Bird on a Bare Branch

Attempting to fling a frail song in my little corner of the world

A New and Unknown Encounter December 8, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 2:57 pm

This has nothing to do with Advent, although it allows me to leave the country, which takes place during Advent. But it’s too good not to share.

After my year of Immigration stress, frustration, anger, bitterness, and near hatred, I had pretty much given up on anything positive ever coming out of there. I cringed last week when I realized I needed to start the whole visa renewal process over again. After the humongous month-long hassle they gave me last time, I really dreaded going back now, especially since I needed to convince them to renew it early. (This visa doesn’t expire until December 22, but I’m supposed to travel from December 19 to January 5.)

I went prepared last week with copies of every document they could potentially ask for. I remembered to have a letter from the office stating my reasons for requesting early renewal. I went in with my most dazzling smile and handed everything over to my favorite of the two Immigration officials downstairs, Senhor S. “Come back on Monday for a response.”

This morning I trudged over there, preparing myself for the beginning of the battle: Come back tomorrow; come back Wednesday; come back next week; we need a copy of such-and-such a document, etc., etc. I decided not to get bothered today when they would inevitably say they didn’t have a response yet. After all, I still have ten days until I absolutely need my passport back.

I walked in with my most dazzling smile. Amazingly Senhor S plopped my paperwork on the desk, and I noticed a note written in the corner. “Is there a response?” I asked as sweetly and respectfully as possible. He tapped the note in the corner, “160 days. That’s six months.” (Well, 5 1/3, but good enough.) “Six months??” I said. “That’s great!” And then because I wasn’t expecting it AT ALL, I didn’t really know what else to say. “Um, can I pay now?” He showed me the total, which was nearly $120. Yikes. I didn’t have that much on me, so I went across the street to a bank to withdraw some cash.

I stood in line, giddy. I texted people to share the great news. I planned in my head what I would say to João when I got back to the office. But part of me was scared too, scared that when I returned, they would decide that actually it wasn’t going to work to give me 160 more days.

Nope, they wrote the receipt and accepted my 2487.24 meticais then handed me the receipt that says to come back on Friday. I won’t get too excited about Friday. That would be a little too much to hope for. But whenever I do finally get my passport back, with the visa inside, I know I won’t have to revisit Immigration for a very long time.

P.S. I bumped into João on the street on the way back to the office and told him I had great news. We “wuawed” and high-fived and did a little dance next to the fruit vendors.


Day 15 September 11, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 9:38 pm

My visa renewal has been authorized!! I have now paid and am awaiting the return of my passport, supposedly on the 17th (which actually means at least three days after that). Then tune in for the continuation of Jen’s Immigration saga in 90 days.


Day 14 September 10, 2008

Filed under: Immigration,Language — Jen @ 7:42 pm

Today is Day 14 of dealing with Immigration. Yesterday I was told to bring in photocopies of my receipt from the Ministry of Labor for my work permit paperwork, my contract with Oasis, and my criminal background check. I cringed at that. (Remember all the drama concerning my criminal background check?) I said I didn’t understand why I needed to submit more copies when they already had copies of everything on file. They explained that, well those are filed away and if we bring in copies it will “speed up the process”.

For some reason, I don’t have copies of the translations of my criminal background check or of the affidavit from the embassy. What I did with them or why I never made copies is beyond me! So my team leader and I went this morning with copies of everything I do have. Jill explained to Mr. Secretary that I don’t have copies of the translations because they’re on file there at Immigration. Once again, we were told to come back later, in the afternoon for a response about whether or not I may renew my visa.

You know where this is going. I returned alone in the afternoon, only to be told that it still hadn’t been authorized and to – altogether now! – come back tomorrow.

I’m tired. I’m feeling really worn down from all of the back and forth with seemingly no end in sight. And it’s completely out of my control. All I can do is ask my questions, then smile and say thank you each time they tell me, “Amanha” (tomorrow).

At the end of the day, as I was leaving the office, João and I chatted for a bit about my Mozambican family, whom I was on my way to see, and continents (yes, world continents – apparently in Europe and Africa children are taught that North and South America are one continent called America). At the end of our conversation, he told me my Portuguese was improving. Really? Thanks! As a comment just for a laugh, I said it was because of all the conversation practice I was getting from walking to Immigration with him everyday.

As I walked down the street, I realized my parting comment was actually true. My Portuguese has improved in the past couple weeks. I find it rolling off my tongue more easily, not having to think as hard about verb conjugations, and often even thinking in Portuguese. I attribute this to spending about an hour a day with João, whom I have always appreciated as a great conversationalist. Unlike many Mozambicans, he brings up interesting points and asks a lot of questions. He also patiently explains things to me by slowing down his speech or rewording sentences and encourages me to find different ways of explaining myself when I get stuck instead of giving in to my temptation to find someone to translate.

Then it hit me that this is exactly what I’ve been praying for for months! I’ve been so frustrated since I’ve been here that I’m not learning Portuguese more quickly and easily because I spend all day every day in front of a computer, doing work in English, and interacting with colleagues who all want to practice English. I was taking two hours of lessons a week and one hour of conversation practice but have stopped both of those due to a heavier workload. (Besides with my conversation partner, I felt like I was paying her to be my friend, and it wasn’t actually helping my conversation much at all.) I bought a TV antenna to watch local news but continue to think of other ways to regularly be engaged in Portuguese.

Then in all my frustration with Immigration, I’ve completely missed the gift presented to me of regular Portuguese conversation! It’s not how I would have answered my prayer, but obviously I couldn’t answer it otherwise I would have. I can’t imagine another way that I would have improved as much I have recently. How well God knows us! What a great sense of humor He has too.


Apparently Jen Is Rude August 31, 2008

Filed under: Immigration,Language — Jen @ 2:46 pm

“Jen, when we go to Immigration on Monday, let me do the talking,” is what João told me on Friday after we had gone to find out Mr. M’s decision concerning my visa renewal. I had gone up to the desk to ask Mr. M if he had my passport. He started yelling at me: “It’s not ready! I told you to come back Monday! It’s not ready now! Come back Monday!” He had clearly told us “tomorrow” on Thursday. But I wasn’t going to argue, so I thanked him and we left.

That’s when João told me I was rude. Oh, he said it nicely, and he explained why, but that was the gist of it. He said my manner of speaking caused Mr. M to respond to me the way he does. João acknowledged that I’m just learning Portuguese and don’t know these things. He explained that in Portuguese there are more rules than in English and that it’s important, when approaching an official, to use a lot of “sir”, “I’m sorry”, “excuse me”, “if you please”, etc. The thing is, I know most of this intellectually, but humbling myself in such a manner when I’m so frustrated with these Immigration officials is another matter. But I can work on it. And I really appreciate that João felt comfortable enough explaining everything to me in a patient, understanding way. Not many people would do that.

Tomorrow, hopefully, with João doing the talking, we will finally get some answers about my visa. Hopefully I will still be allowed to stay here.


Even More Precarious August 28, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 8:46 pm

I was out of town on Monday, so our administrative assistant took my passport and documents to Immigration and said they’d be ready on Wednesday. Yesterday I asked if he had the receipt so I could pick my passport up. He said, “I didn’t pay anything, so there’s no receipt.” That sounded suspicious. He said he had a signed letter instead. João, our office runner, said he would go to Immigration on his way to the bank to pick up my passport. He asked if I would join him. I said, “Only if we speak Portuguese.” (He’s my best conversation partner, but he’s recently been trying to speak English with me.)

At Immigration we were told to go upstairs to see the person who signed the letter we had. Both of us were clueless about what was going on since neither of us had been there on Monday. We waited and waited. Finally, João said he had to go to the bank before it closed but would be back as soon as he was done. Of course, two minutes after he left I was called into the office.

I handed the letter to the official who said I didn’t have a work permit. I explained that I was still waiting for it. She said, “But where’s your receipt?” I told her they, Immigration, had it since I had submitted all my DIRE paperwork months ago. She said, “No, we don’t. I asked. It’s not here.” I explained again. She insisted again.

We went downstairs to speak to the older man, who I now know is Mr. M (the younger one is sadly on holiday till next month). He asked me where my work permit was. I explained that I was still waiting for it. “But where’s the receipt?” “It’s here,” I said again. The woman again said it wasn’t, that she had asked and it wasn’t. I asked if I could see my file. She said I couldn’t because it was in their archives. Then the two of them started going through my passport, making note of every visa with a heavy, pointed index finger: “November. December. January. February until May. May until August.” Then to me: “You’ve been here a long time with no work permit.” “I know, I’m still waiting for my permit. We submitted it in January.” “But you have no receipt. How long do you intend to stay?” “I hope for another 90 days.”

I realized we were not going to get anywhere continuing to discuss my lack of work permit. So I asked if I could talk to my colleagues and return the next day, today.

This morning, after our office administrator found out that my work permit had still not arrived from Maputo, I returned to Immigration with my team leader and the original receipt of the submission of my work permit paperwork. Mr. M wanted to know why it was so old: “This is from January.” My team leader explained that we were still waiting. He wanted us to get a new one. She explained again. He said he needed a copy. Of course the nearest copy place was a bit of a walk back toward the direction of the office. (Have I ever mentioned that it’s about a fifteen minute walk from my office to Immigration, over Beggar’s Bridge, which, in my opinion, is the most unpleasant place in Beira?)

We returned once again and handed over the copy. He looked over it, trying to find more fault with it. The woman from yesterday came downstairs, and she also pointed out how old it was. We explained once again that we’re waiting on the work permit. With nothing else to say, Mr. M took my passport and papers and told us to return tomorrow. On one hand, it’s positive that he took everything since that means he could find no more fault. On the other hand, it gives him 24 hours to find fault. Tune in tomorrow for the verdict.


Precarious Resident August 22, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 12:52 pm

I haven’t posted an Immigration rant in awhile. At least 90 days, I’m sure, since that was the last time I renewed my visa. To briefly update: I am currently a ‘precarious resident’ on a 90-day hopefully-renewable visa. The reason I am ‘precarious’ and not ‘permanent’ is because my application for a DIRE (residence visa) is still sitting at Immigration because my application for a work permit is still sitting in some office in Maputo waiting to be processed. Note: My work permit paperwork was submitted in January. It’s now August. Who would like to start placing bets about whether or not I’ll get it within a year or even before my contract ends in May.

At Immigration today, the younger man, who usually helps me and knows me and is somewhat patient with me and explains things fairly clearly to me, was not there. In his place was the older man. Here is a translated play-by-play of our interaction:

Me: Good morning. This visa (pointing to the precarious residence visa in my passport) expires on Tuesday. Is it possible to renew it?

OM: Yes. Go buy the application over there.

(I walk to another counter where I hold up my open passport for the cashier to see.)

Me: Can I buy the paper to renew this?

Cashier: 50 meticais ($2)

(I hand him the money. He hands me an application form. I, for some reason, don’t have a pen in my purse. They, of course, do not have extras for people to use. I ask a few people if they have a pen I can borrow. One guy does. I fill in my form and return to the first desk with the older man.)

OM: This isn’t the right form. Go buy a new one.

Me: What is this form?

OM: This is a residence visa renewal form. You need a precarious residence renewal form. (He explains something else that I don’t understand.)

Me: But this isn’t my error. This is what he gave me. Why do I have to buy a new one?

OM: Because this one is invalid. (He pushes the paper and my passport away from him, yells to the cashier what I need, then turns away from me.)

Me: (Now mad and back at the cashier) I have to buy a new form? But I showed you this (showing my visa in my passport again) and you gave me the wrong form.

Cashier: You told me you needed to renew your visa, so I gave you a visa renewal form.

Me: (Thinking how typically Mozambican it is to not accept any responsibility. I know I did not ask for a form to “renew my visa” because I couldn’t remember the word for visa.) No, I showed you this and you gave me that form.

(Cashier continues to argue with me, so I hand over another 50 and get the right form.)

Me: Is this the correct form??

Cashier: Ask him (pointing to older man).

Me: (Back at first desk) Is this the correct form?

OM: Yes

(I borrow the same pen again and fill out the new form. In the space for hair color I can’t remember the word for blond and write yellow. The younger guy laughed at me last time I did that. I give the pen back and return to the desk.)

OM: You need to attach copies of your documents and bring this back on Monday.

Me: What documents?? You have ALL my documents here already!

OM: Your documents, your documents! Attach them! (He quickly explains something more that I can’t understand, pushes the paper and passport at me and turns away.)

(I walk out, hating Immigration, hating Mozambique, hating that I can’t communicate better or understand more clearly. I call my team leader, who’s taking a vacation day today, and ask her if she can talk to this man since I don’t understand. I walk back to the desk with my phone. I stand directly in front of him, and he purposely ignores me even as I say, “Excuse me, sir” several times. Finally he looks at me.)

Me: Can you please talk to my colleague?

(He explains to my team leader what I need then hands the phone back to me. She then explains that I need to make photocopies of all previous visas in my passport and have our administrative assistant type a letter requesting a renewal.)

An hour later, in the comfort of my own office with friendly, patient colleagues, this situation doesn’t seem as seethingly frustrating as I recall experiencing it. I still hate Immigration, I still hate that I don’t understand more Portuguese, but I don’t hate Mozambique. At least not most of the time.


For Everything Else There’s…Cold, Hard Cash and a Whole Lotta Hassle May 27, 2008

Filed under: Immigration — Jen @ 12:05 pm

Original visa to enter Mozambique: $60

Four visa extensions: approximately $170

Two criminal background checks: approximately $40

Translations of two criminal background checks into Portuguese: $40

Plane ticket to Maputo to visit the embassy to sort out problems with criminal background checks: approximately $200

Fingerprints: $80

US consul letter concerning criminal background check: $30

Translation of US consul letter into Portuguese: $25

Reassurance that I can stay in Mozambique for another three months: Priceless?


Three months have passed. I still don’t have a work permit, which means I still don’t have my residence visa, which means I paid Immigration more visits yesterday and today to extend my “precarious residence visa” (yes, it’s really called that – I am a precarious resident).