Prior to embarking on this adventure, I was given the following information:
- Don’t forget your passport.
- The guy you’re going with doesn’t speak any English. Just follow him and he’ll get you what you need.
- There is no such thing as being polite in these situations. If you sit back and wait for the line to move, you’ll be there all day.
- Don’t let your experience in this office push you to pack up and go home.
- Good luck!
When I arrived to church yesterday, a man met me and led me down two blocks to the government offices. Fully aware that neither of us spoke each other’s language, our basic communication was hand gestures and smiles. I did have to laugh at our “me Tarzan, you Jane” introduction, however.
As we went through the building’s metal detector, the girl working asked me if I had a camera. Of course I didn’t even think to look through my purse and make sure I removed unnecessary items, so I had to hand it over to security until we left. I was handed a laminated card and watched as they rubberbanded an identical card to my camera and set it on the table in front of them. Now that’s security!
I continued to play follow the leader with my non-English-speaking friend and was led to a tiny room. Since it’s not normal to carry passport sized photos around with me, I had to get my picture taken. This is where I first realized how inefficient my morning was going to be. Person A opens the door to the room and points for me to sit in a chair. Person B picks up the camera, takes a photo of me, and sets the camera on the base that communicates with the computer. Person C crops the photo on the computer and hits print. Person D picks up the printed photo and walks it 6 feet to person E. Person E cuts the 6 photos apart, knowing I only need 1, and puts them in a little baggy for me. I am then free to leave the room.
We head upstairs and go through another metal detector and send our belongings through an x-ray machine. We began to walk down the hall and were stopped by security and directed to an office. After a few minutes of intense conversation between the two guys, another guy looked at me and in clear English said, “you have to go alone. Room 42.” That was it. My guide led me back to the hallway, tried to convince another guy to let him through, and when he realized it wouldn’t happen, we played charades to understand “42” and “I’ll wait for you here.” WHAT?! Alone?! The prayers started immediately. Don’t panic. God’s in control.
I walked into a big room with lots of bank-teller type windows. I found “42” and it said “lost passports.” Ok, now what? I didn’t lose my passport. God knows my tendancy to panic and almost immediately provided three things for me...another girl about my age looking for the same thing, a police officer who wanted to help us, and a guy who spoke english and could translate between the police officer and I. We were told to stay in the line. When we finally got to the window, we were told we needed to go to window 12. We headed down the long room and found window 11 and window 13, but not 12. Based on the headers, we decided 11 would do.
As we got to the front of the line, we found out we needed to fill out an application, which was back by window 30. We quickly filled out the application and headed back to window 11. We handed all of our paperwork over only to find out we needed to go back to window 43 and purchase stamps, which is proof we’ve paid for our visa. We went down and spent our 11 pounds, got three stamps and headed back to window 11. I handed the stamps to the woman and she said, “where’s the fourth stamp?” I must have looked defeated because she dug out the fourth stamp from her drawer and said not to worry about it. “Finished. Come after 2 hour and pick up at 38.”
I went back to find my guide, played charades again to communicate that I needed to be back in 2 hours, retrieved my camera, and went back to church. I was thinking, “ok...that was totally confusing, but once I figured out where I needed to go, it was actually pretty easy. I didn’t even have to be rude.”
Fast forward two hours. Feeling very confident, I walked to window 38 only to find what I can only describe as the Walmart crowd waiting for doors to open on Black Friday. Black Friday minus the door busters. Masses of people were pushed up against this window, anxiously waiting for the woman behind the glass to hold up their picture so they could sign the form and walk away with their passport and new visa.
It’s funny how God uses the smallest things from your past to prepare you for your future. What did I find most useful in this situation? My ability to weave through crowds and slowly work my way to the front (thank you Sonshine), and staring someone down until they look at me and give me what I need (thank you metro transit bus drivers who stopped for me after I had been waiting for an hour during a snowstorm even though they were technically full).
The woman behind the glass picked me out of the crowd (probably because I was the only white girl and easily identifiable in the pile of african and middle eastern names) and said “country?” She immediately grabbed my stuff out of the pile, I signed the form, and walked away with my passport and visa.
All that for a 3-month visa.