Friday, June 28, 2013

We're Legal! -- by Josh

Well, for 30 more days anyhow.
That's how I broke the news of today's not completely unsuccessful trip to the immigration office.  Rebecca had wisely suggested that I go by myself since we'd last been told that all we needed was a boatload of copies and a payment of $40 to make our visas current.
You see, we arrived back to lovely Hispaniola in April, at which time we immediately started the next step for temporary residency.  Nevermind the fact that we had in our passports a visa good until June 7th, our overstaying fee was calculated from our entry in April.  It's fascinating to have the people in the immigration office repeatedly comment on how useless and unnecessary our residency visas are.  The pride that I once got from apparently knowing more about the new Dominican immigration law than the woman in charge is not quite so heartening now.
As you know, we were previously told that all was well. Our dear friend had looked through all of our papers, consulted a co-worker and made a list of all the copies we needed to make, clearly implying that we were on the verge of the next step, whatever that is.
So, I had made my way back to la migra, gazing at the tranquil azure waters that stretch off into the southern horizon.  The absolute highlight of visiting the immigration office is its location, right on the malecon.  It's great to walk out the subway, stroll down the avenue past the main government buildings and monument to the republic's heroes, then there it is: the Caribbean Sea.
This was a pretty calm day. I prefer the slightly stormy days, wit h the undulating waves and mix of greens and blues.
I like to gaze at the rolling waves and swaying coconut palms as I stand in line, generally for hours.  I'm often reminded of a Soviet torture tactic I heard about on the History Channel.  In order to stay true to international agreements, they came up with something that was technically not torture: the prisoner would be forced to stand, and after a couple of days of excruciating pain, their legs would fall apart inside because of the body's own weight.
This time, however, the wait was quite short and I even got to sit down as homegirl went and took a snack break.  I really don't blame her or any of the other employees for being in bad moods.  The crowds there, particularly large of late, are not terribly happy or polite either and the employees have to work until three in the afternoon now with no apparent lunch break, unthinkable!
Anyhow, she eventually came back and I slid my two folders through her window: one of the 132 requested copies, one with the originals.  "Where are the originals?" she asks.  I point to the folder in front of her and she starts to go through everything again.
"Where's her original birth certificate?" she demands, pointing to the translated copy.
"It was attached with a paper clip to that translation," I reply, and as she went back to flipping through our documents I went to my happy place.  You see, if I stare straight into the white paper sign on her window, I can be transported to another world. With the reflection, I'm allowed a view of the crystal Caribbean and I feel my shoulders relax and I can breathe easy, even as I keep a peripheral eye on what she's doing behind the safety glass.

See the white sheet of paper, next to the guy's head, on the "Numberless Window".
Long story short: All of our translations are useless, we have to get a new guarantor letter (and possibly a new guarantor) and even after we manage to miraculously get everything accepted by her, it apparently takes another three months for the folks who work behind her to determine we're not a threat to the Dominican nation.
It was at about this point that I actually turned to get a full view of the sea, take a deep breath, and say thank you to homegirl.  After all, she was making it exceedingly clear.  It was like being told by a girl you've got a crush on that, really truly, you'll only ever be friends.  You can look back and see the mixed signals, but none of it matters anyway.  So, that beautiful clarity can let us breathe and realize that this will not be something we can rush, so we should just take our time and not stress ourselves out.

I found a happy place!

Just as I was walking away from the window, shoving my many folders back into the backpack, Rebecca rang.  "We're legal!" I told her, giggling at my little joke.  Then I strode outside, walked across the street and found a happy place.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We Are Not Defeated!

It’s not exactly a win, I admit. We last left off two weeks ago when we were told of the necessity for original letters of guarantee, notarized and then legalized. While I’m familiar with originals and notaries, I had no idea what is involved in getting something “legalized.”

We picked up the 1st guarantor letter from the bus station which had arrived from Santiago two weeks earlier. We took a taxi to the Baha'i Center and picked up the 2nd guarantor letter which had been found and notarized the day before. We then went to the office that has my stomach in knots each time I think about it: immigration.

It occurred to me sometime during the 3 hours that I stood in line to get yet another made-up bureaucratic stamp that my immense frustrations with this process were because of an intense amount of distrust in the world.
At some point along the line, someone is going to have to be trustworthy and the other person is going to have to trust. Baha'u'llah writes,
"Trustworthiness is the greatest portal leading unto the tranquility and security of the people. In truth the stability of every affair hath depended and doth depend upon it. All the domains of power, of grandeur and of wealth are illumined by its light.
That, to me, means that without truth, we ain't got nothin', baby. Just a whole lotta pain and darkness. Not following? Here's a real-life example of what happens in a system without trust:

I need a birth certificate to prove some piece of my identity.
It has to be issued within three months of when I use it. (check one)
It must be apostilled by another government agency. (check two)
It has to be translated by an official translator. (why don't we have a universal language yet?)
The translation has to be notarized. (check three)
The notary requires an apostille as well. (check four)
Then the consulate says its all okay. (check five)
Then the immigration office says it has to be translated by a Dominican. (check six, an especially infuriating one)
But not before making 62,000 copies of each. Or something close.

As we celebrated each step forward in line, Josh & I chatted with everyone. We commiserated. And, guess what? Ours was not the most painful story.
Then we made it to the door (which means you're only about 7 spots away from the front of the line!) and were randomly asked if we'd paid our impuesto (tax). Nope. What's that?
Oh, the service we're in line to receive? We have to pay for it at a bank and bring the receipt. They don't take your money here (another truthfulness check?). While Josh ran to the closest bank (not close), I stood in line answering the same question over and over again (Why didn't you just ask?), then was told he didn't actually have to go to the bank. I ran to catch him walking away.

"Wait!" I yelled. "They say you can get one of those receipts here."
"Where?" he turned around and walked back to the line with me.
ArmyDude who was in charge of keeping everyone in line (quite literally), pointed the place out to Josh. "Just there."
"All I see is a cafeteria," Josh responded, squinting his eyes.
The National Police Officer we'd been talking to about the pervasiveness of corruption pointed as well, but to no avail. Josh couldn't figure out where they were talking about.
ArmyDude took him by the arm and walked him straight to a scruffy looking guy in a white t-shirt who promptly pulled out a stack of bank receipts from his pocket and began smoothing them out. Yes. The National Police Officer and the fully uniformed, on the clock ArmyDude had led Josh to the ticket scalper of the immigration office. Between the extra high price and not wanting to be screwed over for another technicality in this long process, Josh started walking to the bank. Again.
I stayed in line whilst slowly letting each person behind me to go in front of me as I waited for Josh to return with another absolutely necessary slip of paper. He returned, triumphant (and noted that his name and passport number were put on each of the bank receipts confirming the TicketScalper avoidance a good call).

End result? We got one letter legalized. The other letter didn't mention the same notary number as the actual notary number used on the stamp (that was the letter creathed back in December in Santiago with a friend willing to stand behind us and the one lawyer we've paid because the letter can only be created by a legitimate lawyer). Made useless in one fell swoop.
"So, we're done for today then, yes?" I turned to Josh, eager to leave already.
"Nah. Let's try the numberless window."
I laughed. But he was serious.
After ping-ponging between several windows as is requisite of any immigration office visit, we ended up at the numberless window, of course. She cannot be avoided. 
I opted to stay hidden behind a pole and a crowd of people. No, seriously. I hid. 
Josh left the window with a smile on his face.
"They accepted the translations," and he was serious.
"What?! So, do we have our residency?"
He chuckled, "No, we have to make all these copies first." He handed me a post-it note with a list of copies to be made that equaled no fewer than 130.
"Okay. Then what?" Because that sounded way too simple.
"I'm not sure. I even handed her the letter that didn't get legalized and she said 'That'll do'."
I was genuinely surprised. And delighted. And feeling ever-so-justified in hiding my face.
We got to 96 of the 130 copies before the office closed. Forced to go home.
Or to Wendy's.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Its All Wrong. All of It.

Another two-hour bus ride. Another metro ride. Another 10 block-walk. Into that blessed immigration office.
We went straight to the "numberless window."
She was there again, the woman with the angry face. Staring us down over the top rim of her reading glasses. We both smiled real big, unable to think of a worthy compliment to start out the day right.
I slid a serious stack of papers--full of official signatures, seals and evidence of hours upon hours, dollars upon dollars--through the slot in her window.
"Put it in a folder," she looked down at the stack, refusing to touch it.
Breathe, Rebecca. Breathe.
I slipped our battered and torn folder around the stack. At some point in that folder's long life, I had begun to doodle a pig on the front of it, but stopped short of the head. Only its back side and a cute, curly tail were there.
She audibly exhaled through her nose as I slid the stack, now with a folder, through the window opening. My face apparently inspired a great deal of anger in this woman. Either that or she hates immigrants.
AngryFace began to sort through our documents. We couldn't see what she was doing since her desk was significantly lower than the window. She looked up.
"Its all wrong. There is nothing here from the required list."
"Ummm... this list?" Josh held up the list she had told us to retrieve the day before.
"Yeah. You don't have anything here."
I honestly had no idea how to respond. We double-checked that list, carefully marking off each item, gently placing each corresponding document into our stack. I've been in similar situations a time or two before where my reality and the other person's reality were at complete odds and they ended very, very badly.
"What is missing exactly?" my voice was mouse-like. I was desperately trying to give her the power she obviously sought while still trying to get what I needed.
She peered at me over her glasses, "Everything."
How does one respond to this?
"Can you please highlight on this list what is missing?" I gently asked, meek as possible.
"I'll write it down for you," she took out a small slip of yellow paper and began to scribble. I couldn't imagine what in the world she would be writing.
I carefully read her list.
"We have these things," I looked up, softly.
"Where?" AngryFace was in full force.
"Here!" Josh held up the folder. It was his turn to lose his cool. I touched his forearm as he'd done for me the day before.
"You know what? I'm going to take a break. You get organized," AngryFace pointed her finger at us and walked out.
In classic Dominican "line" culture, a crowd had gathered around us, leaning in on every word, completely forgetting their own immigration issues they'd come to sort out. Despite the fact that we were in the immigration office, most people in the lines are Dominicans. Lawyers and lawyer's minions. Because no one else seems to be stupid enough to try this on their own.
They all tried to explain to us that we were wrong. And, being on level footing with them, we were able to explain that yes, we had everything on the list. Oh, and the letter from a guarantor? We had two of those. They stood back slightly, surprised. Then each offered their services to us as lawyers on our behalf. Hmm.
AngryFace returned still chewing on a cookie.
"Are you organized now? Give me your papers." I was a child being scolded by some acquaintance of my parents who never came around. Who is this woman?
"Would you like the papers from your list or the whole folder again?" I asked, slightly emboldened.
"All of it. Give it to me."
I dutifully handed over the same folder with the same exact papers in it. This time she stood at the window leafing through the papers so we could see what she was doing.
AngryFace looked over her glasses again while vigorously flipping through the papers, "Are you married? I don't see a marriage certificate here."
I nodded and slipped my hand through the slot in the glass stopping her frantic flipping.
"Its here," I said, guiding her back to the front of the stack.
"What about your birth certificates and their translations? Those aren't here."
Again, I slid my hand through and pointed them out.
"What about your guarantee letter?"
Again, I showed it to her.
"I need the original," AngryFace was determined to win this one.
Josh stepped in, "The Dominican Consulate accepted everything that is here."
"They're different. They don't issue residency visas."
Josh and I jumped on it. We both grabbed our passports and showed her our temporary residency visas issued from the Dominican Consulate in New York.
"That's just a visa. Its not residency." Was I fighting with a child?
"I must be confused. Can you tell me the difference between a visa and a residency?" I knew full well that we were talking about the same thing: a residency visa.
AngryFace ignored my question, "Well, you don't have anything translated."
Frustration was definitely mounting. Am I crazy here? Is this where I'm supposed to offer her a bribe? If I was going to go down a slippery slope now, I'd just walk out. I don't really need this residency visa. You just pay a fee when you leave the country instead. The only reason we're doing this is to follow the law. Only what happens when the very people in charge of enforcing the law don't know what the law is?
"Can you show me what needs to be translated?" I asked.
"All of it."
"Each of those documents has been translated and each has an apostille," I was calm, but firm. And that crowd was still there, no doubt adding firewood to her flame as she held firm to her pride.
"You have to have those translated by a Dominican." I wanted to laugh out loud. Clearly this little island nation has the corner market on Spanish translation and no other person could possibly do it correctly.
AngryFace closed the folder and shoved it back through the window, "See? You don't have anything here."
I balked. And then did my best to go soft again.
"Can you please highlight on this list what we are missing?"
"You don't even have the residency application form."
Josh was boiling. He pulled it out and placed in on the glass.
"That's not the right one," she said, pretending to be occupied with something at her desk.
"This is the one available on the internet site. Can you tell us where to get the correct one?" I asked.
"Go to window #1. It costs 100 pesos."
And with that, she was rid of us. AngryFace: 1, FrustratedImmigrants: 0.

Down at window #1, where there is a happy person, I got in line. And Josh went to call one of our many Culture-Brokers for an "Am I crazy? check". The woman behind the window even has balloons at her station. Its an entirely different feeling. She smiles and asks what she can do for us.
I relaxed so much, in fact, I almost started crying. You know, like when you were a kid and something traumatic happens. You can keep your cool until you see your mom. Then the dam of tears breaks. Except I'm supposedly a grown-up now, so I didn't squirt any in the immigration office (or any time thereafter over AngryFace).

Balloons-n-Smiles sold us the forms. Except they were 66 times more expensive than what AngryFace had told us. I forked over a total of DP$13,200 (US$330) for two forms that each came with an official looking stamp. Guess we can't lose those. To be fair, we knew we'd be paying that amount on top of everything else since it was on the list referred to above. It just wasn't clear at what point in this game we were supposed to pay it.

Josh came back from the phone call. Turns out that we're right about translations. The entire point of an apostille is to be able to get a document translated in another country and be accepted here. Our Culture-Broker gave us a name to drop, since that is what moves people if you don't bribe them apparently. We will, however, need to get the original of the guarantee letter(s). One of them is in Santiago at a lawyer-friend's office and the other is in a stack somewhere at the National Baha'i Center in Santo Domingo. Either way, it means we were done for the day since immigration shop closes at 2 pm.

Outside the immigration office, channeling AngryFace and feeling sideways.

We grabbed lunch at "Speed Food" and caught the bus home. The food, incidentally, was awesome. I wonder what their secret is. Perhaps we should recommend it to our new friend. That cookie didn't do her any good.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What Is It You Do Here, Exactly?

Note: If you're just joining us, the residency process sort of began here, continued here, gets slightly awkward here and now you should be caught up.

At the end of our first visit to the immigration office, we were told to return in two weeks when our medical results would be ready.
Two weeks passed. Josh called.
"Bring your passport and the medical exam receipt."

Two hour bus ride, metro ride, ten-block walk and we arrived on a Wednesday morning. In the two+ weeks that we were gone, they put numbers on more of the windows and installed microphones with speakers at each. I was sincerely impressed at the improvements.
Josh went to the information desk and asked where we needed to go. After listening to two employees chat about their night out, they eventually deemed him worthy of attention. "Go to window #1."

"Hi. We were told to return two weeks after our medical exam. Here we are!" we told Window#1 Lady.
"To get your results, you need to go to room #4, down that hallway."
We were stopped by the uniformed door guard at the hallway and told to go to the information desk for a clip-on pass. Back at that desk, ChattyIgnorer asked for our passports. We passed them through the window slot and she handed us two clip-on passes, then rubber-banded our passports together and set them down next to her.
"Ummm... don't we need those?" Josh asked.
"Yes," ChattyIgnorer said.
"So, can we have them back?"
"No. Unless you want to give me something else."
This was the moment. In all our frustration at the uselessness of our blessed passport cards, they were finally going to be accepted and have a clear purpose: to get clip-on passes and gain access to the hallway!

We met the guard again and flashed our clip-ons. Success! We easily found room #4 and another window clearly labeled "Medical Results". That was easy. Mostly.
Josh handed over our medical exam receipts. The two women looked at them, handed them back, then told us to go to a different window, outside the hallway.
Hold the phone. I was confused. Again. Due to my immense confusion, things get fuzzy here, like trying to recount a dream right after waking up.
Since we'd just been to any number of windows, each of which told us to go to a different window without having done anything for us per se, I had reached my window-hopping quota for the morning. I needed some clarity before I was willing to go dutifully to the next place. After all, we were here for our medical results and the window was clearly labeled such.
My struggle for clarity and the two women repeating the same jumbled message followed by, "Go out to the numberless window," repeated itself several times.
Then I finally asked:
"What is it you do here, exactly?"
Except I think it sounded more like, "You're quite useless, aren't you?"
And what I meant to say was, "Have I completed what I needed to at the window and why don't I have medical results in my hands?"
Both ladies immediately put on their fighting faces and Josh gently pulled at my forearm indicating I had done something quite idiotic and should stop. Immediately.

When we'd successfully fled, Josh told me, "You can't mess with people here like that. We'll be screwed."
Duly noted.
We headed to the numberless window.
"Hi. We were told to return two weeks after our medical exam. Here we are!"
"Your papers," the numberless window lady didn't look too happy. She was like a Sneetch without a star. No number on her window. No star on her belly.
We passed our passports and exam receipts through her little window slot.
"No, your papers," she repeated, now visibly irritated.
We shrugged, "Which papers?"
"No, no, no, no. You're not ready," she looked passed us and waved to the next person in line.
We stood our ground. She was now full on angry.
"The papers from the list?" I asked.
AngryFace at the numberless window then gave a slight nod.
We smiled, "Oh. We already turned those in."
"At window #1 when we got our medical exams a couple weeks ago," we pointed to the window.
Perhaps we shouldn't have mentioned a window with a number.
"I need them," AngryFace was quite stern.
"Sorry, I thought we only had to turn them in once," I responded (not mentioning that the Consulate had already asked for and approved all those papers when they issued our temporary visa). But I should have just walked away. I think that may have upset her delicate angry-face meter.
Having only brought what we thought necessary--a total rookie mistake--we didn't have the stack of papers with us. They were all back home in San Francisco.
We went to the Window #1 line.
"Hi! Remember us? So, you know those papers we turned in a few weeks ago? Can we have them back?"
Long story somewhat shorter: They don't keep those around. My guess is those papers we spent so much time gathering, sorting and caring for are now rotting in a landfill somewhere.

In times of defeat, Josh has a nasty habit of turning to fast food to nurse his wounds. I like to make a check on my to-do list to squeeze some kind of productivity out of day otherwise lost.
So, we went to a big store to buy some stickers I needed for cataloguing books, which ended in another dead end. So, we both enjoyed something only available in the capital: Wendy's.
We ordered everything with bacon.

I do not recommend government employees behind numberless windows. I do recommend Wendy's blackberry milkshakes.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Give Me the Loudest One

"Give me the loudest one," said Don Ramon, our neighbor, to the guy at the hardware store.
Or at least that's how we think it went.
Just back from an out-of-town trip, we heard a school bell ring, clearly calling students to head to their next class. 

Except we were at home. In our living room.

Upon further investigation, we found this.

Caution! Do not stand next to it when it rings.
The neighbor down the street told me yesterday that she can hear it whenever it rings too. 

While we were out, our dear neighbor fixed our doorbell. It had been broken for a few weeks and we kept missing visitors. We live on the second floor and often work in the back of the house where its quieter, so will consequently miss anyone who doesn't call us or ring a functioning doorbell.

And like all of his projects, he didn't just fix it. He went above and beyond the call of duty. He traded up. 
"Did you see your new doorbell?" he chuckled.
"Oh yes. I heard it first, of course!" I returned his smile. He was mighty pleased with himself.
"It's from a school!"
He was so excited to have a school bell installed in the house of the educators, he kept repeating this as he walked out. "It's a school bell--from a school!" and he'd laugh at his cleverness.

We'll never miss another visitor.