Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Another Day, Another Tramite

The downtown street was quiet when I arrived shortly before 9 a.m. yesterday morning. The ancient wooden buildings of historic Calle Baquedano appeared deserted, including the one I had arrived to visit - the Ministry of Education - in order to determine the next steps we must take for our children's schooling.

Looks are deceiving, however, and I stepped into the darkened hallway only to observe a crowded room beyond. The office attending to foreigners (of which there are a multitude in this city) appeared as overworked and understaffed as all the others I have visited since my arrival here. Resigned, I took my number and sat down for the long wait ahead. (Later I learned that only 25 numbers are given out daily, starting at 8:30 a.m., and mine was number 21.)

As usual, I was the only non-Hispanic foreigner in the waiting area. The hum of Spanish-speaking voices carried on the air, the rapid-fire speech of Peru blending withe the sing-song accents of Ecuador, Bolivia and Colombia. My ears caught bits of conversation: discussions of visas, how it is easier to obtain residency after giving birth here (that might explain the number of pregnant women I observe at these places); the implications of cohabitation on residency and paperwork; discussions of school choices and problems encountered in some of them. Perhaps the most unique discussion revolved around corporal punishment ... definitely some interesting opinions on that one!

Minutes slipped into hours as latecomers were turned away and told to return tomorrow. By the time an hour had passed, we were still in the single digits and I couldn't stand sitting there any longer. I decided to walk outside, eventually stopping for juice and a sandwich. I hurried, just in case, only to return and wait yet another long hour ... all in all, it took three hours for my number to be called!

Of course, the drama couldn't end with simply entering the coveted office. As it turns out, Chile has an education agreement with almost every Latin American country (Mexico being the most recent) but not with the United States. Normally, the requirement is that children in grades 2 and above must have their previous studied validated by the Department of Education in their home state; legalized by the nearest Chilean consulate; and certified by the State Department in Washington, DC before they can be considered "regularized" students in Chile. (The last two steps must also be performed on each child's birth certificate, so although ours were stamped by the appropriate Chilean consulates, we must now sent them back to the Secretary of State for further documentation.)

Besides the obvious craziness of having to do all this rigamarole just to enroll three small children in school, there was the added problem that Eva's year of first grade at the MK school is not recognized by the Chilean Ministry of Education. This had the lady scratching her head and making phone calls, all to no avail. The end result after an entire morning spent waiting?? An appointment to return again the next day. (Actually, I had to push for the appointment - when she said to come back tomorrow I asked, "And wait another three hours?" and only then did she offer another time to meet with her.)

The good news with all of this is that I did return, and I did receive the authorizations (giving me until November to return with the proper stamps on the birth certificates.) The ironic part is that thankfully I arrived right on time, because as I stood outside the door I heard her telling her co-worker she had people waiting to meet her lunch and she was preparing to leave; then when I did go in, she told me my appointment was for Wednesday, not Tuesday; but when I said that was impossible, because on Wednesday I had an appointment at the school and needed the authorizations in hand, she recanted and said it must have been the other guy she gave the Wednesday appointment to ... !!

And that, my friends, is just another day, another tramite in my crazy life. :)

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