Friday, August 21, 2009

I Hate Brazil, part 2

So, here’s where I left off: Marco beckoned me back down the now-empty hallway (I suddenly feel like I’m writing myself into a romance novel, or a horror film – the reality was definitely closer to the horror genre).

It was now a little after 4:30. Marco brought my file over and laid it on top of a file cabinet. “Do you understand Portuguese well?” he asked. That was not a good sign.

He told me that I was supposed to have registered myself before 30 days were up. I tried to convince him that it wasn’t my fault, that it was really the fault of the Brazilian Consulate in Brazil. He was having none of that, however. He told me that if he sent it in then, the file would go to Brasilia and be sent right back. SHOULDN’T THEY ALREADY HAVE ALL OF MY INFO IN BRASILIA? I wanted to ask. But unfortunately that is not how things are done in Brazil. I couldn’t yell and complain my way out of things – I needed a friend in Brasilia, or a federal police agent boyfriend, or some other ‘in.’ I had none of the above.

“Here’s the thing,” Marco told me (I am paraphrasing). “You are probably going to have to pay a fine.”

“OK,” I said. I had been prepared for that. I brought extra money. I just wanted to get out of there.

“But,” Marco said – and this was a big ‘but’ – “you need to talk to the person over there.” He pointed across the hallway. Nobody was sitting at the desk. “But” – yet another ‘but’ – “she already left for the day. You are going to have to come back tomorrow. Very early.”

“I have to come back tomorrow?” I asked, hoping that my Portuguese comprehension wasn’t actually as good as I had thought. “Tomorrow? Very early?”

“Tomorrow, get here early and go talk to the woman who sits over there. Then come back over, find your file” – he stuffed it in the ‘L’ folder as he spoke – “and I’ll be able to finish it.”

I left the office wanting to cry. I actually almost went into the bathroom to do so, but I was worried that I would miss the next bus and what I wanted most of all was to be back in Copacabana. By now it was 5 pm and the sun was preparing to set (It's winter here!). I had lost the whole day waiting in the waiting room, only to be told I had to come back the next day.

So, after returning to Copa and complaining to anyone who would listen (except for the annoying 'hairdresser to the stars' who sat next to me on the bus and who I just wanted to shut up about his own problems he was encountering in trying to marry a Brazilian in order to get citizenship), I went to bed, prepared to wake up even earlier the next day – I wanted to be first in line to get a number. And I was; after getting on the bus before 7, I made it to the airport and explained my situation to the man in charge of the numbers, who sent me straight in to talk to Rosângela, the woman in charge of the fees. Things were looking good.

Then, as she was plugging my information into the computer, she asked me if I had my entry form. "What?" I asked, confused not just by the Portuguese but by the fact that I needed to have yet another form that I hadn't been told about. Rosângela pulled out a example of the customs form that I had filled out on the plane over a month ago -- and that I was almost positive I had thrown away with my boarding pass and baggage claim receipts all the other unnecessary papers I had accumulated over my 24-hour long journey. "No," I told her, with certainty.

She looked at me like I was an idiot. "But this is an official document," she protested. "You need to have it. Or else you will be fined."

I felt like crying yet again. I was absolutely sure that all my friends who had gone to the federal police in weeks past hadn't needed such a document, and that Marco hadn't told me the day before that he was missing anything. I told Rosângela this, and she shot back at me with: "Well then I am absolutely sure your friends were fined. It's an official document."

I wished I were in the US right then, where not only would I have complete command over the language to tell this woman off (though my Portuguese apparently improves with anger), I would also know the right way to get around this. She obviously held the power in this situation, and I didn't know what the Brazilian response would be -- I wanted to just refuse to pay, but I thought she would just see me as a stubborn, stupid American who thinks she's always right. BUT I WAS RIGHT.

So I let it be for now, and she made me fill out several forms to which I knew very few of the answers (and didn't understand the Portuguese legal jargon), and which she ended up ripping up several minutes later. She told me I could pay the fees when I was leaving the country, and she stamped "Did not pay fee" in my passport. Then she sent me out to the waiting room to wait for Marco.

And Marco didn't come. Rosângela had explained to me that he would be parking his car, and that he liked to sit down and have a cafezinho before coming into the office. But time passed and Marco still didn't come. By the time it was almost 9:30 I got fed up and sneaked back down the hallway without a number, ready to pull my file out of the folder and hand deliver it to Brasilia myself. 

I pretended that my number had just been called and went up to an open desk. I explained to the woman there that I had been there yesterday, and where my file was, and that I had just needed to talk to someone about paying a fee and that now I was all set. She started putting my data into the computer; once again, things were looking up.

Not so fast. Rosângela was called over, and the fees were discussed, and after I joyously listened to the new woman explain to her that I DIDN'T NEED MY ENTRY FORM (I wanted to say "Haha, I told you so" but wasn't sure how well that would translate into Portuguese), my hopes of getting out of there soon were dashed yet again.

I was sent back over to Rosângela's side of the hallway, where she prepared even more forms, so that I could pay the fee on the spot. I pulled out my wallet; she laughed at me and told me I had to pay it at the bank. So I went to the other side of the airport WHERE THE BANK WAS CLOSED. Not for long, luckily, I just had to wait for 10 minutes outside its doors for it to open at 10 o'clock.

Fee paid, I went back to Rosângela, gave her my receipt, she crossed out the "not" in my passport, and I went back across the hall. Though Marco finally arrived at work at almost 10:30, my form was still with the other woman and I had to wait as a French family with four children who had been living here for five years sorted out their immigration issues with her.

Then, suddenly and anti-climatically, with no teary goodbyes to Marco or Rosângela, it was over. My information was on its way to Brasilia, my passport was in my hand, and I was shooed out the door. The sun was directly overhead as I climbed onto the bus I had come to know all too well, and I settled into a seat and closed my eyes, ready to sleep my way back to Copacabana.

1 comment:

  1. So I am picturing ACT III:

    It is December. You are leaving the country ... just about to board the airplane... when some fierce looking immigration person suddenly appears and says..."You are under arrest for tampering with Official Documents. YOU have crossed out the NOT PAID, in violation of Rule 10362a59b12. We must take you to jail immediately."

    Yikes, Louisa, I am very proud of you. There is no question that I would have broken down in uncontrollable sobbing, lost all facility in the Portuguese language (if I had any!) and immediately called the American consulate.

    Let's hope there is no Act III!!!

    Love, Deb and Al

    PS Keep all receipts!!!