Episode 1: Tales of the Terrible Bureaucracy

This was written August 5th, but this is the first time I have proper internet: 

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            Across from me right now I’m watching the green shamrock of the Aer Lingus jet begin to glow in the morning sun. It’s around now I realize I’m almost in Europe; a couple hours ago it could have been any old flight from Vancouver to Winnipeg or vice-versa. But to see that sun– to feel like you’ve just woken up when you haven’t slept a second– I realize exactly how different this flight is. And I didn’t realize I was going to Europe.

            That probably has something to do with the circumstances surrounding this flight and my trip in general only a couple days ago. Because my adventure started a whole week before I got on any kind of plane.

            The initial plan: a nice family trip to Ireland and England, visiting all the relatives, before dropping me off in Paris for the semester. We’d drive down to Chicago (a 16-hour drive us expert road-trippers are used to by this point), visit with the relatives there, then fly to Ireland on the Sunday. Easy-enough, right?

            Until you throw in the little complication that is the French Bureaucracy. I had to apply to the Toronto French Consulate for a student visa, but since I was going through a University Exchange I didn’t need to be there in person to be approved for the visa, just had to send off my passport with all the necessary documents. We sent it off a full four weeks before our planned departure date, a healthy amount of time, I would have guessed.

            But having your passport in the hands of a body you cannot even contact through the phone grows worrisome over time, especially a week before you leave. Especially five days before you leave. The only contact I had was through the Manitoba French Consulate, who told me that the visas are processed in Nantes, and that neither he nor anyone in the Toronto office could comment on the status of my visa (note: I later learned this is most definitely not true). When I finally got a response from the Toronto Consulate, they gave me one sentence:

                  As per your application, you are leaving on the 26th of August

            And my family entered crisis mode. During my application, I was crazy enough to be honest and told the Consulate I was entering France on the 26th of August; they took this to mean I was leaving the country that day (more likely: used it as an excuse to drop my application to the bottom of the pile). It suddenly seemed like everything was drifting away from me: my parents and brothers would have to leave without me for Chicago and then Ireland so they didn’t lose their own flight tickets, I would miss the Ireland portion of my trip and possibly the British Isles in general as– well– who knows when I’d get it?

            My Mom and I got to work that Tuesday trying every angle available to us: Campus France (“out of our jurisdiction”), UBC getting in touch with Sciences Po (“out of our jurisdiction”), our MP (“out of our jurisdiction”), the French Embassy (“out of…” you get the idea), and finally passport Canada asking if a new passport was at all possible– a particularly memorable hour when we both almost broke down in front of the passport ladies. The more that day dragged on, the more I felt I was lost in some faceless system of letters and doors. When I’d read The Trial only a month ago, I couldn’t understand why Joseph K subdues so quickly to the monstrous system that ensnares him– one second he’s the haughty banker who won’t take shit from anyone, the next he’s bending over and letting them decapitate him. In less dramatic terms, I’m starting to understand: when you’re faced with something so faceless you can’t even hear a voice on the other end, you start to feel it’s all pretty hopeless. You stop feeling like an individual at all.

            Wednesday morning at 11 AM:

                       Hello, your visa and passport are in the mail. Good day.

            One sentence, and everything changed. It’s weird to think that all this happened over the course of 48 hours, but when something so surreal happens so quickly, it becomes just as surreal when the weird circumstances disappear as quickly as they came. I had a great conversation with the Manitoba Consulate after that, who actually turned out to be a great guy when you aren’t pressuring him for a visa. All that was left was to wait for it to arrive.

            And then Canada Post lost it.

            Over the course of Wednesday and Thursday, it hadn’t shown up in the system at all. The problem: since it’s Xpress post, it would take two days to get from Toronto to Winnipeg. The bigger problem: as it hadn’t shown up by Thursday, that would, theoretically, mean that it would start shipping Friday– and there’s the August long weekend. That means I wouldn’t get it until at least Tuesday.

            So by this point I just felt like shit– I’m not usually the “woe is me” type, but luck really wasn’t with me this week. By the end of Thursday I didn’t even want to think about Ireland or Paris. And then that night I got a call from my Mom, telling me that not only was the passport in Canada Post’s tracking system, but that it was already in the Winnipeg facility.

            It hadn’t been entered at all.

            So like any neighborhood dog I waited by the door for the mailman all morning, till my Mom decided to just trail him with her car until she found him and got him to give her the post (hmm, I guess I wasn’t the only anxious one here).

            And now I’m on a plane. As if going to Europe for the first time in nine years wasn’t insane enough.

            Dealing with an international organization has really given me an interesting perspective: seeing how little my own government could do for me really shows how careful I have to be in countries that aren’t my own (now I know how North Americans find themselves rotting in Arabic Prisons for decades). I can appreciate exactly how much of an opportunity this is for me to get to study in France– as much as they dicked me over, they gave me my visa and I didn’t have to drop an extra 500 to get it in Toronto (not to mention it’s fucking Paris!). I’m becoming increasingly fascinated with the nature of intergovernmental organizations; diplomacy, and how nations interact with each other. An example: the same week the French Consulate was giving me hell is the same week Canadian Consulates all over the world have been striking. What if, because students in Paris are probably dealing with a hard time getting into Canada, the French Consulate became that much more ‘blasé’ to a Canadian student? It’s hard to say, but it’s all connected, isn’t it?

            And now we’re hitting the West Coast of Ireland, where my family lived in the same spot for a thousand years. Wow. 

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