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.

1 comment:

  1. This is of course another test of your earnestness and sincerity in becoming permanent residents of a country where AngryFaces and BalloonsandSmiles abound, but where it all balances out favorably if our intentions are to serve the Cause of God and grow in spiritual virtues (many aids to achieve that purpose). And having "been there, done that" many times over the years, I assure you it does balance out in favor! Good luck and don't forget the 95 or 500 Removers of Difficulties on the bus ride down.. each and every time! Love you guys!