Part of being in the former Soviet Union is sifting through kilometers upon kilograms of red tape. Going anywhere, changing anything, growing a family, or – heaven forbid – moving a family, requires multiple trips to offices and bureaus and payments to random people for who knows what, followed by more trips, waiting in line, and inevitably having at least 3 people yell at you for something as benign as existing.
Earlier this week hubbs sent me by myself to obtain an exit visa. As a foreigner on a permanent residence permit (the Moldovan equivalent of a green card) I don’t need a visa to stay long-term, but I can’t leave the country without permission – or at least that was the problem the last time I left. They actually wouldn’t let me and my American passport cross the border – I hadn’t jumped through enough hoops. So, determined not to make the same mistake again, I went to dot my i’s and cross my t’s.
This process of ‘perfecting’ paperwork is so torturous and common that there’s a pop song about it. It’s bad. So on Monday I went to the office of migration to get a little paper that says I can leave the country. I used my ‘dumbed-down’ faked foreign accent to ask what office I should go to, and instead of being directed to an office I was sent to the 4th floor. Do you know how many offices are on the 4th floor? It has 4 wings. Each wing has a dozen offices. So I find a line of people waiting outside one of the offices, but my keen intellect tells me they’re all Moldovans. Not foreigners seeking exit visas. Keep looking.
I go down all the other wings, satisfy my curiosity and finding that, unfortunately, there are no neon blinking signs that read “Foreigners come HERE for exit visas!,” and then I return to the line of people that most resembles what I would expect to see outside the exit visa office – foreigners, Moldovans, all nervously holding passports (mostly Turkish passports for some reason). I find a girl in her mid-20s who looks like she has the potential to be helpful and ask in my most polite Romanian (though not remembering to fake an accent) if I’m in the right place. She responds with sarcasm and proceeds to yell at me for being an idiot. Should have faked that accent.
My turn finally arrives (after I turn the sarcasm on someone else for trying to jump the line) and I again use my most polite Romanian to ask for an exit visa. The woman tilts her head down, looks over the rim of her glasses at me, and says nothing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I nervously try again. She demands my passport, flips through it, asks me my nationality (because apparently the US passport complete with giant US emblem all over it and my local ID card that virtually screams AMERICAN isn’t enough of a clue for her). I tell her I’m an American. And she waits a moment, makes me sweat a little, and then says… wait for it… “Well, I can’t give you an exit visa.”
This is where I swallow my tongue. I plead my case – I need to leave the country in 2 weeks, please tell me the process to obtain an exit visa. And she said I don’t need one. As of January 1st 2007 Americans, Canadians, and citizens of the EU do not need an exit visa to leave the country. I asked her to promise me that I’ll have no problems at the border. She promised (all the while asking me to leave her office). I only wish I’d asked her to put it in writing. Darn.
Then I took my dear 5-yr old girl, Bean, on the trolley to get home. This is the first time Bean’s been on a trolley this crowded. When it stopped at the station, I picked Bean up, climbed 2 of the 3 steps, and thrust Bean in front of me, nestled tightly in a cranny between 2 people. I kept my hand firmly on her shoulder but had nothing to hold on to as the trolley thrust forward. No worries – I wasn’t going to fall. And neither would anyone else. We were packed in like sardines so tight that the only movement possible was a gentle swaying with the motion of the trolley. Wall to wall, a mass smooshing of people without even enough space to look at the person you’re smooshed up next to. Aren’t you glad you use Dial? Don’t you wish everyone did? Eventually a man nearby noticed us and proceeded to shame a couple of grown men into giving up seats for the women and children. And when I say shame, I really do mean, shame. There was yelling, ridiculing, belittling involved. It was a fun day.
I’m done now. And so I wait. I wait knowing that there’s still a small chance that the border guards won’t be aware of the change that happened January 1st 2007. And there’s a small chance that I was in fact not in the right office and that she sold me a truck full of, shall we say, fertilizer. I’m eagerly awaiting the moment I’ll be on Romanian soil, free of worry, and very very far away from the red tape of the passport bureau.