Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Where’s Waldo almost got to visit “Brokedown Palace” yesterday. I had started out the day with this insane but full agenda of things to do – Pilates in the morning (Note: I’ve never had one single class of Pilates to-date even in the US), a visit to the American Embassy to legalize my birth certificate (see first blog entry for Kafka resume), lunch with my friend mother of Victor/Victoria and then off to my favorite pastime – a French-Bolivian co-production of the film “The Hunt for the Nazy Klaus Barbie” at the new Cinemateca Boliviana.

Like the mouse I am, the day went in some other direction. My Pilates class was cancelled because I was the only student, which was disappointing, but then they arranged a different class for me, which now starts at 10:00 instead of 9:00 and for which I am still the only student!

The drive in to the Embassy, which is in the city, was ecstatic because at every turn of the highway I could see Mt. Illimani which is always the gift of this city with its snow cap. though global warming is melting it yearly. They say it has 10 years of beauty left.

The American Embassy is a fortress with a flag that is bigger than the fortress and you are taken through triple gated security before you can even enter the building. Nothing we haven’t experienced before at the local Courthouse. While waiting I caught the plasma screen reporting these now routinely alarming 500 point drops that were occurring all over the world where now I am a distant watcher – the dollar has gone from 8 to 6 since I have been here and the “401K is now 201K” is being spoken of here as well.

The window for American Citizens was empty and when I told the clerk that I wanted to legalize my Birth Certificate which I showed her she told me the Bolivian government had imposed some new rules and that I would have to first go to the Civil Registry and have it legalized and then I would have to go to the Foreign Chancery to have it stamped for foreign parties and then and only then could they legalize it. The clerk was Bolivian and her instructions were just that “go to the Civil Registry and have it legalized and then to the Chancery for stamping.” I asked her could she at least give me an address so I could locate these things and she looked at me and said she didn’t know where they were. It’s the Kafka gene passed on internationally. Eventually we were able to establish the vicinity of these offices and I thought I could handle it -- go unaccompanied by locals to experience the “local flavor” of things plus I had my Video Camera. So off I went to the Plaza Venezuela in a trufi tax (cheaper taxi).

The Civil Registry was full of people in completely disordered lines with no idea of where to go and flowing out the doors. There were some handwritten signs posted letting you know where you could go and how much certain items would cost. Legalization of a birth certificate was $10. I also noted a sign that said:

Those people who are caught trying to submit false documentation or judicial testimony will be surrendered to the Special Forces Against Crime (FELCC) for having committed a crime of false and ideological materiality through the use of a falsified instrument, as stated in Article 198 and 203 of the Penal Code.

I distractedly filmed the sign and the madness in the place. I got up to window 11 and turned in the birth certificates (mine and my mother’s) and said I needed to legalize them. The lady behind the counter said: “These are false, you need to get new ones!” I told her my brother had spent months getting these documents after the death of my mother in 2004 and that they were not false, I had used them for probate purposes. She told me to wait a minute that she would verify what needed to be done.

Next thing I knew, a policeman and a man in civilian garb came and asked to talk to me. They took me to a room with a table – well imagine – the green of old government buildings in the 50s -- green walls, green table, couple of chairs, one lightbulb above the table. The man in civilian garb asked, “Can you tell me for what purpose you are using these papers?”
“I need these legalized for the American Embassy.”
“Well, madam, I have to tell you that the papers you have submitted are false and I must arrest you!”
Tears started popping out even though I was having that feeling that this really can’t be happening to me and I have to be tough I mean I have never been in a situation like this. The policeman stood by the door looking at me with stony ego-authority and I was not unaware of the large gun which rested in his hand.
“Why? Tell me why, would I show up here with false papers? First of all, I am a Bolivian, I was born here, I don’t need to falsify my birth certificate. I’ve been here a little over a week and I don’t have reason to bring false papers anywhere. I am here for a few months so I have time and I am doing this unaccompanied by anyone because I trusted that your system was not what everyone says it is – a bunch of corrupt thieves. I haven’t lived in Bolivia for 43 years! Tell me how would I know the difference?”
Of course I usually cry at the drop of a hat – so I am nothing but tears now – feeling stupid that I didn’t come with someone who knows the ropes and could offer these people a bribe or something culturally relevant and imagining myself pleading to EVO that I believe in the people!
The man questioning me finally says, “I believe you! I should be arresting you regardless. For now, we will confiscate the papers, forget you ever spoke with me and I will show you out the door. Don’t say you spoke with me to anyone because I shouldn’t be letting you go!”
He signaled to the policeman to open the door, ushered me out through a clichéd shadowed hallway and out an alleyway with an aluminum half door which I hunched through and I was back out on the street. FREE and with without my birth certificate!


Jennie said...

As the weirdness in this venture escalates, so does my concern for you. I'm loving reading your blog and have shared it with a few friends who might be able to relate in some way, but I am worried about the instability...both here and there. I'm glad you're having a chance to reconnect with your roots; just don't get TOO deeply rooted! We miss you back here in the states. Hope you are getting a chance to follow the circus that is our election process (and that you'll be casting an absentee ballot). Love from G'burg.

Marna said...

What an incredible story. So now you have to go back to bureaucratic square one to get a new birth certificate? Keep us updated on your adventures.

In local news, Nicole, our neighbor on the other side from you, won in the Moving Words contest with her poem titled "Fabric." Isn't that neat?

Keep in touch,