Tramites is the word we use here to describe the process of “bureaucracy”, i.e. filling in forms, collecting rubber stamps, going to offices, lining up for hours, being sent across the city to other offices, being told you have the wrong forms, being sent back to the original offices… etc. The tramites in Argentina are special, not just those for immigrants, they permeate through many aspects of ordinary life as well. They are “affectionately” known as “los tramites del arbol” (the bureaucracy of the tree) after a famous comedy sketch, about a man who wanted to plant a tree in front of his house, and found that he needed to get permission, fill in papers, stand in queues, collect rubber stamps…
On Thursday, we went to the immigration office, and stood in a line with our paper work. This consisted of our birth certificates, which had been apostiled, translated, and seen by the Argentinian consulate in England, then re-translated here, and then certified by the college of translators; and a letter from the Baptist convention, which had taken eleven months to write, and had then gone to the ministry of exterior relations for certifying. What we didn´t have was our UK police records, because we had only just applied for them, and it takes about six weeks to get them. However, our Argentina visa runs out next week, so we went to plead for grace and mercy to let us proceed on a temporary basis until the police records arrive. (These of course will also need to be apostilled, stamped, translated, certified etc when they arrive).
Luckily the man in the immigration office was friendly, and he accepted our plea, and decided that we are allowed to proceed to the next part of the visa process. This involved going to the police headquarters on the other side of the city for fingerprinting. When we arrived, it was like an explosion at a jumble sale, long queues snaking their way around the offices, heading in different directions. So we thought we´d better ask which one we should join. “Come with me” said the man, and led us past all the queues into an underground office, where another man was busily inking the fingers of the person in front of us. We had three sets of finger prints taken each. They provide a washing-up scourer to get the ink off afterwards.
Then it was off to the justice department, on another side of the city. Here, we took a number in order to be called to a desk and given the paperwork to fill in, consisting of two forms; one long and one short. The catch was that the short form needed to be filled in eight times. Carbon paper hasn´t yet become fashionable in the justice department. We filled this all in, then we had to go to a bank, pay in some money and collect a receipt for same, then via a photocopying shop, where we had to have the completed forms photocopied twice, along with our passports, and then back to the justice department, where they took all the paperwork from us and sent us for…. more fingerprints. Next week, we have to go back to the justice department to collect our Argentinian police certificates on tuesday, and back to the immigration office with all our paperwork on Wednesday.
Reading this, it sounds like that was a bad day. By no means! We finished elated jubilant, victorious and triumphant. One, we had achieved everything that we were supposed to have achieved without becoming ensnared by any “catch 22´s”, and two, it only took a day. Which as any Argentinian knows, is almost a miracle. We´re really hoping that next week goes as well, in which case we would be several massive strides on our way to having proper visa status.