Friday, November 2, 2007

a displaced feeling

So it's been another typical week in the office. (Note the slight hint of sarcasm. Since I started this job in June, not a single week has been the same). The last few days have been a series of highs and lows, and in an attempt to find the humour in the situation, I realized that perhaps I should explain. I will use my experience of wrangling with the Brazilian Consulate(s) as a sample case. Let's just leave it at the fact that more or less every other aspect of my personal and professional life followed the same format this week:

I am in the process of trying to get a Scientific Research Visa to go to Brazil. Now, don't get me wrong: I am absolutely excited to go out to the middle of the Amazon and look at aerosol formation and loss for a month in January/February(the AMAZE experiment: Rather than being intimidated by the photos of the single room of bunk beds where we'll ALL be staying together, I'm kind of excited about the adventure. Sure, the yellow fever and typhoid shots aren't top of my Fun Things To Do List, but seeing the 'green ocean' from the top of a 50m tower in the middle of Brazil's rainforest certainly is.

So I need to get a proper visa. Apparently, as I have now been told repeatedly by multiple officials at multiple consulates and visa agencies, the scientific research visa is 'a very complicated and difficult visa to get'. Unfortunately, it's the one I need. You might think that with the appropriate paperwork and passport, this should be okay and merely an issue of getting the appropriate pieces of paper stamped and photos glued in place. However, I hit a few snags. First, the consulates couldn't decide where I should send the paperwork: one has to go through the 'local' consulate. Unfortunately, I've been moving too much to have a long enough non-criminal record in Colorado to be able to go through the Colorado consulate (conveniently located in Houston, Texas. because that makes sense.). So instead, I realized that by the guidelines laid out by the consulate (namely the fact that I haven't been in Colorado long enough to change over my driver's license), I never really left California, so I should actually go through the San Francisco consulate. Which conveniently only accepts applications in person.

So I found a visa agency that would deal with the paperwork and physically hand it in, and was quite proud of myself for thinking of the solution. Especially since my parents called me up about two days later with a brilliant-beyond-brilliant plan of using a visa agency to deal with this problem. I called the Berkeley Police Department and got them to do my background check and send it straight in to the consulate. (In case anyone is wondering, there are no outstanding warrants for my arrest). Paperwork was in with over three weeks to do what should take five days. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Except that, immediately after that contented it's-out-of-my-hands sigh, I received a call - the first of many - from my new friend Al at the visa agency. Al was calling because one of the documents was apparently a.) too difficult to read and b.) didn't have my name on it. This was a problem: the originals of these documents are somewhere in Brazil and I have an old, scanned electronic version of them that I printed. And apparently my slightly wingeing argument of 'but other consulates accepted the same papers for other people' didn't go over so well. After consultation with the project leaders, we think there's a way around problem (b) (namely, in a lovely twist of logic, that because our Brazilian colleague's name is on the documentation, and then this same individual wrote an official letter of invitation to me, it's really just the same as though my name is on the documentation. Of course! Why didn't I think of that one?). As for problem (a), I took the easy solution. I printed out high quality versions of the documents, and then went to the photocopier and enlarged them. Massively enlarged them. And fedexed them in a gigantic FedEx envelope. Now even the smallest font size is on par with an oversized children's book. I defy anyone to have a problem reading them now.

After an entire week of this drama, I am pleased to say that Al has not called me once today. That means that either there are no new problems and the paperwork is going through, or that he and the consulate are now so sick of dealing with me and this scientific research visa that Mr.-don't-shoot-the-messenger-Al has conveniently lost my phone number. In the spirit of the week, I'm going to side with the latter.

So, I am left looking forward to the weekend - which started this evening with a most promisingly with a highly enjoyable post-seminar Happy Hour (much needed considering the seminar, but that's a whole other story). This weekend will be spent on paper revisions, the annual flu shot and organizing my next few weeks and months of travel (riveting, I know. Don't worry, I'll find some time for fun). For those of you keeping track, I leave in a few days for a weekend in Georgia (state, not the country) to see my mom, then I'm in Boulder for a week, then it's off to Canada for American Thanksgiving and the wonders of a brand new work visa, then down to Brazil for a preliminary setup visit, then off to San Francisco for a meeting for a week. And then it's Christmas, so just in time to head out to see my parents in Rhode Island with a quick stopover in Colorado for New Year's before heading back down to Brazil for a couple of months. After writing it all down, I begin to realize exactly why it is I am feeling so displaced this week!

And for any visa officials, irritable travel agents and large SUV drivers who like to cut off and almost hit bicyclists while pulling in to drop your girlfriend off at school:

Bring it on.

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