Trouble with visas

The beginning of January had the whole family in excited anticipation of the addition of another family member, though the lead-up to his arrival didn’t go smoothly. Illness struck most of the Palmer family over Christmas, with Sarah having a preeclampsia scare that thankfully turned out to be false, then a further worry in mid-January when it was suspected that she and Alice had contracted chickenpox. A blood test was taken and as a precaution, medication was given and eventually it was decided it wasn’t chickenpox.

For the first time since the 25th of December, (15th of January, 21 days) I woke up feeling ok and ready to face the world without feeling frozen and exhausted by sore and complaining internal tubing. Sue had recovered quicker from our Yule tide illness which meant I spent much of the day on my own as she was rambling through the Leicestershire countryside with one of her U3A walking groups. Having lost over a stone in weight, I think it may be a little time yet before I can manage a walk of some distance. I occupied my morning with chopping some logs and then plastering over the cabling in the study which the electrician had repaired last week.

To celebrate his friend’s birthday, over the same weekend, Jamie accompanied Tommy to the Marcus Belgravia, a high-end Michelin Star restaurant in London owned by English celebrity chef Marcus Wareing and had a meal prepared by the youngest ever Master Chef winner Craig Johnson.

The bill!

Alice enjoying a less sophisticated, but much cheaper party meal.

Jamie, Craig & Tommy

Posh grub

On the 19th of January, I ventured on my first ramble with my friend Sean since injuring my foot on the 9th of November. It was only a short amble of around a couple of miles along the Grand Union Canal, ending up in the centre of town with a set lunch at the Han Chinese restaurant for a very surprising £5.50. Astonishing because the meal was more than substantial and the price for my chicken and cashew nuts was more than twice the price on the evening menu. No doubt we will be returning.

Around October, Sue and I booked to go to Ethiopia in April with the same travel company we ventured to Madagascar and Peru. Of course, many of the countries we have visited in the past require you to obtain a visa to gain entry, some you can obtain online,  others you have to visit their embassy and a few you can apply by post or even buy one on landing in the country. For most, it is just another method of revenue collection rather than a check on the traveller’s credentials. Obtaining an Ethiopian visa proved to be fraught with difficulty and nearly broke me!  In early November, after researching the process of acquiring this vital document, I discovered that we couldn’t buy one on landing in Addis Ababa and you couldn’t make an appointment at their London Embassy to obtain one or indeed submit a postal application. The only way was online. Great I thought, this is the simplest method of all with little effort having to be extolled. Not so!!!!!!!!!!

Alice at West Midlands Safari Park

Having been pre-warned that many fake websites are waiting to fraudulently harvest your hard-earned cash I made sure I was applying on the official site and then set about filling in the necessary details. My early thoughts as I completed page after page of the required information, was that this is an excellent site, clearly set out and checks your input allowing you to amend if a typo is made. The only annoyance was that I had to make sure that the scans of my photo and passport had to be less than 2 Mb. The final page displays all the information you have inputted and gives you a further opportunity to amend any errors.

After checking the box that I was satisfied, I was then taken to the World Pay payment page. Here I could select from one of two payment options. Either credit card/Google pay or Ali pay. I checked my credit card after first selecting from a drop-down menu the country from which I was making payment, I was then faced with the usual options to input my card data and reassuringly my name, email address and application reference number and amount ($52) was displayed and I was invited me to click on the pay button. Stunned, I was instantly faced with a red banner informing me that payment had been refused and told me to contact my bank to ensure sufficient funds were in place.  Worried that I had been scammed, I immediately rang the bank who reassuringly confirmed that no payment had been made and though the money had been presented for payment the retailer (World Pay) had refused acceptance, they didn’t know why.

I received an email from the Ethiopian visa service which confirmed I had made a successful application and they were awaiting payment before one could be issued. The email provided several links, one of which was to check the status of my application, I did to discover that everything was as it should be, except the payment box was blank. Two more links were provided in the email, both giving the option to try again to pay, the second link was a copy and paste into a browser in case the first one didn’t work. I clicked the first link to be greeted with the World Pay page. However, on closer examination, the payment details were for a different name, reference number and email address. I searched the net with these details to discover that the gentleman had a PhD and worked at a Chinese university. Warily copying the second link into a browser brought up the World Pay site but immediately displayed another red banner informing me I had already paid and not to proceed further. Confused I checked the status of the visa again and it was unpaid.

Shopping

This was the start of a nightmare that very nearly broke me. Using both my HSBC and FirstDirect bank accounts (credit and debit cards), each time I attempted to apply for a visa ended with the same outcome, the only difference being that after the initial failure, I would then be faced with an invite to pay a legion of unknown individuals from all over the world. Seeking help brought only frustration, rudeness and disinterest from those who could have solved the problem. Suffice it to say the Ethiopian e-visa support service on each failure (over 150 attempts over two months) was emailed with a description of what was happening and a request asking for an alternate method of payment never replied, except on one occasion in early January with an unhelpful two words, “Not paid”.

The E-visa service is hosted by Ethiopian Airlines and dozens of phone calls to them, usually began with no pick-up or immediate disconnection when I mentioned I required help with a visa. Contacting the Ethiopian Embassy in London was much, much worse. I spent days whole mornings and afternoons trying to phone them. It would ring for a minute or two then someone would pick up and immediately disconnect. On the two occasions I did manage to speak to someone, it was quite obvious they were completely disinterested in my predicament and eventually under the pretence of transferring me to someone who could help, disconnected. The only advice they gave me was to keep trying and use a different computer. I didn’t have a chance to mention that I had already tried applying on my, PC, two laptops and two tablets, before being disconnected. The travel company Exoticca were equally unhelpful and stuck to the line that it was up to me to obtain a visa and couldn’t apply on my behalf. I would lose the £2008 I had already paid towards the cost if I chose to cancel the trip.

As a last resort, I considered that it may be me at fault and I was foolishly making the same mistake each time, so I asked Suraj if he would apply using my details and his bank cards (Natwest). Suraj is in charge of NHS IT security in the Midlands and would not make a mistake. Regrettably, after several attempts, he confirmed that I had not made any errors and the problem lay with the World Pay site.

On the 20th of January, crunch time arrived when Exoticca requested that I pay the remainder of the balance for the trip or default. I had decided to end the nightmare and cancel, thus forfeiting the money already paid. Powering up my PC I decided to have one last attempt at applying, as usual, a further half dozen applications failed. Determined to get my own back on this madness, I resolved to email; Exoticca, the Ethiopian Embassy, Ethiopian Airlines visa service and Sahle-Work Zewde, the president of Ethiopia with lengthy epistles describing my efforts to obtain a visa and my disgust at the indifference and lack of response I have received from those whose jobs it is to provide support.  I would then be contacting my local MP the BBC Consumer Advice programme and initiate a small claims court procedure against Exoticca.

That evening Sue and I watched an excellent performance of the Kindertransport at Harborough Theatre. It is a play by Diane Samuels, which examines the life, during World War II and afterwards, of a Kindertransport child. In November 1938, after nights of violence against Jews across Germany and Austria, the British government introduced a programme called the Kindertransport (children’s transport), which gave Jewish children—and only children—safe passage to the UK.

The following morning Sarah and her family decided to visit and stopped for lunch. Alice was keen to try out her new Christmas scooter and they thought it would be nice for her first scoot to be around Welland Park. In the afternoon Charlotte had decided to take a break from decorating and she and Ellis joined us. They left just before tea as the fog came down.

Storytime with Alice

 

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