Friday, January 30, 2009

pass the Elmer's

I tried to post this last night but the Internet died. Be assured: things seemed much less desperate today (Friday).

In Mrs. Knoeke's junior year physics class we built bridges out of glue and toothpicks, suspended them between lab tables and stacked weights to test their strength. How many pounds until our bridge joined the splinters on the floor?

That's what I felt like this morning. Like that bridge made from toothpicks, bowing under the weight. This week was one thing after another after another and I write this knowing that I still have tomorrow to get through before the weekend delivers some rest. What happened?

Claire's stack of paperwork. Colombians love paperwork. They like duplicate copies and rubber stamps even more. These loves come right after their love of long lines. But combining all loves makes for a decidedly unlovely day. Claire is our daughter. We have a Colombian birth certificate, a U.S. certificate of birth abroad, a U.S. passport, a signed and notarized document stating that her father and I are allowing her to travel with us to the States. But we were advised to also get a Colombian passport. I took yesterday off work and headed for downtown Cali to the Gobernacion del Valle with Claire and Patricia in tow.

(Nothing makes you feel uncomfortably elitist like asking your nanny to tag along on an errand but that's another post. I needed Patricia. I was lost).

Anyway: much crying, a few phone calls, three visits to supervisors only to walk away without a passport. New law yada yada You need to go to the Colombian embassy yada yada Apply for residency yada yada. Then Claire can get her passport. She cannot leave the country until then. You must be a resident here. I point to dates, "But we're leaving soon." I cry. The clerk, a balding man with braces on his bottom teeth, seems genuinely sympathetic. The Colombian American man helping me with the translation tells me I should pray.

"This is crazy," he says, gesturing through the doorway toward the large waiting area, a fluorescent lit claustrophobic nightmare of bodies emanating sweat and strong cologne. Personal space isn't an issue here. If my paperwork was cleared at this first desk (and that possibility was looking bleak), I'd get in a line to pay. That'd take about an hour. After that, I'd wait between three and six hours to see someone about actually getting Claire's passport. I'd do all of this with no elbow room, lucky if I got a chair.

I think of booking a flight to Bogota. I think of begging our director: give us our jobs, we'll skip the fair. I think of burning all the useless paperwork I have neatly clipped in a folder. I think of screaming. I call Olga at school, the amazing Olga who has strings to pull and does. "I'm - hiccup - I'm barely holding - hiccup - it together." People stare. They part for us when we leave.

"It is illegal," Olga declared. I sat in her office, watched her punch numbers into the phone. Her father knows the father of the new minister at DAS. (Colombia's FBI) He'll help. She calls his direct line and he wants to know how she got his number. She blows by that question.

So today we went to DAS, bypassed all the lines because we had a coveted cita, an appointment in a tiny back room with water damaged plaster and unframed abstract paintings. A four hour chunk of our day, Olga shuttling me from DAS to the bank, getting more photocopies (love those duplicates: they'll tell you to bring two and then ask for four). And at the end we had a half sheet of paper to tuck into Claire's passport. It says she's in Colombia legally. She'll reenter with a renewable tourist visa. Whatever it takes.


Sergio en Colombia said...

you're my hero. well told.

jsmarslender said...

No kidding, right? Ech.