Thursday, May 15, 2014

One bird - three stones

So you know the saying "kill two birds with one stone," that is, get two things done at one time? I've been informed by the missionaries here that in Africa you need three stones in order to kill one bird. That's about the scope of it!

So I've explained in a previous post that I'm renewing my visa, and that it's long and complicated. The process has gone something like this...

Heather explains the papers she *thinks* I need to renew my visa. I have a panic attack, sort of, when after a frantic search I never actually made copies of my medical, radiological, and police clearances. (I found out at a later date that they would have expired by this time, so it didn't matter.)

Donovan takes me to the Clarks' house. The Clarks need to get their fingerprints done, and supposedly they know a police station where they have American fingerprint cards. The station is closed due to a "function." The police officer tries to convince us that bribing him (for another day, not today) would get us through the line quicker... I go back to the Clarks' and spend the rest of the afternoon playing piano and Uno (and watching Elijah play Uno against himself).

Heather takes me to Home Affairs in an effort to find out exactly how little paperwork I can get away with doing. Ehhh....I need to redo everything I don't have, so no luck there.

We go to the doctor's and get my medical and radiological clearances filled out. The medical exam is even shorter than in the States. She checks my blood pressure, sugar, asks me if I'm on any meds, and THAT IS IT. The x-rays (to prove I don't have tuberculosis) are a little more of a hassle and they have to redo them four or five times.

Fingerprints. Those still need done. (This is where it gets more complicated.) One of the Clarks prints me off a fingerprint card. I'm convinced I need two, even though they only needed one - turns out it's because I'm going through what's known as an FBI channeler (or in other words, someone who will take less than the FBI's 16-18 weeks). I don't have any cardstock. We go to Post Net (a very small copy store) and ask them to copy it on cardstock. "We don't have that kind of paper." Ok, head to the stationary store across the road. Buy one sheet of cardstock. Take it back to Post Net and have them copy it.

We find the police station. The police department is known as "South African Police Service," or SAPS. There is a sign that says "SAPS only." We had a good laugh over that one, especially when we walked around the wrong side of the building (we must have been distracted over our conversation - *someone* tried to tell me there were polar bears in the US, and I was defending my position of "NO...") and some guy was smiling, then telling us we were going the wrong way. Apparently, we decided, we didn't look like SAPS.

We enter the police station. I try to explain to the police officer at the counter what I needed. "America? Where are you from? Ohio? Is that close to Los Angeles?" I point to Alyssa, "No, that's her, she's from LA." *beaming smile* "OHHHH...I will come visit you!!" Someone takes me in the back, where I explain to two more people, in succession, what kind of fingerprints I need done. A nice lady takes me into her office and fills out the wrong form. I show her my forms, explain that I actually need to use THIS form, and yes, I need two copies of the same thing. She starts filling out the information that I actually need to fill out myself, and puts the date in the wrong place. She tries to fix it and ends up writing the date European style - 12/5/14. I explain that although I'm so sorry, the US is weird and is probably the only country in the world that writes their dates backward, and they're going to think I tried to pre-date it for December 12th. I ask her to make another copy for me, which she does, although she doesn't have cardstock either.

She sends me down to another office to pay. After I pay the lady in the second office, they send me back to the front again to LA guy. The countertop seems to have been recently put in, a nice shiny marble top, but underneath, there is a swinging wooden door about three feet tall, either built for midgets or a remnant of an old, wooden counter. LA guy motions for me to come through the door. I try to figure out if he's joking (who would ask you to crawl under a counter?) and attempt to stare him down before he offers to let me come around the other way. (He was joking. I still didn't crawl under the counter, though.)

LA guy leads me behind lots of iron bars and starts prepping the fingerprinting supplies. "No, no, you must loosen your hands!" I have never, ever, had fingerprints taken that were this horrible. He starts by folding my fingerprint card in three or four different places - apparently standard practice here, but not acceptable for the FBI. I don't say anything. Then he starts taking my fingerprints, leaving huge smears across the paper, double impressions, just printing the pads instead of the entire finger...and on...and on...he pulls out the second card, which is the cardstock..."Oh, I don't know if I can do this one, it can't bend!" but he decides to try. Second card is even worse than the first.

I look at both cards with great chagrin, trying to mentally convince myself that these cards aren't too bad, and I'm not going to have to pay lots of money to ship a second set of prints back to the US. I wash my hands, using about half a gallon of soap, and after explaining to LA guy, who has to sign my form, that no, the date is not wrong and the US writes dates backwards,  we leave. I show them to my friends and they confirm what I was afraid way these prints are going to fly! I'm kind of hoping we can go back to a different police station, as I'm a little embarrassed to show my face in the same station again.

I talk to Heather, and she advises me to just go back - I've already paid (a little less than $6) and at any rate, a second station might do just as bad a job. I go to the stationary store again and make more copies of the fingerprint card.

I walk back into the station, hoping against hope that LA guy will be on lunch break. No such luck - he's the first guy at the counter. I try to explain as graciously as I can that my fingerprints really actually need to be perfect, the US is so picky, I'm so sorry. LA guy is nice enough, but blames it on me - my hands weren't lose enough, or something. Apparently he's a little tired of dealing with me, so he passes me off to someone who looks like the manager, a young Afrikaans guy in a suit and tie. This man seems to have a little better idea what I want, although he messes up one or two cards before I have the idea to show him the paper from the FBI channeler that shows exactly what kind of fingerprints they are looking for. I ask him to make copies of the fingerprint cards so we can try again. Still no cardstock. I really hope they accept plain paper, because he came back with probably four copies of the fingerprint cards, determined to get this thing right or die trying.

Finally, FINALLY I end up with decent, un-bent, un-blurry fingerprints. Manager guy looks me in the eyes, and pleasantly, but firmly, says, "This is the best we can do." Yes, yes, I know, code for, "Please don't come back again. Please." Hopefully the channeler doesn't have an issue with my fingerprints, or you can be sure I am finding a DIFFERENT police station next time!

Next step is to send my fingerprints back to the States with a member of the missions team next Tuesday. I'd love to do it sooner, but unless I want to pay $70 for DHL or send it off to its doom in the South African postal system (yes, it's that bad) I'd better wait. My visa expires the 25th of July, so I have a *little* wiggle room, but not enough to feel comfortable. Now I need to change my plane ticket to November, and wait for my police clearance. After that we will approach Home Affairs again in hopes of getting an "application accepted" receipt that is not a visa, but will allow me to stay in the country.

Aaaargh, paperwork! And who decided a stone was a good method to kill a bird, at any rate?

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