Last I wrote, we had successfully turned in my application for temporary Mexican residency with immigration in Cancun before their two week Christmas vacation.
Only a few weeks letter I received an email stating that I had an appointment on January 12 at 11:30 a.m.! I was to bring 4 passport style photos, 2 frontal and 2 profile, no earrings or glasses allowed, and a receipt (with two copies) for the last payment in the amount of $3,596 pesos (about $200USD). We wouldn’t have to wait in line, just take a seat and wait for my name to be called. We would pay the fee at the bank in Cancun, but Marco said we’d get my pictures taken here in town, for convenience’s sake.
There is only one “instant” (same day) place to have your photos taken here. It doesn’t have any signage or look like a photography studio; it’s just a kind of run down house on a corner with a chain link fence in the heart of the Colonia. When weed enter from the street, I was surprised to see chickens in cages hanging from the makeshift patio cover to my right. An empty food cart on wheels of some sort sat in the middle of the patio. To the left, a pitiful-looking gray and scruffy dog lay glumly in a rickety dog house made out of recycled wood. He was tied to the chain link fence on a very short rope. On the ground in front of his little house were a couple of dirty and dry cut off bottoms of two liter soda bottles; I hoped sometimes they had food and water in them. Our eyes met. Enduring the fleas biting at my calves, I approached him and pet his funny Mohawk gently; esos ojos spoke volumes to me about what it was like to live as an afterthought and how much more he longed to experience. I instantly knew I had to find a way to take him away from all this.
“Soooo, honey, do you think they would sell me the dog if I offered them money?” I asked Marco tentatively, unsure if a) he was going to flip out about me taking in another animal (we’ve formally adopted two cats, and I’m currently feeding a stray) or b) if this was about the rudest and least culturally correct thing to even ask.
He kneeled down in front of the dog. “I don’t know, probably, they don’t seem to care about him at all. Look at those eyes! He should be an inside dog and taken for walks and given lots of love. He obviously has so much love to give. Just look at his eyes!” Marco replied hotly, as he gave the dog an affectionate scratch under his chin. “Sí, papito, yo sé…” he spoke to him tenderly, as if apologizing for the sins of all humanity (this is one of the reasons why I love him). I would leave the negotiating to him.
The photographer, and owner of the dog, was a woman probably around my age, but with a much darker complexion and curly black hair. As my friend Chris would say, she looked like she had some hard miles on her. Marco explained what type of photos we needed and she ushered us into her studio, which consisted of a room with a chair and white background, and various pieces of photo equipment. She motioned for me to sit in the hot seat. Marco took a seat on a couch across from me. Above him hung an amazing portrait of the fattest, happiest, baby I’d ever seen with a mountain, lake and forest background. The giant baby dwarfed the lake.
The photographer put the digital camera up to her eye and began to take some practice shots. She consulted her camera and let it drop back down onto her chest. “I can loan you a blouse,” she said abruptly.
I was wearing a nice tank top, greyish purple and not low cut. “You think I need one? This is no good?” I asked her and Marco. I looked down at my top. It’s a nice top!
They quickly both shook their heads in unison. “If you would be so kind as to loan her a blouse, that would be great,” said Marco. She left the room briefly and came back with a red polo shirt with “Ambercrombie” stitched in ragged letters on one side. Really.
Marco stifled a giggle as he saw my reaction; it’s an inside joke of ours that I don’t like polo shirts, which are so popular here, the more crap sewn and printed on them the better. I stuck my tongue out at him as I pulled it over my head, taking care not to mess up my gelled back hair.
In a sense, it was sort of the perfect top to wear for my Mexican green card picture: something tangible and even official to remind me that the more I push back against the norms my adopted culture, the less headway I make in settling in.
The lady said the pictures would be ready in two hours. The sad doggy followed us to the entrance as far as his short rope would allow him, his unkempt tail wagging semi-hopefully. “I’ll be back for you as soon as I can.” I whispered to him and gave him a farewell pat on the head.
(The photos came out terrible; between the white background, the glare of the flash and the bright red collar of the polo shirt, most of my factions disappeared leaving me looking not just a little like Michael Jackson in his later years. So she’s a terrible photographer AND a terrible pet owner…who doesn’t want to let go of her dog. Let’s just say negotiations are in progress.)
On the day of our appointment, we arrived at the bank 11:00 a.m., confident it would be a quick transaction. To my dismay, there were a dozen people waiting in line, and only one cashier processing payments. Of course, there were two tellers sitting doing nothing. Hopefully, the line moved fast.
The line moved slow as molasses. I watched the minutes of the big red digital clock ticking by with anxiety. What if they called my name and I wasn’t there, then what would happen? One guy got sick of waiting and left the line. Yes! I might make it after all! Thankfully by 11:26 and I was paid up. Still had to run across the street to make the two copies of the receipt! Luck was with us and there was no line at the Cuban cyber café. We got to immigration at about 11:35. Fingers crossed they were running late as usual; the office was as crowded and noisy as always.
A woman was calling my name at the counter adjacent to the Information Desk, not the same woman who had received my application. I took my appointment email, my fee payment receipt and two copies, passport and photos up to the counter. The woman motioned for Marco to stay in his seat.
I offered her the appointment letter and she waved it away. But she indicated she needed my passport, which I handed to her. “Fee receipt and two copies” she said flatly. I handed them to her, expecting her to ask for the photos next. Instead, she asked me something I didn’t catch and I had to ask her to repeat it. “Name of the municipality that you lived in in the United States?” she said, impatiently. I was momentarily at a loss. I guessed the municipality would be Multnomah since the city was Portland. I spelled it out for her. She checked her paperwork and seemed to find something wrong. Crap! It dawned on me she might have meant city; there is no consistency here as to when people use municipality and when they use city. “Do you mean the city name? Because the city is Portland” I explained to her. That news seemed to satisfy her. “Oh, yeah. Whatever, it doesn’t really matter,” she declared, and continued with her questioning. “What was your job in the United States?” I told her I was a paralegal. “And what was your monthly salary at your job in the United States?” she asked. “Gross or net?” I asked. “Either. It doesn’t really matter,” she replied, again, impatiently. I gave her the net amount, which sounded like so much money to me now. She switched tack suddenly and radically. “How much do you weigh?” she asked, without looking up. I grabbed my iPhone quickly and Googled a conversion calculator; I still haven’t gotten the hang of pounds vs. kilos. I plugged in my usual weight (we don’t have a scale here) and told her “54 kilos”. “Height?” she followed up. I quickly changed the units to feet to centimeters. “164 centímetros” I told her. “Photos?” she asked me. I handed her the abominations.
Just then, a woman next to her pushed a blue inkpad towards me along with a white card. “Please leave your fingerprint for each finger as indicated on the form” she said distractedly, in between conversing with another coworker. I read each box carefully as to not put my prints in the wrong spot. The top row started with the right thumb and worked through the fingers to the left, and the left thumbprint started on the bottom row at the right and went in the opposite direction, which makes sense now but at the time was nerve wracking. One of the symptoms of culture/transition shock is that my brain just doesn’t work like it usually does; it’s a sort of intermittent dyslexia. But I managed not to screw up. I pushed the card back to her awkwardly with my elbow, since all my fingers were covered in ink. She extended a box of small, dry tissues at me, not pausing in her conversation. I took a couple and thanked her. “Yeah, sure,” she replied, turning her attention back to her coworker.
I stepped back to the original agent, trying in vain to clean my blue fingers on the dry tissue. Now what? I wondered. Was she going to call Marco up and interview him at this point? Or ask me questions about our marriage?
“Your card should be ready in approximately 10 business days,” she said uninterestedly. She handed back a copy of my fee receipt to me, stamped “Received” and the date. “Have a good afternoon.” And with that she called the next name. What? “You mean, that’s it?” I asked her, confused to the core. She repeated the same sentence more slowly to me, and in a louder voice. “Great! Thanks! Have a good afternoon!” I told her as I got out of the way of the next immigrant hopeful.
I stumbled over to Marco in somewhat of a daze. “That’s it, let’s go!” I told him. “My card will be ready in 10 business days!” We made our way outside and I paused at the bank of chairs in front of the office to fish my Wet Wipes out of my bag (Always Prepared is my motto). I couldn’t believe that was the whole interview, and that Marco didn’t even have to participate. In the States, both parties have to attend the interview, and, well, be interviewed.
“Did she say whether the card would be delivered, or if you pick it up here?” he asked me as I wiped and wiped at my blue fingers. DOH! I assumed it would be delivered, like in the States. But here in Mexico, the postal system is notoriously unreliable. Even the utility companies hire people to deliver the mail to you, and most houses don’t have mailboxes per se, they just stick the mail in the door or window. What if someone stole my card? Maybe I should go back in and ask, just to be sure…
But I couldn’t bring myself to go back into the chaos of that office. “Meh, let’s just wait for an email and come back after a couple of weeks if we don’t get anything,” I told him. Look at me, so laid back and easy going, after only three and a half months. At this rate, my cultural integration would be complete in no time, thought the gullible gringa in me contentedly. These are the moments I need to savor.