A Rite Of Passage With No Help From Uriah HeepTuesday, April 15, 2008
There are several acknowledged rites of passage. The most important one (without which further rites become moot) is being born. My only proof of that event, now that both my parents are dead as well as others who might have attested to it, is a tattered document that I had to translate, on the spot, for a kindly woman from Fiji (not so kindly and bureaucratic in her demeanor until I made her laugh with my chatting) at the Canada Government building on Quebec and 10th Avenue. I was there today to get a lesser known rite of passage, my Old Age Pension and my Canada Pension. Because I speak the language (English) I was able to perform the paperwork alone without help. There were quite a few elderly Chinese men accompanied by younger women, perhaps there to obtain the same service. This rite of passage is bound to be an unplanned harbinger of that final rite of passage in which we all leave unaccompanied, too.
Rosemary filled out the application forms and told me this sort of thing makes her very nervous. We have crossed too many borders in Latin America and Europe so her fear of application forms and government bureaucracy is not unfounded. Mine borders on the phobia.
As a child I never understood my mother's instructions when going to the Buenos Aires Police Department (part of the reason why I am afraid of going to government offices even now) to obtain some document, to affirm that my surname was Waterhouse-Hayward while hers was de Irureta Goyena. I was too young to understand the problem of Argentina not recognizing my father's divorce before he married my mother. I also had to memorize a different birthdate as my father had botched that and registered me almost a year after my birth.
The worse case was the scenario at the Mexico City airport sometime in 1956 when I flew in from school in Austin. The man at immigration said, "Young man it is impossible for you to be entering Mexico as I have no record that you ever left it." The mistake of a lazy official who had not stamped my leaving Mexico a few months earlier cost my mother many pesos in lawyer's fees and mordidas (bribes) to set the record straight. It also involved lineups at the notorious Gobernación on Bucareli Street where all residents of Mexico who were not citizens did their trámites, a horrific Spanish word for official paperwork that includes the concept of long waits at lineups and being subjected to surly officials who think they are God. As a matter of fact there is a way of talking to these officials that necessitates the use of the subjunctive mood. It is a bureaucratic Spanish that makes Dickens's Uriah Heep seem even more odious when translated into the language of Cervantes.
"Should you in your kidness take my problem at hand, would there be a possibility that with God's help and your invaluable contribution to my affairs, my application form might be seen by Mr. Perez before the end of the month? I would be eternally grateful to you and I would find a way of proving that. Perhaps I could help with a contribution for your forthcoming vacation trip to Acapulco with your dear family."
If the above did not help then one hired a coyote the deprecatory name given to men who would intercede (a go-between no less hated than a procurer) through connections to speed up paperwork.
My paper work at the Canada Government Office was a breeze. As soon as I told my Fiji born (of Punjabi heritage) official how my father had invited his friends from the Indian Embassy in Buenos Aires to a curry dinner cooked by him at home, she was mine. She had initially told me, most coldly, when she saw my documentation, "You will have to have these registered for authenticity, etc." By the end of the interview (after I had told her in great detail a typical Argentine meal and how to cook it) she had stamped everything and told me, "Thank you for making me laugh."