I’m debating whether to share this experience as just another cultural anecdote or as the overly stressful tear-inducing experience that it ended up being. Actually, after I had been standing in the notary’s office for about half an hour and met the man named Jenifer, I thought I would post it as a funny cultural anecdote. Then when I finally walked out of there after an hour, completely drenched in sweat, feeling violated by all the men pushing against me, humiliated that I had been completely ignored by the official while I was being pushed against the counter, and then being told that I needed to go to another “line”, I wanted to write about how ready I was to leave this awful country.
Why was I in the notary’s office in the first place? Because I need to have copies of my passport notarized to make them official copies because we need to always carry documents with us in case we’re stopped by the police. I also need to send my passport by DHL to the US Embassy in Maputo to get extra pages inserted. I wanted to take care of all of this by myself since I actually knew where the notary’s office was, having been there with a translator to have translations of documents notarized to give to the Ministry of Labour for my work permit. I knew it wasn’t a pleasant place: in a smelly building, up some very dark stairs, and into an airless room with a mass of people surging toward a length of counter behind which sits a handful of officials. My impression then and again today was that behind the counter was nice and cool with a ceiling fan running and plenty of personal space.
This afternoon I pushed forward along with the other hundred or so people trying to get things notarized, already very familiar with the lack of lines in this country and the need to be forceful if I ever want to accomplish anything. When in Rome… While I was holding my own in the crowd, feeling the sweat trickle down my neck, back, and the backs of my legs, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned and noticed a young man pointing at a name on the piece of paper he was holding. It said: Jenifer Domingues. He pointed to the first name and said, “Jenifer. My name. Like you.” I said, “Your name is Jenifer? Oh we have the same name.” What I really wanted to do was laugh and say, “Your parents gave you a girl’s name?” And yes, I do have the Portuguese for that. Instead I asked him how his parents knew that name. He said they found it in a magazine.
At least at this point I had a friend in the crowd, although we didn’t speak again, but I knew I had someone to turn to if I needed help since we had the name connection. Then another guy jostled over to me and started speaking English. Typically I don’t really want the Mozambican guys who speak English to be my friends. They’re often a little too friendly, but I was relieved that there could be someone to help translate if I needed it.
Finally I made it to the counter and thought I would be grateful for the prime position. However, that meant the mass of mostly men with whom I had been pushing were now all pushing from behind. It was more than uncomfortably intimate. I couldn’t breathe and felt completely violated by a man behind me to the point that I elbowed him and wriggled as free as a person can get in such a confined space.
And then I was just stuck there, now inches from the official, with my papers and passport laid on the desk in front of him. He completely ignored me. He pretended like he didn’t see my papers and took everyone else’s. When he finally had no choice but to see mine, he pushed it away and told me I had to go to another line. I should have asked him why. I should have explained that I needed it notarized like everyone else needed papers notarized. At that point I couldn’t. I couldn’t speak Portuguese. I couldn’t deal with the heat anymore. (At one point during the ordeal, I prayed that if I fainted that no one would steal my stuff.) I couldn’t deal with people pushing on me anymore and having to push on others in another “line”. So I pushed my way to the door and walked back down the dark steps, out the smelly door, and back down the street to my office fighting back tears the whole way and wanting nothing more than to be in a clean, orderly, respectful country.
The problem is, I still haven’t had my copies notarized…