Thursday, September 6, 2012

Finding the Rules

As of noon on Friday, Kurt was leaving for a 4:30 flight to South Africa.  We arrived in this country on the second of August with a temporary, 30 day approval to be in the country.  Kurt's visa (applied for in April) is apparently still sitting on someone's desk. The school has been working these past thirty days since our arrival to get us extensions.  In fact, they've had weekly, unfruitful meetings with immigration for months. Jonas and I were granted thirty more days on Thursday, which we found quite humorous considering we were not the two that have employment.  Surely if any of us had to go, it would be Jonas and I booted back across the border for a few days.  At 12:30, after the plane tickets were bought and the hotels booked, Kurt got the news.  The department employee was too busy to deal with Kurt and five other teachers' passports; so they recommended (this from the Dept of Immigration themselves!) that Kurt stay in the country with his illegal unstamped passport, and they would try to get to things the following Monday.  It is Thursday and we are still waiting.  On Monday my illegal husband left on a week long trip with a group of students to the border of Mozambique, paper copy of his passport in hand.

It has become quite clear.  Most of the country's departments are being run with a pair of die.

We were told to expect power cuts upon arriving in the city.  But in America, that means that something has gone wrong, weather or transformer issues, etc, and someone is out there hanging from a power line trying to fix the problem.  In this country, power cuts are a daily way of life.  These cuts occur because the country supposedly has a limited amount of power and different neighborhoods are cut off at different times so electricity can be used elsewhere.  (Of course, certain important homes never lose power.)  Power cuts last anywhere from six to ten hours, and can range anytime from 5 am to 11 pm. In the month we've been here, we have had one day without a power cut.  Generators, inverters and spoiling food are a way of life.  (Funny that we just cram in using more power when we actually do have it!) Citizens are constantly told there is a schedule to outages.  But in the thirty days we have written down the timing of our cuts, not a pattern can be found.  There is a vervet monkey sitting somewhere behind a switchboard waiting for me to put something in the oven so it can erratically flip a switch that cuts our power.

We know of two people here who started the adoption process for their two children five years ago.  For five years while papers have been processing they have bonded with their kids, caring for them and seeing to all of their needs.  But five years later, they are still jumping through hoops trying to clarify what more they must do to officially be the parents of the children they've been raising so they can return to their home country.  Among other things, they have been told that each child will cost them $50,000.  Now desperate, the father has had to return to the home country, visa denied, while the mother has managed a small extension to stay with her two a little longer.  They don't know if this is their last year together before she is deported.  (Apparently we will not be adopting any babies here after all!)

For police officers, who make the equivalent of some housekeepers and gardeners, it is understood: most of their livelihood will come from demanding bribes.  It is not uncommon for people to be pulled over for imaginary traffic violations before being threatened with going to jail if they don't pay.  Police stops are more than common, and usually result in a large pay-off.  On Kurt's trip with his students, his bus was stopped three times within the first three hours of the trip alone.  Just don't let them ask for your passport, Kurt.

I could write another fifty paragraphs of examples.

Power here, is not just in the hands of the person who has money.  It is in the hands of any public official, company, or organization that spins a wheel.  Arbitrary rules are dependent upon the official trying to make them up and enforce them, whether it is the police, airport security, immigration, garbage men, or even the bus driver.  It is hard to learn to navigate in a world of changing rules.  We keep our fingers crossed. And carry extra cash.