American in Exile Part IIJanuary 12, 2009
In the last segment, I described as briefly as possible the inherent difficulty in working for an extremely low wage, maintaining a long-distance relationship, and saving up to move to another country at the same time.
My fiancee and I began doing the paperwork necessary for me to move to Buenos Aires and to live and work legally in Argentina. While I started working on getting my passport, she called the immigration office to find out what procedure we had to go through for me to become a permanent resident after we married. All I needed, she was informed, were my passport, birth certificate, a clean criminal record, and, of course, a little money for the paperwork (the equivalent of about $100).
I had never lived outside of Kansas, so the proper organization to turn to for my certified criminal record search was the Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI). Luckily, I was able to get a copy of my birth certificate from my parents, who I don’t have the best relationship with and asking for favors is kind of a slow process, but it wasn’t too much trouble. I sent the paperwork for the criminal record search (along with the $30 money order) and turned my attention toward getting my passport.
I needed to get the passport as soon as possible, so in addition to the $75 fee, I paid an extra $60 for expedited service. Before doing this, I went and got a shiny new Kansas state ID at the Department of Motor Vehicles, because automobiles are such a part of our national identity that the place that issues the driver examination is the only place you can go to get identification (I don’t drive, everything in Lawrence, Kansas is within biking distance and I went from there to a large city with public transportation). I already had identification, but when it was issued, it wasn’t properly laminated, and the lamination started peeling immediately, and it didn’t take long before it was a less than trustworthy form of documentation.
Unfortunately, rather than receiving a passport after the processing time (adjusted for expedited fee) had passed, I received a notice informing me that I was unable to receive a passport without additional identification. It turns out that the State Department doesn’t like state identification issued within six months of the time of application, but they don’t feel the need to tell the passport agents working at the local post office to inform you of this beforehand.
So I had to provide additional documentation proving my existence, and not being a military man, it wasn’t easy to come by. Out of the limited options, my only chance was to go to the low-rate walk-in clinic I occasionally went to when I was younger and had no medical insurance and ask for some kind of record that I had been a customer of theirs, and I suffered the surreal experience of visiting my old junior high school and asking for a photocopy of the page in the yearbook containing my photo (I’m not the kind of guy who keeps that kind of stuff around). Luckily for me, although the school itself has a similar limit to mine on how long they keep their yearbooks, some sentimental teacher had one and I was able to get the “documentation” I needed to satisfy Colin Powell’s secretariat. I shouldn’t complain too much, I suppose the only major inconveniences were awkward conversations with old teachers whose names I didn’t remember and that feeling of “man, these people are short”. I had to send in this documentation, and despite having paid for expedited service for my passport, I received it long after I would have under normal circumstances and paid an extra $60 to boot.
Meanwhile, the KBI had yet to send me my criminal record. I was making plans to leave, and as my roommate was also moving, I had noone to retrieve this document should it arrive after I left the country. So I paid another $30 and sent another application, this time specifying that the document be sent to my father’s house, because it was unlikely to show up before I left.
I had given ample notice at my job that I was planning to move to Argentina as soon as possible, but they were completely unprepared when I gave them my two weeks’ notice. I don’t know how they got by without me, as I was basically carrying their news research department on my shoulders and off-the-clock overtime (in addition to burying my boss’s dead cat late one night). I’m not sure they’re even still providing the service I was working in.
I got a discount flight from Miami, and took the bus there from Kansas. It was three days of switching from bus to bus in the most uncomfortable conditions imaginable. I was consuming nothing but complete junk food; as a vegetarian, I couldn’t even eat the truck stop sandwiches along the way. I was starving by the end of the journey. The bathrooms were closed, chained, and padlocked in every bus stop from Kansas to Miami, without a single exception. I arrived at the airport dirtier than when I came back from Boy Scout summer camp. And this being January 2005, the fools made me take off my shoes before I could get on the plane.
Interestingly enough, the security at the airport in Colombia where my plane made a short stop were much friendlier. Sure, the international section was completely underground in a cave, the toilets had no toilet paper, and the people checking the carry-on luggage were wearing camouflage fatigues and carrying M-16s, but they passed all the yankees through with no lines and no hassle.
I arrived in Buenos Aires without knowing a word of Spanish. I met face-to-face for the first time the woman who would later be my wife. The plan was simple, we would get married, I would get permanent residence in Argentina and start to work (as an English speaker with decent writing skills, I was already getting some offers), and when we could get through what we did expect to be a long application process, we would move to the United States, because for the time being it has a better ratio of wages vs. cost of living than Argentina. What I didn’t realize at the time was that this was impossible, and that I may never be able to live in the United States again.
I’m going to cut it off here, but there are more installments coming. Keep reading to find out why I’ve been exiled from the U.S. for not being rich enough.