05 December 2008

The Saga of Establishing My Legalness

Before I get into this, two thoughts:
  1. Because of the passage of time, I feel much calmer and complacent about the situation. Some small details may get lost, because I don't remember everything -- this is good, that means this post will be shorter. It was important to me that I do this post all at once, after all was said and done, to minimize the emotion, which at times was considerable.
  2. As with so many things in my life, other people do things for me, and get stressed out for me, so that I don't have to, and I just waltz in and everything's cool. Thank you, people in my life.
This story really starts before I even left for Slovakia. I was signing papers and sending back "two or four" copies so that even before I got there, the process had begun. I thought I would need to go to Washington, DC to the Slovak Embassy to get a jump start on the process, but that turned out to be unnecessary. On the other hand, there was a great deal of misinformation, starting with the people at the Embassy being kind of difficult to get a hold of, the people at the Consulate in New York having completely different procedures, and confusing documents on their website which did not really help. It turned out that I was spared a trip to the Embassy, because as an American citizen, "it is my privilege" to just wait until I got to Slovakia. So that was cool -- but this whole process was, to an extent, influenced by the fact that I am lucky enough to carry an American passport. I can only hope that people are treated as well as I have been when they visit America -- but I know that's not always the case, unfortunately.

So, I could wait until I got to Slovakia for a visa. On 28 August, I get to the airport in Pittsburgh, all ready for my exciting adventure. Since it was an international flight, I had to check in with an actual person instead of using the kiosk, also because I (thank God!) don't yet have one of those new-fangled civil liberties-destroying machine-readable passports. I had return tickets reserved for more than 90 days in the future, and so the airline made me change my tickets to within the 90 day limit, because there was nothing in my passport giving me permission to be there longer and they would not be liable to Slovakia for my legal status or lack thereof, as far as they were concerned. So even though the Slovak Embassy said it was ok, it was not ok for the airlines. Understandable, yet expensive: it costs $250 to change a reservation, which was something I had to do in August and then again in November -- do the math and tack that on to the original cost of my ticket.

So I get to Slovakia, everything's cool. The second day of school, we go to the Foreign Police in Ružomberok, everything's cool. About two weeks later, we go back to the Foreign Police, and they want to slap me with a 5000SKK fine because I had no proof that I had been there within three days of my arrival in Slovakia. First off, that's a lot of money (over $200) and secondly, they didn't make me sign anything or initiate the giving of any sort of proof that I had already been there. So from 19 September until this Wednesday, I had a ripped off piece of paper stuck into the pages of my passport, with signatures and stamps (the all-important, critical, crucial pečiatka) saying I had visited them. This is a good place to note that I practically never spoke while at the Foreigner Police -- I totally played ignorant until the very end.

There were forms and documents to fill out, listing the names, addresses, and birthdates of my parents and sibling. I of course also had to prove my degree, and had a document from SHU even though I have yet to receive a diploma, even though I got my BA in August 2007. There was my contract and a letter of invitation that established my residency. My contract meant that I did not have to provide any other financial documentation, which was really good. At one point in early October, on a Friday, the police show up to see if I'm truly in residence there. I felt really bad, because the last thing they needed was for the police to show up at the door. Also, every time there were documents missing, one particular police officer would call -- the dude is a really unhappy person and frankly, quite uptight. So uptight that he tapes a little piece of paper with his surname on it to all of his own pens. My mother will be happy to know I ended up praying for him, because really, he seems like a really unhappy dude.

I should comment on the fact that it is my preference to write with black pens -- specifically, black, extra fine Pilot Precise V5 pens. Here, that is really not an option because everything has to be written in blue ink or else it is void. Every legal document (this includes everything at school, basically, because ultimately the Ministry of Education could audit all of the books) has to be in blue pen, so the chorus of "modré pero" is nightmarish and yet inevitable. For some reason, inexplicable in the same way the smell of cantaloupe makes me angry, blue pens and any kind of pencils feel unclean to me on multiple levels: unclean as in dirty, and also unclean as in haraam. But here I've just got to bite the bullet.

So, there's a stack of documents which all establish my identity and all of these other things about me that the government wants to know, like that I also don't have a criminal record in Slovakia. Cool. I might add that at various points in the process, situations prompted the sisters to make jokes about the possibility of visiting me in jail, and asking me what they could bring me (chocolate and beer) and me reminding them that visiting people in jail was a Corporal Work of Mercy -- to which my incredibly awesome and wonderful principal quipped, "yeah, that's good for us, but not for you!" The only thing I had forgotten to bring with me from America was my criminal clearance letter. So I asked my dad to send another one, please. He did. We take it to the police. They take one look at it and say, "wtf is this? You could have printed this out on your computer! There's no pečiatka!
It should be from the FBI!!!!! It needs an apostille!!!! " Which made me think, "wow Mr. Provincial Policeman, you know both Slovak and American law? You should be in Bratislava, not here in this smallish city where most of the people you deal with are Czechs that have married Slovaks -- what a waste of your skills!" I called the US Embassy in Bratislava, explained what I thought I needed, and they told me I would have to go to the main police station in Vienna to be fingerprinted, because no one was able to do it in Slovakia. As much as I like Vienna, I was looking to save myself the trip, so I called my dad, explain the situation, and he goes back to the police department of our fair municipality, and gets another criminal record clearance, and has it notarized.

In the meantime (this is mid-October), as we're waiting for this to come in through the mail, a registered letter arrives for me which says all of this has to be completed within 60 days or else the process has to start over again. So now there's a time limit. The notarized paper arrives, we take it to the police. It turns out, and I am not making this up, the notary's seal and stamp wasn't big enough. The policeman takes a huge binder off the shelf, and makes a photocopy of the exact 1961 Hague Convention Apostille necessary. So I call my dad, who by this point has already made friends with the woman at the police department in our fair municipality, explain the situation, and we have a mutual ventfest together. At this point, though comparisons are odious, making comparisons to the Italian bureaucratic demands are becoming salient and appropriate.

Here's what I'm talking about (I found it via Google Image Search, and have edited it):
So this needed to be the exact apostille, and it needed to be 9 centimeters. Why our policeman friend couldn't have told us this the first time around, I will never know.

Of course, fees were also required, to the tune of what is basically my monthly salary. But, in a typically €uropean way of combatting corruption, these fees are paid to a third party, often a newsmonger or tobacconist, and they give you stamps:
These get stuck all over the paperwork, and signatures (in blue pen!!!!) and stamps get put everywhere. Of course, the price kept going up, which was kind of really annoying.

Finally, everything was organized, and it was just a matter of time. About two weeks ago, my principal thinks we may have a problem, which prompted nervous jokes that I might have to get sent to Užhorod in order to have a stamp in my passport showing reentry into Slovakia, but it was only the deadline to get all of the papers in, which we had already met. This Monday, despite some other really bad news at school, there was the good news that my document was ready. On Tuesday, I went to the office, which turned out to be closed. But no matter! I rang the bell, and the directress of the office comes out, wearing a white faux fur jacket, short-ish skirt, and knee-high white patent leather, uhm, go-go boots. Ostensibly, this woman is a police officer, but frankly she looked ... like she was on the other side of the law. But throughout the whole process, she had been really kind and helpful, including answering the door when the office was closed, so it was all good. So on Tuesday, I had seen the document, but was not yet in possession of it because I had to go get more kolok stamps (see above) and they were closed anyway.

During my free period on Wednesday, I went to the office, and a very helpful, nice, non-uptight policeman helped me. Stamps, signatures, and more stamps and signatures, and this beautiful sight lives in my passport:
Honestly, watching him put it in my passport was really anticlimactic after everything that had already needed to happen in order for this to happen. I am in possession of what the Italians call a permesso di soggiorno -- which is contingent upon my employment. Finally. This means a celebration (in the form of beer) with some colleagues on Monday, as we've all been living this saga over the last few months. No one had any idea it would require so much effort, time, and exactly 9cm
² apostilles on the top half of the reverse of the criminal clearance letter.

But wait! There's more! On Monday morning, bright and early (so that I can be back to school in time for the Mikulaš presentation -- featuring St. Catherine -- I hope of Siena, because the martyrdom of St. Catherine of Alexandria would be slightly gruesome for a St. Nicholas Day pageant), I have to go to the special foreigner doctor in Martin so that they can determine that I am not bringing any diseases into Slovakia. When my
incredibly awesome and wonderful principal told me this, including that they would take some of my blood, I said, "all they'll see is how much wonderful Slovak bacon I've been eating." She laughed. When she called to find out about an appointment for me, she asked on the phone, "Foreigner Police? *Freudian slip* rather, Foreigner Doctors? *massive stifled laughter*" Alas, now that all this is over, we can laugh about it.

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