Ministry of Silly Walks

We may never quite get as far as liking it, but one of the things we are learning to get used to in Argentina is that your plans for the day may be changed completely at very short notice, hence following a late-night phone conversation on Thursday, I ended up spending Friday doing paperwork in the ministry of silly walks in Cordoba.

The ministry is an absolutely vast government establishment housed in a warren of interlinked buildings, filled with public employees standing around talking to each other, filing their nails, texting on their mobile phones, and generally doing anything other than serving the public.  Civil service posts here are usually political appointments, and anyone who has helped the successful candidate on the campaign trail will be expecting their reward in a government ministry somewhere.  In fact the person at the moment heading up Cordoba’s social services is apparently an architect, so I’m guessing that her other qualification is probably “right-hand campaigner of…” (or possibly “wife of” / “sister of”).  Maybe I’m doing the woman a disservice, but in any case we digress. 

Fortunately I was in the fair and capables of one of the saner social workers here, so she guided me around from department to department, and introduced me to the people who she thought I should make friends with.  In Spanish this is a cuña, literally meaning “wedge”, your cuña is the inside person who can make things happen on your behalf. 

We had two lots of tramites to do (paperwork, often pointless).  The first one was to register me as being qualified to do some recognisable occupation according to the government database.  Hence after lugging a mountain of everything I have ever studied in England, plus its translation into Spanish, plus the certificates to say that each of the translations is recognised by the college of translators as a fair representation, around three different offices, I am now officially registered as an accompañante terapeutica.  This means “therapeutic companion”, which I guess would be something like a PA to a disabled person (glorified care-worker).  In UK terms that probably means I’m at NVQ level 2 (do they still exist?) and while it’s obviously quite a way down from my MSc qualification, it feels like a real achievement that I’m officially recognised as able to do something after the last goodness knows how long of fruitless door battering. 

The second set of tramites was to persuade the Province of Cordoba to take me on as an employee and pay me to do more or less what I’m already doing on behalf of the special school in San Francisco.  The outcome of that decision we won’t know for a couple of months at least, although apparently if successful then they will backdate it to today, which still wouldn’t be a fortune; care-work money at a couple of hours a day, but it’s better than a poke in the eye, and actually the most important thing here isn’t the money, it’s about “being a Roman to the Romans” in the culture of San Francisco. 

One of the things I have experienced in San Francisco is that being white may be a novel and interesting talking point, but doesn’t automatically open any doors in the way that it seems to in other parts of the country where people may have had fewer opportunities for formal education, such as the indigenous communities for example.  My perception is that permission to speak in San Francisco is granted in accordance with the systems which already exist, which means that one needs to be qualified in something, and on the payroll of somewhere, and in fact that perception was neatly confirmed for me by the social worker on Friday, who, when we had finally distributed all our papers to their appropriate departments said “the most important thing about putting you on the payroll is that it will give you the right to an opinion”.  So now I’m hopefully on route to becoming a Roman, and despite all the traipsing round the ministry of silly walks, I still managed to catch up with Martin and Joni in time for homemade pizza in the home of our friends Sergio and Carolina. 

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