(I feel like I’m issuing a lot of warnings about my posts lately, but here’a another one. This post has no pictures and entirely too many exclamation points and use of all caps, but I feel it’s warranted, so I’m ask for your forgiveness before hand. Also, I should mention that I mostly wrote this post to save time talking about unpleasant things when I skype with my mom later. So feel free to skip this if you want.)
I’m not complaining, because that would just be ridiculous given how blessed I am, but there are a few things that I would like to get off my chest. Maybe someone out there understands this particular trial I am going to and could leave a sweet little note of encouragement (woudja, please?).
I think I might have mentioned once or twice that I married an extremely attractive South American man, my dear Joel, (I joke sometimes that he was my mail order husband). We were young and in love, and didn’t have a clue about the international reprecussions of our romance. Shortly after we were married, we became familiar with the long and expensive process of naturalizing Joel. We had it relatively easy, since Joel was already in the country legally on a student visa, so it was “just” a matter of applying for temporary residency, then permanent residency, then citizenship. The process took exactly four years after we were married to be completed, and when it was all over, we thought we had gotten through the worst of it. (Ha, I kind of smile when I think how bent out of shape I got about driving our two young girls an hour in our own, air-conditioned, child-safety-seat car to attend an interview and the naturalization ceremony. Those were the days!)
During all this process, we had visited Ecuador a few times, but the thought never occurred to us to doing any naturalizing in that country; there didn’t seem to be any need. And even when we got a job offer we couldn’t pass up in Ecuador, we foolishly thought that the university that hired us would take care of all the paperwork to allow us to legally live here (since they do that in the states, right?). Well, we are definitely not in Kansas anymore.
Besides the last 7 months of wasted effort and hoping, relying on others to do stuff for us, we’ve had one month of pure torture trying to move the paperwork along ourselves. In this country, nothing can be done remotely, you have to go to the government offices in person, even to just ask questions about applications. And there are only two government offices in the country that do the really important stuff that we need to do, one in Quito, and one in Guayaquil. We’re closer to Guayaquil, so that was our poison of choice. It’s a three hour taxi-bus-taxi ride to the government building(s) we have to go to, or an expensive 2 1/2 hour straight taxi ride. For the first visa we applied for, we had to be there between 8:30 and 10:30 in the morning to get a ticket to apply or ask questions at that office, though if you wait til 10:00, your risking it, because they only hand out 100 tickets a day, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. You do the math. It meant leaving early with two motion-sick little girls. I had the choice between making them fast the whole morning so they were less likely to throw up a lot, or feed them and risk a big explosion. The first time we had to go, I went with the first option, with the result that my older girl threw up a bunch of stomach fluid, but was okay after that, just hungry. Of course, there is no eating allowed in the building we were at, so I tried to give them snacks outside the building, not wandering too far so as not to miss our crucial turn to go up and talk to the powers that be. Of course, this is not allowed, either, because something about feeding small children (it’s not like I was even nursing, for pete sake!) in front of a government building is horrifying to the full-of-themselves security guards, who rudely told me to move a long, as if I were a vagrant or a street walker.
But after all, the first visa went relatively smoothly. Of course, I had to go back a few days later to pay for it and pick it up. Which meant the bus ride (I was by myself this time), getting a number, turning over my visa, making some corrections to the paperwork at a nearby cyber spot, then waiting 4 hours to pick up the visa, then another bus ride home. That 12 hour day trip was the easy part.
You see, yesterday, I had to take my girls with me again to Guayaquil (in a taxi) to apply for the second visa. Before my sweet husband had to return to the island, he had made 4 trips to Guayaquil to ask questions and collect minor documents from other agencies to make sure that all our paperwork and documents were in order to apply for the second visa. But after I got the first visa, I went to the second visa office (different offices in the same building, thank goodness) to ask. They looked through all my documents and said “everything is in order, except this one thing that isn’t on the list of requirements but we need it anyways, and yes, you do have that document, but it is too old, we need it within thirty days of that document being issued, and you got it several months ago, and no it doesn’t say on the document that it is only valid for thirty days, and it doesn’t say anywhere else that it is only valid for thirty days, and no they don’t tell you when you get the document that it is only valid for 30 days, and of course in your husband’s four other trips to ask questions at this office we never even mentioned that other document or that it needs to be less than 30 days old, but that’s the way it goes, sister.” Okay, maybe they didn’t call me sister. But you get the idea.
So I knew I was going to have to get this other document, which is at another government office in Guayaquil on the opposite side of town. So yesterday, we went there first so we could get the document. My little girl, who had been so brave, threw up in that parking lot. When we got to that office, they said that they were closed for cleaning that morning, but would be open later in the afternoon, and we could come back then. So we set off for the other building, with the faint hope that there was a satalite office there which gave out the same documents (essentially a travel record of your comings and goings in the country). When we got there the woman working at the small desk was just leaving to go to the other office to set up a temporary room to work in there. She told us to go back to the other office. And then she left. No joke.
So, we decided to just try applying for the visa without that document, at least for the girls’ visas, since we had a valid copy of the travel record for the girls and we were at the visa building anyways, So we got a number, waited, and then went up to ask. It started out okay; they started perusing our documents, and it looked like we might even be able to take that all-important visa picture for which I had dragged my girls up there for (that’s the only reason they have to be there, to get their photo taken!). But no, another fail. Besides saying that we needed a copy of my husband’s travel record for the girls’ applications (of course, this is mentioned no where on the list of requirements), they noticed that the translation of our marriage license, which the university lawyer had provided for us, was incomplete. What was missing? All of the information. The guy had just translated things like “name,” “address,” “occupation,” but had failed fill in the actual information, so it appeared like a blank document. Of course, they had not mentioned this problem in the other 5 times we had asked if we had everything we needed.They told us now we had to get the thing re-translated! (Are you getting a sense of my exasperation, here?) Since we were missing those two things, we could not apply for the visa. They wouldn’t accept what we had to save on file, or take the dang picture, which means I have to bring my girls AGAIN to go through this torture.
But the fun didn’t stop there. We decided that since we were in the city, we might as well get that travel document after all. I needed one for me, and one for Joel. Joel had sent me a scanned copy of his ID with a letter and signature authorizing me to get his travel record for him, since he’s in the Galapagos right now.
We went back across town to the other building (through scary, big-city crazy-driver traffic). The people at that office had told us they would be up and running at 1:30, and we got there a little before that. What we saw was not very encouraging. A long line had formed outside the gated building, broken into small chunks wherever there was a bit of shade on that narrow sidewalk next to one of the busiest streets in the country. Fortunately, we got one of the last bits of shade, and stood there, and then sat there (on the ground, no benches), for at least a half an hour without an inch of progress as buses and cars passed us, spewing exhaust in our face at intervals. Then, all of a sudden there was a mad rush on the gate keeper’s office, apparently they were handing out numbers and letting people go inside. In Ecuador, no one has respect for a line. It didn’t matter if there were single women with small children waiting for an hour before you, people just shove their way in, and this was no exception. When the dust cleared, we ended up with number 11 (which wasn’t saying much, since it took another half and hour for them to work up through number 4).
When it was finally our turn, we got up to the desk only to hear from the same woman who had sent me away at the other place 4 hours ago that I could not get my husband’s travel record because I didn’t have a notarized copy of the ID and letter; clearly I had forged his signature and had nefarious intentions for his precious travel record. So in the end, I just got mine. And after they print your travel record for you and you pay for it, they make you go get a copy of it to give back to them (now, if that isn’t the height of insanity, I don’t know what is). So you go to this little shrewd woman inhabiting one corner of the government building—she’s not employed by the government, but she sure is kept in business by them—and you pay A DOLLAR to get ONE copy of your record that they just printed for you so you can give it back to them.
You can bet we high-tailed it out of there as soon as we could after that, because we couldn’t take another moment of the craziness. Two and a half hours later, we arrived home, and about 15 minutes after that, my sweet little girl threw up all the food she had eaten as soon as she had gotten home, all over the bathroom floor.
After 10 hours of emotional and physical torture, we have very little to show for it except the anticipation that we get to do the whole thing over again next week.
No, I’m not complaining. I mean, I know it could be much worse. While waiting in that last office, we met a family that had traveled from Cuenca, four hours of windy, narrow mountain roads, with two little kids. And I know there are countries with an even worse government infrastructure than Ecuador (a frightening thought!). But it is nice to let off a little steam. So thanks for listening.