Iowa Martins in Albania

Sunday, September 02, 2012

waiting for visa

On the drive back Porto Palermo, I call my French friend who works at the European Commission.  He allowed me to give his address to Prime School, my employer in Moscow, so they could send the invitation to Albania.  He says they are not working the next day because of the holiday—the final day of Ramadan.  Bad thing.  But he can probably get the envelope. Good thing. 
But not until 11:00.  Bad thing—Russian Embassy accepts applicants to the counselor section only Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:00 – 11:30.  “We can meet then at 9,” says Claude.  Good thing.
            Next morning at 9:00, he is not at work.  At 9:15, still not at work.  I call his phone; it is turned off.  Bad thing.
            Outside his office, while sitting on a cement planter reading my book about teaching, I learn that our bag has been delivered to the school.  Good thing.
             I think maybe I misunderstood and maybe Claude will be at his building at 11:00.  I go across the street for a chocolate to read my book.  11:10, still no Claude.
            I hire a taxi to the Russian Embassy.  I poke a likely doorbell outside and a voice says in Russian to wait a minute.  Good thing.  I enter.
            Inside, I find an application and begin to fill it out.  After asking a few questions and learning that I have an ‘official’ passport—not a ‘tourist’ passport (an errant distinction that will haunt me later)—I talk to Dasha.  She looks to be about 21 years old in a sporty blouse and shorts.  In spite of her frilly appearance, and the fact they refer to her by her friendly name, and NOT her formal name and father’s name, I guess she is the one to talk to.  Everyone behind the glass is deferring to her and asking her for the final solution; this includes the grumpy 50-something babushka scowling at me from her desk where she seems to be doing nothing.   
            I am talking to Dasha through thick glass by way of a microphone that cuts in only after you have spoken a couple syllables.  This is like listening to a movie with poor dubbing of the translation.  I can see lips moving, but the sound doesn’t come until later.  When Dasha understands that her words of “not possible” are not being well-received by me, she tires of this communication, and with leaning over someone else’s desk.  She hits the button that stops sound coming from their booth toward me and walks out of the office.  I stand there, not expecting anything, but still hopeful.  Dasha appears in my room, how nice.  She says shortly that she cannot issue me a Russian visa if I do not have a valid residency permit for Albania.  Full stop.  Bad thing.
            An interesting fact is that I HAD a residency permit 14 months ago, but I’ve been away.  I called the parent of Oskar’s classmate, Ilir, who is a highly regarded lawyer in town.  This is a man who inspired me to get started on learning the guitar some months ago.  His example led to me performing at international night in a building at TIS.
            With the help of one of Ilir’s colleagues, I learn that I cannot, in no way, get a visa without at residency permit.  The permit will take 6 weeks.  In order to apply for the residency permit, I need a birth certificate, a criminal background check, and a copy of my marriage license.  I have all of these documents, but they are more than 6 months old.  What’s more, they need to be notarized AND they need to be apostilled.  Until coming here, I had never heard of an ‘apostille.’  MS Word does not have the word ‘apostille’ in its dictionary.  It is a stamp from another person who is supposedly in a position to certify that something is original.  In actuality I don’t know how it is much different than the worthless notary system.  See:
            So anyway, I sent the passport, application, etc. to Washington, DC to a visa service company.

            I was faced with two choices—I could ask the lawyer to prepare a letter for the Russian Embassy explaining that I am in the country legally, to support my family, and that I am only in Albania as stop on the way to Russia.  I could show them my signed contract with the organization in Russia.  We would ask the ambassador to give me a visa.  The other choice—send my passport with the invitation, visa application, etc to the States.  I chose the second choice.  So now I am waiting for the passport to come back.   I paid for 6-day processing fee at the Russian consulate in DC.  Then the person at the visa service company said it would be 3 – 4 days to get back to Albania.  Considering that one day is Labor Day and no one will work, the best scenario is that I get the passport by Sept 10.  The visa agency told me to write on the application that my expected date of entry to Russia is September 11.  As soon as I get the passport with the visa, I will be able to get on a bus to Sofia, Bulgaria where I can get on a train to Moscow. 
            I sent a message to the Prime School in Moscow, where I will be working.  They have agreed to have me start work on Sept. 17.  I’ll take the CELTA course in January.  I’m taking the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages—I think the old name used to be …English Lang. To Adults) course because that is the qualification that schools in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia want to see in the teachers.  This way, after I get the qualification, I will be able to find a job anywhere the boys end up.  If I had had this qualification, I would have been hired immediately by a school in St. Petersburg where I would have preferred to teach.  But…I have found a place to stay in Moscow, so this may be a better place for me now.

            So what am I doing while I wait for the visa?  Making breakfast—yesterday, I supervised Maxim as he combined all the ingredients for pancakes (even expertly cracking an egg).  Today, we made French Toast with Maxim cracking eggs and Oskar beating eggs.  I also made some banana muffins.  I wondered why they turned out quite dry.  I put them in a container and I was thinking trying to figure out a pleasant way to introduce them to the boys when I realized I had forgotten the bananas.  On the recipe that I taped up to the cabinet, I had all the ingredients in one column, with the bananas off to the side.  “There’s no way I will forget the main ingredient.”  Ha!  The school opened a new play structure yesterday, so we are making use of that, too.  We play soccer (football), and I beg the boys to play catch with the football (football) and the frisbee.  
            I’m also running.
            To prepare for my course and for my teaching, I’m learning about many heretofore unheard of English verb tenses like Present Simple, Present Continuous, and Simple Present Continuous.  I always thought there were only three tenses:  past, present, and future.  
            Yesterday, a friend who taught high school English for many years reminded me about a mistake that many native English speakers make.  She said:  “One habit that you need to break to teach English to a bunch of russki perfectionists: quit putting I in a compound objective phrase when ME is the correct pronoun to use. You can't take a picture of the boys and I because you can't take a picture of I. You have to take pictures of ME, so it's a picture of the boys and ME. This is a very comfortable bad habit that will reinvent itself in a million different sentences, unless you decide to go after it with a grammar weed whacker.” 
            This brought to mind something I wrote something after I graduated from college.  It was an article about my first trip to the Soviet Union (actually my first trip to any country except for a 2-hour drive from Michigan to NY thru Canada).  I wrote that “another Iowan and I” had been invited to a dinner with local communist officials.  My mother pointed out that it should be “another Iowan and me.”   I didn’t understand for a couple more years.  How grateful I am to have a wise mother.

            In addition, the textbook I’m studying uses the International Phonetic Alphabet to indicate the pronunciation of words so I am trying to learn those symbols.  Luckily, I still have the dictionary I bought 23 years ago in New Zealand; it uses the IPA as a pronunciation guide.  I’m also studying Russian. 
            So these are the books that hanging with these days: 


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