Wednesday, November 21, 2007

sous la neige et sans passeport

So this is (now) a funny story, and I must share the tale. And perhaps as an introduction to what working in Brazil is going to be like. And, on that note, a progressive explanation of why so few people choose to work there….

You need a research visa. I’ve explained this one before. Difficult, tricky. And Al at the visa agency has been helping me out. And dealing with my daily phone call and/or email. Kudos to Al for his patience. The passport was initially due to be ready on Tuesday, so I’d get it today. So I could go to Canada tomorrow. So I could get my US work visa. Before going to Brazil next Tuesday. There’s something about the best laid plans…

First off, apparently making a visa is more difficult than it sounds. While my application was approved a week ago, the tortoise-like progress of the consulate means that the passport wasn’t ready until today… arriving on Friday (though fortunately Al called this morning to confirm my address – before sending it to my old Berkeley address…). So, fair enough. Delay my trip to Canada.

And, on a positive note, there’s no need to only go for one day. Because I cancelled my trip to Brazil. Because the Brazilian Customs Police are apparently on strike – so all our research equipment has yet to be released. Apparently, last year the same strike occurred and lasted for a month and a half. Whether that means our equipment will be released tomorrow or in mid-January has become the inspiration for a hot betting pool among a certain set of scientific researchers. Personally, I’m voting for the week before Christmas. Having talked to other scientists who worked in Brazil, I admit, I’m not surprised.

The result of this drama was a morning spent canceling plane tickets, changing flights, and generally preparing for the drama of a new work visa. I think my favourite part has been watching the reactions of the grad students, post-docs and PI’s involved in the project. For example, our fearless leader conveyed the news with a sense of progressively more hopeless frustration. One of the grad students: general bewilderment, but accepting. The British PI? An email of “Bloody Hell! And I thought the French were bad”. Slight gloating on the part of the more disorganized individuals who had not yet bought plane tickets.

But that wasn’t all the drama of the day. I’m putting together my application for a TN work visa. This requires a letter from my employer explaining that I’m especially qualified for a professional job, etc. The letter was written and sent across town on Monday. When I didn’t receive it by this afternoon, I got a little worried. Particularly since FedEx claimed that it had been signed for.

After numerous phone calls to FedEx and everyone else we could think of, the solution crystallized: Apparently there are two Farmer's who work at CIRES. Despite an obviously different first name, the CIRES Message Center decided to send the letter on to the other Farmer in the Geology Department. Since the Geology Department mailroom is already closed for the holidays, Ellie (who runs the Message Center) tracked down a graduate student to break in and “retrieve” the package in the other Farmer's mailbox.

So, lesson learned: If you're missing a package: check to see that you are the only person with a name like yours. Preferably, don't lose packages on or before holidays. In fact, just don't try to do anything involving immigration and passports before holidays.

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