Sew La Ti Embroidery + [Travel]

Bureaucracy in action

We just returned from a somewhat frustrating two weeks in Quito. The reason for our trip was to finalize my paperwork so that I can become a legal permanent resident of Ecuador. Unfortunately we were only able to accomplish a fraction of what we set out to do. The bureaucracy here, as anywhere, is horrible and everything seems to involve long waits, complicated procedures and unhelpful employees. One amusing twist was that many of the government employees (and other official types) were openly rude to us. Lucho says it's because they want money and he refuses to pay them. But I guess it just comes with the territory. We got similar treatment at the U.S. Embassy.

The process of getting my resident visa involves many steps and none of them are quick or simple. Just for example one of the things we need to submit is an official marriage certificate. In order to get an official marriage certificate we had to legalize our marriage in Ecuador. To do this we needed a official copy of our marriage certificate (certified by the State of Indiana). The certificate had to be translated and notarized. The notary wouldn't notarize it unless the person who translated it was there to sign the translation in person. Neither Lucho nor I could sign the translation (even though we both speak English) so we had Lucho's sister, an English teacher, sign it for us. We went to three notaries before we found one who would do it for us (the first one refused to do it and the second one was so rude that Lucho wouldn't to go back). The guy who finally did it was nice enough, but we were stuck waiting in his little office for a long time while he chain-smoked his way through the process. Once we finally had all the paperwork together (which included copies of our passports and other documents) we drove down to the "Registro Civil" (which took about an hour in smoggy Quito traffic) to submit everything. After sitting through a traffic jam outside the building for about 20 minutes we were able to find a parking space. As we were walking to the building someone told us that the office was closed for the next hour or so, but we decided to check it out for ourselves. Fortunately they were still open and we were able to get inside. There were long lines of people everywhere. We thought we were lucky when we were directed to a desk with no one waiting near it. The guy understood what we wanted, took our paperwork and charged us $1. Then he told us to come back in the afternoon. So we went out to lunch at a nearby mall and came back. We went back to the guy and he rudely directed us to another desk with a crowd of people around it. They were vaguely organized in a line, but Lucho positioned himself on one side and I stayed on the other just to make sure. We waited our turn and eventually were able to talk to the guy. He made us sign a document and told us to come back the next day in the afternoon to pick up another piece of paper. The next day we came back, waited in another line, got our piece of paper and then were told that we had to go to another desk and register our marriage. We waited again and finally a woman asked us to come forward and sign our names in a book. We were being officially married in Ecuador! But before that we had to pay them $40. After that we thought we could get our official marriage certificate, but no luck. We had to wait a week and go to another office (this one an hour drive, in another direction, through smoggy Quito traffic). So a week later we drove down to the other office to pick up an official copy of the marriage certificate. Christina was sleeping so I waited in the car with her. Lucho disappeared for a while and then came back with a sad face. He told me that after waiting in one long line to request the copy and another long line to pay for it he was told to come back the next day to pick up the document. The next day, after another hour long drive through smoggy traffic, Lucho waited in another long line (I was shopping a local mall with Lucho's sisters) and finally picked up the official marriage certificate!

That was just one of the 6 or 7 documents that we need to apply for my resident visa. Not all of the documents are this difficult to obtain, but each one has its story. For example, I have to send my police record back to the U.S. be certified by the State of California before the Ecuadorian government will accept it.

Of course we could avoid most of this hassle if we paid a lawyer a lot of money. But, besides being cheap, we want to see how far we can get "on our own". We also have the help of one of Lucho's nephews and his girlfriend, who are both law students. When we went to the immigration office with them they recognized one of the guys who works there. It turns out that he is one of their friends from school. So that's a ray of hope. As I mentioned in a previous post - it's always much easier to get things done around here if you know someone on the "inside".

Some of you may remember one of my old posts from Sacramento about how we were rushing around, trying to get all of my paperwork together for a visa. Why are we doing this again, you may ask? Well, we are asking ourselves the same question. The visa I have now is a "tourist" visa, not an "immigrant" visa. It expires at the end of August. Why do I have a tourist visa? Because that's what the Ecuadorian consulate in San Francisco told me to get, even though we explained to them that I am married to an Ecuadorian and that I was planning to live in Ecuador; even though the Ecuadorian Embassy's website clearly explains that there is an immigrant visa that can be applied for from outside of Ecuador. We were told that I had to get the tourist visa first and then reapply for the immigrant visa once we were in Ecuador. Now that we are in Ecuador we are told that the fact that I have a tourist visa is a problem and that I will probably have to pay some kind of fine before I can switch to an immigrant visa. Ahhh ... "la experienca cuesta" (experience costs).

But, despite all of this we were able to enjoy ourselves in Quito. We spent a lot of time with family. We ate a lot of good food, we went shopping, and we got to see some of the sights.

The travelling isn't over yet. On Monday I'm going on a quick trip out to the countryside with some members of a local environmental group. This might turn into a job for me. I turns out that some of the small towns in Loja Province have some funding to do some water quality monitoring. It sounds like a very interesting project and I hope that I can help them out. Then on Friday we're planning to drive to Guayaquil - Ecuador's biggest city, located on the coast - to visit family. We'll be there for about a week. This time we won't be doing any work, we'll just be enjoying ourselves and relaxing.