Saturday, July 19, 2008

7/19/08 Getting A Temporary Resident Permit

Getting A Temporary Resident Permit
For those who have been in Tahiti for the last year, oh, that's right, some of you ARE GOING to Tahiti; right? Well anyway, for those of you who have been off the planet for the past year, the Russian government has changed its visa requirements and procedures to stay in their country and now requires private visa holders to renew their visas every 90 days. This has become a sever financial burden to the church and they have announced a reassignment of all American and western European missionaries assigned to Russia to other countries. The only new missionaries that we will receive will be those from the Commonwealth of Independent States (the members of the old USSR except Georgia and Turkmenistan who did not join the Commonwealth) where visas are not required.

Our mission president was able to get a Temporary Residence Permit to live in Novosibirsk. The TRP is good for three years, but there are restrictions. From the web site, "A temporarily residing foreign citizen cannot, at his own discretion, change his/her place of residence within the territory of the region where he/she obtained the temporary residence permit, or reside outside the region where he/she obtained the temporary residence permit."

It is a 6 month process, limits the movement of the holder, and requires a lot of documents and medical information, but it will save the church a lot of money. Now he is trying to get this permit for the senior couples because they too are living in only one city for their entire mission and might be eligible for such a permit.

As most families do, our family has this series of one-line "remember when" jokes or movie punchlines that remind us of past events that were funny. "Your papers are not in order" comes from some movie somewhere in our history where a leather-jacketed, shaved-headed, hulking police agent stops the hero on the street, demands to see his "papers" and says that line; "Your papers are not in order. Come with me."

Well, over the last two weeks, the Visa Clerks, Brat Pyotr (brother Peter) and sister Olga, have been encouraging me to get the documents that they need to apply for this Temporary Residence Permit for sister Cindy and I; yep, to get our papers in order. To complicate things a little, Brat Pyotr speaks as much English as I do Russian and Olga is leaving for a two-week vacation starting Monday. Bottom line, she needs us to go and get all of the medical documentation needed now while we are waiting for our "papers" to arrive from the US. Of course, she tells us this on Thursday afternoon and wants our whole day on Friday to go from clinic to clinic around a city of 2 million people to get interviewed, poked, prodded, stuck, X-rayed, and photographed before she leaves.

Since we were feeding a dozen missionaries Friday for their district meeting, we couldn't be gone all day Friday so we said, OK, lets go now. After Olga recovered from her startled state she decided that we could do some of it today, called a cab from the company we contract with, and we were off in the company of elder Lunt (Cindy's elder) because his companion was on splits and he could not be left alone with sister Gushina (50+ years old) who was working in the mail room/library..

One comment on sister Olga. She is a priceless jewel, an angel of patience, courage, and fortitude. She deals with everyone's problems; that's her job. Problems every day; documents, travel, visas, landlords, utility workers, delivery people, moving companies, missionaries, and other employees. I love her. I respect what she goes through for us, and I wish that I could do something for her that would show her how much we all appreciate her. She is our guardian angel.

After reviewing this article, I feel it necessary to insert a note. The following is a description of our two days with the medical clinics where we needed to get tests and clearances. I want to make it clear that I believe the people we saw and the facilities we visited are doing the best they can in a harsh climate, both meteorologically and in every other way. I have just begun to appreciate the tenacity and strength that is necessary to get along here. This is a harsh climate with harsh rules, and most people believe that they have to be harsh to survive. I hope we can show them how to survive with love as well.

Our first clinic was on the left bank (west side of the river) about 30 minutes through traffic and bumpy roads for the AIDS test. We had this test at Kaiser before leaving and brought the lab results report with us to Russia. We, and Olga, were hoping that they would accept this and not have to draw blood for their own test. The Hughes' who came three months before us tried the same thing, but were denied because the test was too long ago. We were hoping for a better decision.

The last half mile was parallel to the "Tram-vye" tracks on the unpaved track roadbed. On that part of the journey another car came parallel to us on the other side of the tracks, worked its way across each of the four tracks, one at a time, and got in the "road" ahead, leaving us
in his dust. The rule here is, if you can physically do it, go ahead until someone stops you. This applies to everything.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I know that it is illegal to take pictures of any government building and these clinics qualify under that protection. I did find a few pictures on the internet that will give you an idea of where we went and will try to describe them the best I can. The AIDS clinic was a 5 story (Khrushchev era) concrete structure about 1/2 a block long facing the Tran-vye tracks. The climate here is unthinkably hard on the buildings and they show it. This one was no exception. It had a crumbling set of four stairs (with dirt and concrete debris everywhere) leading to the metal entry door, through the "airlock" chamber that keeps the warm in and the cold out, into a 6' wide hall and up the the 3' wide concrete stairs to the second floor.

The space from exterior wall to interior wall was abut 15' with pre-fab metal offices lining the interior wall like so many cereal boxes, each with a door leading to this hall along the exterior wall. White-smocked people were bustling up and down the corridor from box to box, mostly with hands-full of papers the color of kindergarten writing paper.

We waited against the wall while Olga tried to find the right box. When she did, she gave them our passports and the reports, not entering the box stuffed with two desks and 4-5 ladies in white. After a few minutes, Olga was summoned to the door, given some half-sheet papers with blue stamps on them , and as she turned, you'd think she just won the lottery. She crouched slightly, gave a clinched-fisted jab in the air and whispered, "Yes". They had accepted the report and we were off to the next clinic.

This was to be the TB chest X-Ray place. It was in a rural area of east Novosibirsk. I recognized some of the streets as ones we used going to the MEGA shipping mall last week with the Gushins. The clinic was another 5 story concrete building with the same crumbling stairs into the same steel entry, the airlock cubicle, and the narrow corridor with the pre-fab offices. It looked like a war-zone, but I think it was a renovation project. This seemed to be a working clinic with pajama-clad patients in slippers and white-smocked workers. Immediately to the left of the second entry was a booth with a cashier-type window. Olga asked for directions and went up a flight of concrete stairs much like the entry while we waited in the entry way.

Fifteen or so minutes later she descended, rather disgusted, to tell us that the place for the X-Ray had been changed and we had to go elsewhere. We (Olga, Lunt, Cindy & I) got back into the cab and went about twelve minutes to another clinic on a more rural road behind a 50+ year old rusting wrought-iron fence amid a heavy growth of trees and bushes. We entered the same 5-storied concrete building around the right side, but this one had the remnants of brick and tile work that must have been attractive when it was built. We went up to the "kassa" (cashier), paid the fee of several hundred roubles, and headed for the X-Ray.

The ground floor of this clinic looked like a small train station, with a vaulted ceiling up 2 stories and a wide staircase going to the left. Opposite the entry stood three pre-fab cubicles with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 over the half-windows where clients could speak to the clerk inside. As we passed by I could see inside one cubicle that had pigeon-holes along the left wall that were filled with bundles of the same half-sheet newsprint paper forms that we had received at the first clinic. I don't know if they were coming or going.

At the far right we found the X-Ray room, across that hall from the cubicle that served as a snack bar, Olga stood at the door expectantly. No one came so she knocked. Again, no one came. Waiting by the door, another man came along with blue shoe cover booties on his shoes. He evidently told Olga that we had to have the booties to enter the X-Ray booth. He then opened the door and went inside. Olga was exasperated, apparently having not gotten the word about the booties and said that she needed 5 roubles each for the booties. I gave her the money and she stomped off toward the Kassa and the big staircase.

While she was gone, a white-smocked lady came out of the X-Ray room, locked the door and went into another door just to its right. Ten minutes later Olga arrived with two plastic balls, each containing a pair of blue booties. What had taken so long was that she had to exchange the paper roubles for coins for a vending machine to dispense the booties-in-a-ball for us.

I want you to get the whole picture here. We are in what would have been a beautiful, formerly quite ornate, vaulted ceilinged hospital entry that is now crammed cheek to jowl with these shabby little cubicles that looked like they were repainted in 1966 and cleaned in 1978, standing on a floor that was very dirty wearing hospital booties from the plastic balls that were deemed necessary to enter the X-Ray room.

We are now bootie-clad, standing at the now locked X-Ray door and I said to Olga, "The tech locked the door and went in there", pointing to the adjacent door. She knocked softly on the door and got no reply. A minute later she knocked a little louder. I suggested she open the door and speak to them which she did and got the tech to unlock the X-Ray door and we were admitted.

The third stop was on the second floor of another clinic where we were to be interviewed regarding drug use. We paid our fee at the Kassa and waited in the chairs along the wall. When called in, each of us sat in a chair opposite a white-coated man. When I sat down he asked, "You are an American?" I said yes and he immediately told me that his daughter was in America and was a dentist. He was very proud of that. He stamped my kindergarten paper and wished me good day. I guess I passed.

The last stop of the day was to get our official picture taken for the application. The photographs were taken in a basement studio with a very small digital camera, about the size of my Sony Cyber-Shot that fits in a shirt pocket, on a tripod while the subject sat in a chair under bright spotlights. The pictures were transferred onto a laptop and printed, 4-up, on a half sheet of photo paper.

The final clinic was on Friday morning. The clinic itself wasn't much of a surprise, but the event was unexpected. After paying our fee at the Kassa, we headed upstairs to wait to be seen by the skin doctor, or that was what Olga thought. None of us knew the word for phlebotomy in Russian and so we didn't know this was a drug abuse test, not a skin examination. She also forgot the booties and had to go down stairs for our plastic balls. The irony of sitting in this unswept hall, waiting for a skin examination while looking at a blood-stained cotton ball on the grimy floor lying against the splintered baseboard was entirely lost to me until I stood at the door and watched Cindy get her "skin examination".

The Tech had a bundle of glass pipettes, one of which she connected to a small, green tube with a bulb at the end. She pricked the third finger on the left hand and, creating a suction in the pipette, sucked blood from my finger and squirted it into a glass tube. She repeatedly squeezed the finger for more blood, sucked it into the pipette, and squirted it into the tube until satisfied with the amount. At least she did rub the finger with alcohol before sticking me, I think.

The entire process of medical examinations for both of us cost us less than 3,000 roubles ($125) and several hours, but if it lets us stay in country as residents for our mission period it will be all worth it. Olga is helping us to get our papers in order. What a country!


Phil Ronzone said...

Sounds like the advesary is trying to keep the light out of Russia. What an interesting country, one that I have on my list of places to visit. It's no surprise how things are by your discriptions, but I hope that the people will see the light and work to make things better for themselves. It's going to take a long time for them because of the decades being under communist rule, but it can be done.

Tell Olga that your friends and family in Sacramento appreciate her taking care of our Missonaries.

Marilyn said...

Oh my! What a day + you had. Think of the experiences you wouldn't have had if not for the paperwork to keep you in the country. Hopefully you don't have to go through the same things in order to leave! Take care and don't get sick. I don't think you'd like to go through any more like that day. And yes, there are 16 of us going to Tahiti, all paid, hotel reservations on land are made/paid for and all flights pretty much figured out, even with "insurance" flights booked and paid for from SMF to LAX. The original airline we were to go on as part of FF with Delta has closed up shop and slunked away.