I feel like this week could have been one of those vacation movies with Chevy Chase.
After a busy weekend with two late nights in a row, my roommate and I set out first thing Monday morning for the immigration police in Timisoara, about an hour drive from here. I'd already received a letter from Bucharest giving me permission to stay one year as a missionary, and also done the paperwork declaring my temporary address while I'm here. Thinking we had everything necessary to get my visa (aka stay permit), we went to the police office, where they gave me more papers to fill out and other fees that had to be paid at the bank down the street. With my usual luck, the computer system was down, so we had to go to another bank where we waited in line for what seemed like forever (after we figured out which line to stand in). Then we found out one of the fees, a medical tax that registers me with a local doctor (national healthcare!), had to be paid at a different office. So my roommate called a friend who works at a financial office in Lugoj to ask if she knew where we should go, and as it turned out, the medical taxes are handled through an office in her building.
So we hurried back to Lugoj to pay this tax, only to find out that the Lugoj office only handles the medical tax for people who already have a Romanian ID number. But the ID number comes with my stay permit, which I don't have yet, so first I had to pay a one-month provisional fee that would allow me to file for the stay permit. Of course this had to be done at yet another office, the office of sanitation in Timisoara. Somewhere in all of this it came up that I also had to get the signature of a family doctor saying that I'm healthy and didn't bring any diseases with me to Romania, so we then went to the doctor's office to take care of that paperwork. This was about like a visit to Dr. Eason (for those of you from my hometown), except smaller and not as clean. But once we got this paper, we only had to pay the medical fee the next morning and then go back to the police, or so we thought.
Tuesday morning I headed back to Timisoara with another Romanian friend to pay the medical fee at the office of sanitation. When we finally found this place, we went inside and asked for a lady who was supposed to take us directly to her office so we could avoid waiting in line. In Romania it's a really good thing to know somebody who knows somebody, because otherwise you could be stuck waiting in line literally all day to take care of one thing. Some other American missionaries had given us the name of this woman who always helped them, but we happened to meet her in the hallway just as she was leaving to go to a funeral. She couldn't help us, but if we had everything we needed, she could send us to someone else and hopefully we would still make it to the immigration police before they closed at noon. So I showed her my doctor's permission and other papers, but she informed me that I also needed a document saying that I won't have any taxable income while I'm here, since this provisional fee for the stay permit is specifically for foreigners with temporary visas. This document had to come from the public notary, and since it was already 11:30 and the police office was about to close, I would have to come back again the next day.
Note that this was the fourth place we had been to try to pay this one fee, and nowhere did anyone mention needing this paper, not even the immigration police who set us out on this rabbit trail in the first place. So we called my roommate to get the name and phone number of the notary in Lugoj, another connection, who graciously took my information over the phone and immediately prepared the document while we took care of other errands in Timisoara for the rest of the afternoon. Again being thankful to know somebody who knows somebody, we went to the notary after hours and signed this paper.
Wednesday morning I went with my roommate back to the sanitation office in Timisoara with the document from the notary, and again asked for the lady. While waiting for someone to help us, my roommate overheard that there were 105 people waiting to do business at this office, the first of whom had arrived at 3am to make sure she was first in line. They were not able to accept anyone else that day, so if we had not had this connection, we would've been making a fourth trip to Timisoara the next day (again, national healthcare!). Thankfully we went straight to this lady's office, gave her my paperwork and a box of chocolate, and she stamped my paper and sent us downstairs to the cashier.
My roommate explained to me that if you give someone money, it's a bribe, but if you give them chocolate, it's a gift to thank them for helping you. This is how it works in Romania, and like it or not, when in Romania you do what the Romanians do or else wait outside the sanitation office at 3am in the freezing cold. With the precious receipt from the sanitation office, we went back to the police and handed over a stack of forms and declarations. There was much rejoicing and praising God as we walked out of the police station ten minutes later having finally resolved everything.
So here are all the new places I've been in the last week:
Catholic Baptism -- see previous blog entry
Opera -- very classy
Immigration Police -- not as intimidating as it sounds
Bank -- the big one
Financial Office -- where I will pay the real medical tax after I have a permit number
Doctor's Office -- I'll go back and register after I have a permit number and pay the medical tax
Notary Public -- may God's blessing be upon her
Office of Sanitation and Public Health -- a nightmarish maze of offices
All of my experiences here have given me a lot of sympathy for immigrants in the U.S. The next time you want to complain about Mexicans who don't speak English or don't go through the process to be legal citizens, just imagine what it would be like to go to a foreign country where you don't understand the procedures and can't communicate with anybody to find out what you should do. It's all very unsettling and I thank God constantly for sending me somewhere where I know people, especially bilingual people. I'm not saying we should just let people do what they want without respecting any immigration laws, but maybe just be a little less quick to judge them. It's tough to be foreign sometimes.