This week my salvation was tested in a fiery trial of red tape. I almost gave into the temptation to assault someone behind a counter in the office of Immigration. We have been working for the last 3 years on getting our “Permanent” Residency Visas… which will only last for 2 years before they must be renewed. That right there should be a clue to the kind of thinking that we encounter in government offices of Third World Countries. Apparently “Permanent” does not mean what you think it means. I now know that “Permanent” means permanently standing in line to have papers stamped.
Two months ago we spent another day standing in various hot, long lines; and we thought we saw the end of the tunnel. We received a piece of paper with a date and time on it. This was the appointment for us to return as a family to sign our “cedulas” which would mean that we would no longer have to leave the country every 90 days to renew our tourist visas. We were ready to sign and celebrate the end of a long and expensive process to stay legal. But the paper pushing gods were against us.
On the designated day, we arrived at Immigration with our 3 children in tow. I know from experience that an appointment does not exempt you from standing in line for a few hours. So we came prepared with snacks and Game Boys and iPods and Kindles- ready to endure. When our blood sugar levels started to drop around noon and we still had not been called back into the cubical area, I knew things were not going well.
Finally they called all of us up to three separate cubicles and started drilling us with questions. My husband asked if they could process all our papers together so we could be with our children and help them. The answer was NO so we kept hovering between spaces, talking over half walls, and passing papers between us. At one point the woman helping my husband actually LOST a paper that he had just handed her. Ten minutes later and many insistent demands that SHE find the lost paper, it was discovered in a pile on someone else’s desk. My own breaking point was rapidly approaching.
The woman working with my stack of papers pointed to our date and time for this appointment and asked, “So, have you started paying into the social security system since you were given this appointment date?” I said, no, why would we pay social security if we didn’t have a visa yet? She then briskly informed me that I had missed some imaginary deadline to start paying taxes and now all my paper work was invalid. I was shocked. I felt my brain start to seize up as I tried to process the words in Spanish.
I asked, “Where does it say that? Show me where it says that I have to start paying taxes before a certain date or my visa application will be denied.”
She barked at me, “You just DO IT.”
“Yes, but how was I supposed to KNOW that?”
“You JUST KNOW IT!”
This illogical exchange occurred over and over for the next 15 minutes at ever increasing decibels until the tears eeked from the corners of my eyes. I wanted to beat that woman upside the head until her marbles settled into the logical grooves. How could someone be expected to navigate a bureaucratic rabbit warren using nothing but mystical forms of divination and mind reading? It was as useless to reason with her as it would have been to reason with a brick wall. I deeply desired to curse her with a plague of paper cuts and then squeeze lemon juice on her.
Five hours later we had managed to convince them to at least take our children’s pictures and put them into their files for a future date so that we wouldn’t have to take them out of school for another day, but we were no closer to getting our coveted residency visas than we had been 2 months earlier. The next day, my husband went down to the social security office to set up an account. They were just as confused as we were. He only succeeded in obtaining another appointment next week to stand in line again. And so the saga continues… unless I get deported from the country for strangling someone as I wait in line.
This is not an uncommon story among missionaries. We are all a bit surprised, and a little gratified, when we hear how similar each of our stories are all around the world. There is no use fighting the system. We just pray for the endurance to press on and conquer yet another trial. We have huge mountains of paper blocking the way to our calling. Fortunately I know a God who specialized in moving mountains.
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/funky64/2603653222/”>Funky64 (www.lucarossato.com)</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>
Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/jasonlparks/5139930960/”>Jason L. Parks</a> / <a href=”http://foter.com”>Foter.com</a> / <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>CC BY-NC-ND</a>