Bid bol Sergeeltyum! Life in the Aimagate

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Srf
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Bid bol Sergeeltyum! Life in the Aimagate

Postby Srf » Thu May 09, 2019 2:52 pm

I first landed in Vorga in 1972, to cover the fortieth anniversary of the Ulannic revolution in Sharfland. My editor had told me it would be a difficult assignment - I was one of only a handful of Wallaseans allowed in the country, especially long-term - but I remember feeling confident, unperturbed. I had been a foreign correspondent in Prekovy, Questers, Puerto Blanco, and Taihei Tengoku. How different, really, could life in the Aimagate be?

My bizarre quest to acquire a visa was to be the first clue. The Aimagate had very few embassies worldwide, so I had to travel to the Sharfic embassy in Mbeyanchi. The visa officer barely spoke any non-Sharfic languages, but everything he did manage to convey to me was loaded with hostility and suspicion. No, he told me, no Wallaseans were allowed in the Aimagate. I brought his attention to the signed letter from the Directorate of Internal Revolutionary Affairs that he had just finished reading and told him, but your own government has invited me as a foreign correspondent. The officer told me that the government had banned all Wallaseans. The letter apparently meant little to him. This is not in accordance with the laws of the government, he said. The rules, he said, were clear. I finally managed to convince him to ask the Directorate himself, which he did after three days of me coming back to press him. He eventually gave me a seven day temporary landing permit and told me I would have to extend it in Vorga myself. He had delayed me by almost a week, so when I arrived at Vorga International Airport there were only a few days left before the anniversary celebrations really got underway.

The visa experience had given me a taste of what to come, and the airport held up another scoop. Depsite Vorga being a nominally large city of over one million, the place was almost deserted. The arrivals board (with hand-written chalk slides) was so depopulated that flights scheduled for a week's time were listed. I was interviewed for over an hour by two secret policemen who, again, cared very little about my official invitation and told me I didn't have a correct visa to enter the Aimagate. They did eventually let me into the country, seemingly out of an aversion to detaining me until the next outbound flight rather than really being convinced by my protestations.

The paper had somehow arranged a driver and accommodation in advance, and he was waiting for me outside. He was short, stocky, and smelled of cheap cigarettes and stale hay and told me his name was Urg. His car was more rust than metal, with the interior coated in Ulannic charms and pendants that dangled from every possible location. They are for good luck, he told me. He said he had never met a foreigner before.

Driving into Vorga it felt more like a colossal sprawling village than a true city. Unlike the airport there were people everywhere - sitting in clusters, washing clothes, stirring vats of millet, or just chatting on the pavements. The road was six lanes on each side but only three were for vehicles, of which we saw very few that were not painted in a distinctive dull brown military shade. The rest of the lanes were reserved for the driving of cows, horses and goats to homes, markets or slaughterhouses in and around the city. Urg told me that all Ulannics in the Aimagate were entitled to grazing land for their animals, and this ruling extended to those living in cities - the vast majority of Vorga was a maximum of three storeys, made up of small cubular homes stacked on top of each other like lego bricks. Small grazing paddocks occupied the roofs of lower-floor homes, and networks of ramps allowed for livestock to ascend and descend the different levels. In Wallasea a city of this physical footprint would have housed at least five to six million people - here, it was an endless suburb. Despite being subtropical in latitude, the endless trampling of millions of hoofs had coated most of the city in a fine layer of choking dust. The musty, unpleasant smell of farm animals was inescapable, and hung over the streets like a haze even more impenetrable than the dust itself.

My home was in the inner core of the city, where small clusters of six- to twenty-storey buildings suddenly erupted out of the earth like mushrooms. This, Urg said, was where the Baga-Ulans lived. He told me that Baga-Ulans were non-Ulannic minorities from the north, west, and east of Sharfland who were here to work "indoor jobs" in industry and trade. From the way Urg talked, I don't think he much cared for Baga-Ulans. He regretted that I was being made to live in a sky tower, away from the land, with Baga-Ulans and told me that he wished he could take me to his own neighbourhood to live in the Sergeltist blocks with him. I smiled and agreed and silently hoped that would not be a part of my itinerary.

My apartment was on the eighth floor of a sky tower, and surprisingly spacious (though without an elevator). Urg told me he would be back in the morning to take me to the Directorate of Internal Revolutionary Affairs. Cautioning me not to leave until then he bid me good day, leaving me to unpack my things. The first thing I did was check for police bugs, which were in abundance. Then I opened my window and stepped onto my balcony, which overlooked a neglected green courtyard between three tower blocks. Immediately across the road were the infinite rows of Sergelt homes, stretching away into the horizon, interrupted here and there by a park or market square or some kind of vehicle depot.I stood looking for a while but didn't see any shops, or entertainments, or bars or restaurants. Just thousands upon thousands of horses and goats and cows and yaks.
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Srf
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Re: Bid bol Sergeeltyum! Life in the Aimagate

Postby Srf » Fri May 31, 2019 4:39 pm

The worst visa in the world

The Directorate for Internal Revolutionary Affairs (DIRA - or DIRE, as it quickly came to be known amongst our minuscule expatriate community) was, along with all other Sharfic government ministries, located in the Vorga old city. It was quite a thing entering the old city, rising suddenly from endless identical Sergelt blocks to the south of the newly raised settlement. Protected as it was by centuries-old mud walls and watchtowers, the old city was a perfectly preserved example of historic Ulannic architecture rarely found outside of the Ulangazori steppe. Its streets were narrow and shadowy, its houses beautifully crafted from fired clay and coated here and there in stucco or plaster. Wrought-iron balconies overlooked the streets, and eruptions of bougainvillea and lilies spilled between every gap.

"Urg, this is beautiful". I remember saying. "Why is the rest of the city not like this?" He flashed a look in the rear-view mirror. No land, he said. Built by degenerate Ulans. Only the government would live here, he said, to fulfil their patriotic duty. I didn't really know how to reply so I nodded in an understanding way and peered out the window as the narrow houses quickly gave way to an enormous walled compound. Here the clay firing was painted a flat white, again studded with watchtowers that this time housed dozens of bored-looking Ordu troops in camouflage. Urg drove up to the gate and flashed some ID.

"Government complex" he said, as we passed through into a large marble courtyard. Inside were around five or six buildings, between one and eight floors in height, all build from the same white-painted plaster and with flat angular designs. These, Urg said, were the ministry buildings, where the revolutionary government gathered to direct the people. I did indeed see some signs of revolutionary activity as we crawled into the parking lot - in a shady corner, a small band of goats were lazily munching on a bale of hay.

The DIRA offices were on the seventh floor of the tallest building - as I stared out the window of the waiting room over miles and miles of Sergeltist cubes, I wondered if they were up here to better stare into people's windows with binoculars. Even here, a few miles from the blocks and several stories in the air, the smell of hay and animal excrement caught the back of my throat. I was sharing the room with several men, all wearing some combination of leather jackets, sunglasses and resplendent moustaches. They had all stared when I walked in, but quickly went back to smoking cigarettes or reading newspapers. Somehow the lack of attention made me more uneasy than the stares.

I was called into a room with two other men, a table, chair and suspicious-looking mirror. I wondered if this was where the Aimagate's famous interrogations took place - no, that would be in the basement, away from the sky and the fresh air. The older man did all the talking - his colleague remained mute for the duration of the interview, scribbling notes into a paper pad.

"Good morning sir. Thank you for taking the time to come and meet us. Would you like something? A coffee? Cigarette maybe?" I declined.

"You are here to formalise your residence visa for the Ulannic Aimagate of the Sharfland. May I ask your reason for requesting this visa?"

Doubtlessly he already knew, and had read a thick file on my previous activities many times over, but I humoured him. "I am a reporter for the Continental Times. We received an invitation from your Directorate to base a foreign correspondent in Vorga to cover news regarding the Aimagate. But I think the visa officer in Mbeyanchi was unfamiliar with issuing long term visas to foreigners, so he asked me to come here".

"I see" said the man. "and how long do you wish to stay?"

"I was offered a one year residence visa. I would like to stay for this period and then confer with my superiors and the Directorate to see what happens in the future".

"Hmm. I am going to ask you some questions and I would like you to answer them honestly. Have you ever written anything libellous relating to a government?"

"Never".

"Have you ever partaken in any activities that could be considered detrimental to state security?"

"Um-"

"Mass demonstrations, general strikes, armed action against legal authorities?"

"I can promise that I maintain objectivity and responsible reporting in my work".

"I see. Have you ever engaged in sexual intercourse with a person of a foreign nationality?"

"Excuse me?"

"Do you take narcotic drugs? Have you ever experienced homosexual thoughts? Have you ever owned land? Are you affiliated with any religious organisation outside of the Ulannic religious order?"

"Now wait just a minute" I said, reaching the end of my tether. "These are very personal questions. I get the impression you want to know if I may breach some part of your criminal code. I can assure you that I am a professional of the highest order who only works within commonly followed industry guidelines. My editor, and colleagues in previous countries, explained as much in their reference letters supporting my visa application".

The younger man ruffled through a Manila folder and passed some papers to his colleague - he took a deliberate amount of time to read them before nodding his head.

"Yes, I can see that. Well in that case, I suppose we can accept these documents. You will have to complete a health check at the hospital. We test for mental retardations and infectious diseases. Please bring the results back here and we will have your visa prepared for you".

I left the room feeling somewhat violated, like the Directorate man had rooted around my brain with a magnifying glass. But really, I pondered as I drove through those huge gates with the platoons of soldiers and left the DIRA and its dungeons behind, I was lucky. They could prod me, and question me, but they would never dare do anything more. There were thousands of Aimagate citizens languishing in jails across the country that could not claim such a luxury.
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