Lamentablemente

IMGP8266 This morning Carlos and me got up at 6.30am to go down to the ‘Passport Office’. Actually it isn’t only the place for passports but the place for all other personal documentation if you are an Argentine, but for our purposes it shall be called the ‘Passport Office’. We went to try and find out whether there is any chance of Carlos getting his replacement passport before 19th January. One of the hardest things when trying to make plans is the ‘not knowing’. Maybe, we thought, it would be easier to decide what to do if we finally knew the bottom line of the situation. That’s why we decided to go back there today.

Over the past weeks lots of people have told us that if we went with our flight ticket, we would get some help. Argentine people are lovely. They don’t want us to worry. They say sweet things like: ‘They will give you the passport.’ ‘Don’t worry Sally he will travel.’ ‘They can’t stop him leaving Argentina.’ People here are very optimistic and I have appreciated that. Temporarily they gave us some hope. But I don’t think any of them can have been to the ‘Passport Office’ recently.

We got the train to Retiro and then a bus and arrived about 8.30am. When we went there over three weeks ago to apply for the passport we had to queue for a while inside the office. This time I saw the queues in the street from two blocks away.

We joined the line and started listening to people around us talking about how long they had been waiting for their passports: longer than the 40 ‘dias habiles’ (working days) currently being quoted, that much was obvious. We queued for maybe an hour to get into the building. It was chaos inside. Hundreds of people. Different queues for different things? One queue for everything? Impossible to tell. A woman in a uniform was shouting out that if you were over 70, or pregnant you could go straight in to the ‘Salon Castillo’. How I longed to be pregnant.

We queued for another half an hour to reach the information desk. Carlos presented his passport receipt slip and his flight ticket and began to explain his situation. He was told to join a different queue for the ‘computer check’. Apparently here we would be able to find out ‘when we would have the passport’. We joined another queue. Once again we were surrounded by people who had not yet received their passports. I was glad I couldn’t understand what they were saying, but I saw Carlos’ face fall. I have rarely felt as powerless. It’s horrible watching someone you love with hurt and sadness on their face. I tried to keep a faint smile on mine. I didn’t want him to worry about how I was feeling. We reached the desk. A woman punched Carlos’ receipt number into the system. ‘It’s being processed.’ she said and handed him back the receipt. He asked whether she could tell him when he might have it. ’40 dias habiles,’  she said. He began to explain his situation. ’40 dias habiles,’ she said. He calmly and politely commented that it was his human right to be able to travel, to have a passport within a reasonable timeframe, and that surely within two months was reasonable. ’40 dias habiles,’ she repeated stony faced. She was quite rude to him. He asked if he could speak to someone in authority. Apparently she was authority. We retreated in silence into the street.

We walked around the back of the building and re-entered. I went to the bathroom. When I came back Carlos was in a small queue outside a closed door with the word, ‘JEFE’ among other words on the outside: ‘MANAGER’ or something similar. We waited our turn. The woman who finally attended to us was polite at least. There is no way even to tell how long the passport will take, ‘lamentablemente’. The only way to get the passport faster is to have a medical emergency, ‘lamentablemente’. Carlos explained that his last passport only took 15 days in total. On the internet it still quotes 15 ‘dias habiles’. How could he have known that it would now take at least 40? No matter. We have no prospect of complaining to anybody and no prospect of speeding anything up. ‘Lamentablemente’ we shouldn’t have been sold the ticket without a passport. ‘Lamentablemente’ we shouldn’t have bought the ticket without a passport. And now of course we know that only too well. A flight ticket or travel plans or the desire or need to travel is not a good enough reason to expect to know even when you can expect to have a passport. We can’t change our plans because we cannot be sure how long we will have to wait. Today it became obvious that it could be longer than 40 ‘dias habiles’. Apparently 2000 people are applying for a passport everyday. Having seen the queues I can well believe it. Apparently after 40 ‘dias habiles’, if it still hasn’t come you can go back and they might try to help… mmmm how exactly?

As we left ashen faced, I noticed a sign on the wall that said you could search on the web for the progress of your ‘tramite’. When we got home we searched. By going to the web site of the Policia Federal and entering your ‘tramite number’ and your ‘DNI number’ you can see exactly what the staff at the ‘Passport Office’ see on their computer screens: in our case Progress in the system 6%. It’s been over three weeks and we are at 6%. I reckon when they punch your ‘tramite number’ into the system on Day 1 it probably reads 6%. After that I can imagine piles and piles of passport applications sitting in an office upstairs going nowhere. And that I am afraid, short of a miracle, is where our plans for Carlos to join me in England are going… absolutely nowhere.

In England if I need a replacement passport urgently I can go to the Passport Office, pay extra, and have a new passport the same day. I believe that it is my right to have my British Passport, to be able to travel when I need to, not when my country says that I can. But I am spoilt. That is what I am used to because I am English.

Carlos said to me, with a very sad expression, ‘Now you know what it’s like to be Argentine.’

And yes now, in a tiny way, ‘lamentablemente’ I do.

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7 Responses

  1. Dear Sallycat,

    I was so sad to read this post, although I can imagine how much harder it is to live the reality of it. I will keep my fingers crossed for both of you and hope that this situation resolves itself in the best way for you and Carlos.

  2. Dear tangobaby,

    As I am sitting here trying to think straight about what I need to do, I cannot tell you how much it means to get your message of support. There are times on this ‘awfully big adventure’ when I feel very alone. That people so far away, who I have never even met, care enough to let me know that they care is special and it helps. It really does.
    I don’t want to feel sad. I know that I am lucky in so many ways. It is him that I feel for. And I guess that is what love is all about. And we are lucky to have that too.
    I know that if for some reason this is not meant to be then in time we will know the reason.

    But for now, just thanks. Thanks. SC

  3. This sounds like such an ugly, awful ordeal!!!! I cannot believe it is so bad to get a passport in Argentina. At first, the delays seemed so long that I even wondered if there was anything unfortunate–a struck of bad luck, in which Carlos may have lost a key ID or other documentation, something that was preventing him from getting this done faster. So much trouble just sounds unbelievable in this day and age.

    I’m really appalled to hear that it could be possibly take that long, period (aside from the nastiness and frustration you must be experienced). But I also must tell you, I don’t think you are spoiled by the Brittish state of development and public service. I am a national from another large country in Latin America, comparable in size to Argentina, and I’ve always been able to get my passport *the very same day* I apply for a renewal, for at least the last 20 years. Sure there were long lines that keep you for a good number of hours in the place until you can get the whole thing done, but if you were promptly in line early in the morning in front of the right office, you could travel that same night. It was only if you went to the office late that you ran the risk that they wouldn’t get to you… in which case, you had at a reasonable time the next day. Moreover, the efficiency of the process has improved dramatically over the years.

    Seriously, I’m so upset for you and for him. What a set back. I do hope that soon enough you’ll find a way to use that ticket to go together to a really nice place.

  4. Dear Tanguera,

    Thank you for your message of support. I am really glad to hear that your country treats you well, like mine does me. I think my greatest sadness today was to watch how powerless he was to do anything. He tried everything that he could and it was just a brick wall.
    I am determined that I will get him to England one day, and I hope to many other places too. This time I am afraid that I will have to go it alone, but at least he will be in my heart and I in his.
    On the way back in the train today a blind man was playing his guitar. He played and sang our favourite Chacarera and we both started smiling and tapping our feet. Carlos gave the man some money and we both said that we have to remember how lucky we are. Yes it is a horrible set back but we will survive.
    Getting your comment has helped put the smile on my face that will greet him when he gets home from work.
    Thank you.

    SC

  5. I think Argentine bureaucracy must have been invented by Italians.

    This story is all too familiar. 😦

    I’m really sorry things didn’t work out (so far) but if ,worst case scenario, you go to England and he can’t, he’ll still be with you, just not physically. Imagine the magic that happens when two people think about each other at the same time. 🙂

  6. Tina,
    Thank you for that lovely thought.
    Of course you are right.
    Magic indeed.
    SC

  7. Awwwww….I hope very much that by the time March arrives, Carlos will have his passport. “Sly”

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