Wednesday, July 20, 2005

It’s not Kafkaesque, but it is boring

I’ve spent the last two weeks trapped in a Kyrgyz bureaucratic maze trying to get a birth certificate for my son and official permission to get married to my girlfriend. I wanted to draw some heady parallels with Kafka’s nightmare visions of a labyrinthine bureaucracy that induces fear and anxiety, but I realised that was pushing it too far. I’m experiencing very little existential angst (well, the sun is shining after all), but I am mightily pissed off.

It seems to work like this: every official office in Kyrgyzstan is open one day a week for about three hours. Unless you get there about half an hour before it opens, you’re going to be stuck behind a large group of irate folk all demanding to know who’s next in the queue. Except of course there isn’t really a queue, just a large group of irate folk demanding to know etc etc. When you finally get into the office, there are normally three or four sour middle-aged women sat behind low wooden desks. There is normally one desk empty and that is invariably the woman you need to see. It would be handy of course to call in advance to find out if she’s going to be there, but they won’t give that kind of tip-top secret information over the phone. Actually, they won’t give you any information over the phone and just insist that you come in to see them.

If you are lucky enough to actually find the woman you want, she will throw you about ten forms that you need to fill out in triplicate and bring back the following week. So, you do that, come back and then sit there for about an hour while they copy everything by hand into a huge black ledger. Then, they tell you that you need to get photocopies of everything and pay a small administrative sum. Now, it would kind of make sense if you could do that there at the office, but that would be way too easy. No, instead you first have to go and find a photocopy shop to make the copies, and then track down the bank where you have to pay for the admin. This is almost always conveniently located at the opposite end of the city. Of course, by the time you’ve done all this, and you’ve got back to the office, it’s closed and you have to wait another week to submit all the documents again. When you finally get to submit all the relevant documents they tell you to go to another office (guess where that might be located!) to get it ratified, notarised and authorised.

So far, me and my girlfriend have visited two separate marriage offices on five separate occasions, the birth registrar’s office twice, the Kyrgyz Ministry of Foreign Affairs twice and we still haven’t got a birth certificate for our son or permission to get married.

Of course, this is all made twice as complicated by the fact that I’m a foreigner. Whenever we go to these offices bearing our two different passports and arcane documents from the British Embassy, you can see these poor women thinking, ‘I don’t get paid enough to deal with this crap.’ Which is a fair point. For example, we want our son to have a British name and we planned to call him Lucas Ewan Read. First, they told us he couldn’t take my surname because we weren’t married and would have to take my girlfriend’s instead. We were planning to get hitched anyhow, but this gave us the necessary impetus to get all the wheels in motion. When we went back and told them we were getting married, they then objected to him having ‘Ewan’ as a middle name. No way. Not possible. Why? Well, they haven’t quite abandoned the old Soviet system of children taking their father’s Russified name. If you ever read Russian literature, it’s very confusing because people have those names like Ivan Ilyich, Ilya Ivanich, Sergei Sergeiovich. The second name is the patronymic. Anyhow, my son has to take my name as his middle name and have the appropriate Slavic ending. So, he will go by the distinguished name of Lucas Davidovich Read. It’s different if nothing else.

I’m sat here writing this blog between visits to the marriage office. The rumour is that the meeting this afternoon may actually be the last one before they give us official permission to marry - assuming of course that the women we’re supposed to see is actually there.

Christ, I bet Kafka never had to put up with this.


Blogger Alex said...

Very sorry to hear of people who is forced to violate their tongue. Also very strange to hear of our former fellow Soviet nations obeying the old grotesque rules. If it's going to cheer you up a bit, here is an episode of the now distant past. When Soviet Army forced the Germans from Hungary during World War II, there had to be sovietization of the country: Soviet kind of government, civil services and all. Passport boards like in USSR, too, and citizen passports of Soviet pattern. The Hungarian don't use patronymic as their middle name; but they had to. So when a Magyar fellow comes to get his papers, and his name is spelled something like Bela George (pronounced like Bela Dyordy -- I'm a bit uncertain here) -- he gets the passport with name "Ghe-or-giy Ivanovich Bela" with his christened name fully russified and the middle name taken out of the blue sky. That beats your story, no? But then again, those were the ancient gloomy times... Wish you and your girlfriend and your kid every luck imaginable.

11:19 pm  

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