prepubescent boy behind the counter shrugs when you tell him you want nicer ones. In exasperation you buy what he has.

    6.       The next day you go back to MFA. You get searched again, and get the little tag and all that, but you have the smarts about this process now and it is a quick walk to the NGO department.  You submit all the documents to the nice man. Hooray! you think. Not only that, but you have also brought a letter explaining you need to get visa urgently because yours run out soon, and you are worried the registration process won’t be finished by then. The nice man gives you assurances and tells you to come back in a day, when he will have gotten your letter signed by An Important Man.

    7.       The next day is Friday, so you come back the day after. The nice man tells you to find a woman called Farzana in the next building and she will give you the letter. You go a woman called Farzana who looks blankly at you, and thinks, ‘Wierdo’ to herself, and it turns out she is the wrong Farzana. How many can there be, you think. But then you find the Right Farzana and she gets the letter signed by the Important Man and you put it with the visa application forms (which you prepared earlier). It is so easy. Too easy.

    8.       Off you go now to Ministry of Interior Affairs. It is 20 minutes to the MOI and easy to find. But it too is huge, and filled with policeman and cars and listless people and men pouring cement and long boulevards and dead pine trees and tricky turns and locked doors. But although it is 34 degrees, you eventually find the right place, and the helpful man sends you to the Boss Man who quickly signs your papers and sends you and them to the Little Man, who tells you to come back at 2 pm, when the final signature of the Other Boss Man will be appended. You protest, but for a Little Man, he speaks with authority. 

    9.       You come back at 2pm, slightly fried because of the sun, and quickly get the signed forms from the Little Man. Now you can go to the Passport Office.

    10.   The Passport Office is another 10 minute drive, but it is not hard to find and it is a small building, which you remember well from Taliban times. Only now instead of men with beards and guns, it is filled with men moustaches and guns.

    11.   You find the Passport controller man and give him your forms, and he looks them over and then asks for your work permit. ‘But I don’t have one’, you will say, anguish in your voice, for your visas expire in two days. ‘My NGO is still getting registered, and until it is we can’t get a work permit and the man at Ministry of Foreign Affairs said we could do it all ok with this letter.’

    12.   You realise you are sounding a bit pathetic and silly and attempt to look cool and regain control. The Passport Controller looks patronisingly at you and tells you in clear, short words, that there is no way on earth that he is going to give you visas without a work permit, even if you have a three headed pigeon. He says you can go to the Ministry that issues Work Permits, and there the Head of that Ministry will give you one.

    13.   You have a strong, unpleasant sense of déjà vu. ‘But I am not registered’, you repeat, and the man, taking pity on you, phones the Head of the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled People and speaks to him, and surprisingly, this man agrees to give you a work permit. ‘You should go there tomorrow’, the Passport Controller man says. You drive home, it only taking 48 minutes in the 37 degree heat.

    14.   The next morning you head off to the Ministry for Labour and Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled People, or MOLSAMDP, or MOLSA for short. This is a huge building on the far side of Kabul and it has only one door. So it is easy to get in, but inside, there are many doors, and none of them have writing on them. But fortune favours the brave and before too many days have passed, you find the man who the Passport Controller spoke with. But he looks grim and as though his wife only gave him a smelly piece of cheese for lunch. He says he will not give you a work permit without your NGO being registered, and that that is the law. You have another sense of déjà vu. You begin to protest and speak in a high pitched voice and inch forward on your chair.

    15.   The Head of MOLSA looks up from fiddling with his lunch bag and he sees that he has a man in his office who is close to the edge,and who might be carrying a concealed, three headed pigeon. So he scribbles on your letter and sends you imperiously into the next office.

    16.   The Deputy Head of MOLSA looks pleased with himself, as though he has a beef and tomato roll for lunch and maybe a little snack to have in the afternoon too, and he looks at the letter and asks laconically where your certificate of registration is. You have to explain it all again, but you can rattle it off in quick fluent Dari now, because by now you have repeated this sorry story about 50 times. The Deputy Head with the nice lunch then says he cannot do it, because your NGO is not registered and so the idiot circle repeats. But he too realises that you looks dangerously unbalanced, and so he changes tack. ‘Why is your letter not in Dari?;’ he asks hoping to find another way of refusing you. ‘ I cannot process this if it is not in Dari. Or Pashtu.’ But you are fixated now, in for it all, and you have thrown out the ballet dancer with the bath water, and so you push ahead, saying you didn’t have time, and that it doesn’t matter, and that you have all the permissions, and… And you do not draw breath until he acquiesces and sends you next door where you fill out more forms.

    17.   You are then sent out of the building to the bank across the road to pay $150 to a man in a booth. He gives you a receipt, which you take upstairs and get three different men in three different rooms to sign. One of them will berate you for not taking off your shoes and they will all ask which country you are from. ‘Hungary. Swaziland. Fiji’, you murmur. You go downstairs again and get the signed receipt stamped, and then you must get it photocopied, so you walk off to the bazaar to find another man in a booth with a copy machine. This done, you return to MOLSA.

    18.   To get the Work Permit you must give two photos of yourself, but you only have one, so you must take one off your visa application form and give it too. However you happily do this because you can see the prize, and within another few minutes you have your work permit. Hooray, you think.

    19.   Now you must go to the Central Bank to pay the visa fee, and this you do with difficulty because the Central Bank, the most important and biggest Bank in Afghanistan is hidden carefully, disguised as a dingy old set of flats. And your driver gets lost and then has to drive another 30 minutes down Kabul’s one way streets to get back there. But once there, you push though milling crowds of men and soldiers and get to a small booth and pay $720 to a man, who sits on a stool and picks his teeth and then 20 minutes later, gives you a receipt.

    20.   It is now time to get another passport photo for your visa form, because you used the earlier one on your Work Permit. You find a photo shop and this bit is easy and only costs 100 Afs and then you are off to the Passport Controllers office again, this time with a Work Permit! You push in happily and jump the queue, citing previous visits as the reason, and ignore the glares of other people. The Passport Man looks at your documents, carefully ordered and drops them all on the ground and a scuffle ensues to pick them up, during which time they all get out of order. But re-ordered, he tells you he needs a copy of your Work Permit. So out you go to the nearest photocopy shop, which is only 100 m or so, and there you get a copy done by a young child who leers at you and spits on the floor, but you ignore him and his spitty ways and head back to the Passport Office. And then, all you have to do is go upstairs and get another signature from a teenage policeman, who writes some blah blah on the forms, and you then can scurry back down stairs to the Passport Man.

    21.   You give him all of it, all the stuff, the whole lot. Not the pigeon though. He takes it all with a nonchalant smile and tells you to come back the next day at 2pm and he will give you the passports with the visas.

    22.   You now skip out of the office and spend only 40 minutes driving home in the 40 degree heat, and the following day, you should… you should… get your legal permission to stay and work in this country…

    23.   Hooray, you whisper to yourself.



13 thoughts on “How to stay in Afghanistan, legally.

  1. Pingback: Backyard Missionary » Blog Archive » Before you Complain…

  2. 🙂 This was fun to read about, though maybe not as much fun as being there…

    Just curious – when you stayed in India, didn’t you have any experience comparable to this?

  3. Hey Phil,

    How you doin?

    Got to redo paper work for centrelink and was not looking forward to it. Now I feel it will be quite a breeze



  4. Hi Poupee. Yeah, it was unpleasantly reminiscent of the Indian bureacracy – too much so in face. And it is not finished… wait for ‘Living in Kabul legally, Part 2: the Ministry of Economy.’

  5. If ever I go to Afghanistan I would be very tempted to do things illegally…

    So Phil, did the permission come through in the end?! Is the three-headed pigeon still alive? Have you grown three heads yourself?


  6. sounds like a few of my adventures, only i wasn’t in afghanistan facing deportation and forty degree heat. should have set the pigeon on them!

  7. Popped in from backyardmissionary because of the “Balloon” photo – the contrasting photos on the linked page spoke volumes! This post also whispered secret pain to my tender heart…..Do you mind if I meander here for a time?

  8. Pingback: Staying in Afghanistan… part II « itinerant and indigent

  9. Pingback: Backyard Missionary » Blog Archive » Before You Complain - Part II

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