One step forward, two steps back

“DA, DA DA DA, DA DA DA, DA DA DAAAAAAA…Two worlds collide, rival nations…something something something, eye of the TIGERRRR…ohhhhhh”. Eye of the tiger pounds from my computer speakers as I shadow box a few rounds in the full length mirror. Stretch, roll my shoulders and head from side to side. It’s monday and it’s time to go to the ministry…

I delicately pick up the envelope with the affidavit, and put it together with the photocopies, statements and my half dozen other papers and I stride out of the guesthouse, my confident strut in direct opposition to the trepidation I feel as that horrid building looms closer. I go over my perfect insult in my mind, like Desmosthenes I had practiced in the shower speaking over the roar of the water so that I might articulate and kill all opposition by the sound of my voice alone. I reach the gate and make to enter. But immediately the security officer stops me. “Sorry, no shorts”. “What?” “No shorts, there is a dress code”, and she points to a sign above the entrance which I had never noticed before which states in a barely legible scrawl, like they’d hired a passerby on the street with a paintbrush: “Full length pants, no hats, sleeved shirts, etc…” It’s like a 100 degrees out! I look around me and see everyone milling about in shorts and t-shirts. “I’ll be quick”, I say. “Sorry, we can’t let just anybody in”. Apparently…”Anybody or everybody I think to myself”. And walk back to the guesthouse feeling like things weren’t going exactly the way I had envisioned them when I was prancing around the room in my boxers doing my rocky dance over the imagined knocked out form of the bureaucrat that I had vanquished.

In the withering heat I walk back to the guesthouse, change into pants, recover my composure and head over to the ministry. That place has assumed a haunted house feel to me. Ghouls lurking in the filing cabinets, witches stamping forms, trolls at the gates.

I arrive at the ministry, the sweat condensing on my forehead, pit stains slowly turning darker. Let me in!!! I’m becoming less presentable with every minute I am outside. The troll…ahem…guard, looks at my pants, nods her approval, “It’s lunchtime, come back in an hour”. I turn around quickly so that I won’t betray my feelings, I am just about ready to boil over, my sunburnt face assumes an even redder complexion, my hands are like claws convulsively opening and snapping shut violently and my eyes are bulging. I’m like a lobster in its death throes.

I walk to the ministry…again…after waiting another impatient hour. I am actually let in this time. The guards are amused when I present my passport. Apparently they remember the fuss I had made during our last encounter. I walk up the steps, into the cubicle and brandish the limp envelope. I had begun the day the picture of respectability, now I was as sweaty, slovenly and irritable as the first time I had met the woman. She looks at me like, “ah you again”. I give her the papers that she reads over. She studies them looking for fault, anything that will give her cause to reject them…Of course looking for mistakes, one will always find them, and so she did…”There’s a mistake here on your statement of why you wish to stay in the country, you will have to redo this, come back when it is correct”. “Ummm, what’s wrong with it?” She pauses with a “how can he have the audacity to ask me that question”, kind of look. “You may not use the form ‘to whom it may concern’ as a means of introduction, it must be addressed to the ministry for home affairs”. The particulars are really pissing me off! “Can I just append an introduction to it? To whom it may concert AT the ministry for home affairs”. “Smart ass”, her eyes seem to be saying, “No”, she replies, “rewrite your statement”. “Do you have a pen and paper?” She asks magnanimously. No, why the hell would I, I hadn’t planned on rewriting my entire statement 5 minutes ago. “No”, I grate out. “Here you go”, she says and bestows on me a notepad and pen like she’s mother Theresa. And I go and recopy out my statement.

I arrive back some time later. She looks it over, good. “But where’s your address?” “I don’t have an address in Georgetown, I am leaving to go to Iwokrama and won’t be back for a couple of weeks”. “We need to have an address”. It is starting to feel like that slip of paper at the post office again and so I cut through the bullshit immediately. “My address is Rima guesthouse 92 middle street”. She almost seems disappointed that I have come up with a reply. “Phone number?” “I’m afraid I don’t recall the phone number”. She pounces on the opportunity, “Well we need to have a contact for you when your forms have gone through”. “If they ever go through”…I say under my breath.” Like I said before, I’m not even going to be here in Georgetown”. She sighs. “Can I give you my email?” She looks at me like I’m some backwards hick. “Email? Email?” She kind of snickers and dismissively waves her hand. “No”. It’s as though she sees email as some non-legitimate form of communication. Finally she stands up, our business abruptly concluded. There’s a moment of silence. “So, do I get a stamp in my passport or something?” “I will submit your documents for review and you will be advised in 2 weeks time what the outcome is”. This is really too much!!! I had come a week before my visa expired in the full anticipation that I was being responsible and that I would get my extension immediately, now I’m being told that my visa will have expired by the time they have even looked at my application, ‘are you fucking kidding me?!!!!!’ “Are we done here?” she asks. I look at her baffled like “how the hell can you even ask me that?” “No, my current visa is going to expire in a week, so what do I do when that happens?” She laboriously gets up and walks away without a word. I’m left there wondering what the hell is going on. She comes back 5 minutes later with a small card. It is a temporary pass to be used in lieu of a tourist visa. It states basically that I have submitted an application for an extension and while it is being reviewed this card will act as a replacement. Valid until September 27th, I notice that this is about a week prior to when I had intended on coming back to Georgetown. “Can you extend this another week?” “No”. “So when I pass through border patrols on my way to Lethem, I can show them this card and there will be no problems”. Again the “What the fuck look”. “You know, since there are like 3 checkpoints in-between here and Iwokrama”. She kind of shrugs and twiddles at the papers on her desk. Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see then…

Take me to- how you got those amazing photos?!!!!-

About pbertner

Studied cell biology and genetics at UBC in Canada with a focus in microbiology. However, have gravitated more recently towards ecology and biodiversity. Have traveled the rainforests of Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Malaysia, Brunei, and Thailand with plans to visit many more.
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5 Responses to One step forward, two steps back

  1. Chris Raper says:

    Yeah, this kind of person is all too familiar with me and there’s pretty much nothing you can do, except ask to speak to their superior/manager and try to appeal to their better nature (don’t get your hopes up).

    Alternatively just treat it as an almighty exercise in “tongue biting” and “sucking it in” … a test of your ability to not loose your rag and remain calm at all times. Sadly, being civil and overly polite to idiots like this is about your best bet – a bit of charm or pretending to be subservient to her generous and benevolent authority will sometimes work … even if it makes you feel slightly dirty afterwards 😉

  2. pbertner says:

    My hopes were quickly dashed when the supervisor appeared very much to be looking out for their own. My tongue was bloody by the end of it I assure you. Don’t the psychologists say that venting is healthier than repressing though 😉 . I felt absolutely filthy, dirtier than being neck deep wading through leech infested waters…

  3. Chris Raper says:

    Oh yeah, I’ve vented plenty out of ear-shot 😉 Especially after we checked the post-office helpline and was told how to register my Russian visa … but failed at 3 post-offices, including the central one, because they all refused to believe that we knew their job better than they did. They’ve probably done it the same for the last 60 years so how could it possibly change!? We got it done 2 days late in the end but they didn’t quibble … amazingly! 😉

    • pbertner says:

      Does indeed sound like a similar experience Chris, I’ve been tempted to try the bribing route but you just never know how they will take it…either immediately, or after they have threatened you with going to jail for bribery…

      • Chris Raper says:

        Yeah, it’s hard to know without local knowledge … they might take a bribe but only out of earshot of their superiors – otherwise they might throw up their hands and pretend they are as pure as driven snow. Mots of these countries have a serious level of corruption but you have to know how open it is, and how it’s done, before ever attempting it. I think the easiest route would just be to hop over the border and come back in again 😉

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