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Sunday, February 8, 2009

Extending Our Visas

UPDATE 1: The building discussed below has a name. Mugamma. And what marvelous stories you get if you simply Google Mugamma and then follow the links! But two of the most interesting stories inlude this Washington Post article from September 2005. Says the Post:
The Mugamma -- Arabic for "the complex" -- is scheduled for evacuation by June 30 of next year. Its offices are to be dispersed to all parts of Cairo, officials say. No longer will Egyptians wander its corridors in search of hidden windows that open at arbitrary hours and are overseen by gnomish functionaries.
and in December of 2006, the Christian Science Monitor says authoritatively:
The Mugamma's offices, which house some 10,000 employees, are being relocated around Cairo and, according to press reports, eventually to the outlying desert to relieve overwhelming congestion problems in this city of 13 million.

so perhaps what follows didn't really happen!


Today was a "work" day for us. We were headed downtown to extend our visas.

It is possible to obtain an Egyptian visa in the U.S. by filling out an application, attaching photos and sending your passport to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington. But it is much easier to wait until you arrive at the Cairo airport. You then walk over to the bank window and pay $15 for your visa on the spot. This visa is only good for a month, so it was time to extend.

This means a visit to this prominent government office building on Tahrir square opposite the Egyptian Museum.

We had been advised to arrive early and to go to window 14 on floor 1. Presenting our request at window 14 got us an application form plus instructions to photocopy our passports and obtain a current photograph. Photocopies and photographs are made at two locations on the ground floor. (European system - you enter on the ground floor, then go up to floor 1 etc.)

After our photos were complete, we returned to the first floor to window 14. All was in order but we each needed stamps totaling 11.10 Egyptian pounds. These were to be purchased at window 43 - "and return immediately" said the helpful lady in English. She took all of the paperwork including our passports.

With the fee paid at window 14, the passports with new visas would be complete in two hours and available at window 38. We took off to tour a bit of downtown and came back after a bit more than two hours. When we got to the front of the line at window 38, my passport and application was on the top of the stack. A couple more scans of the passports and we were done. We can stay up to six more months.

Suffice it to say, there are a lot of windows at which one can conduct business in this building. All of these that I mentioned were on the narrow end. And there are lots of floors. I would love to display a photo of the windows. But one thing I have learned over the years is to not take pictures of the inside of such places. I once was stopped by the gendarmes in Paris for taking a picture of an interesting looking exterior door on a government building. UPDATE 2: And then there was the time I took a picture of a German prison. My, did that start a commotion. Glad I was close to my car!

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