Friday, October 29, 2010

The moment of truth and an identity crisis

A Fatal Error?  (Continued from this post)

The lady at the fingerprinting station had told me to check EVERY LETTER very carefully. Those words would come back to haunt me...

For the rest of Tuesday and all of Wednesday I was thinking about the fact that I had chosen the spelling that was in my current visa. After all, that was the most authoritative document, right?

BUT the spelling which I had written on my residency application (under a different visa) was totally different... and to be honest, preferable.

To make a long story short, it probably didn't make sense for me to be a resident under one name and have my fingerprints registered under a different name...even if it was a matter of transliteration. continue/-

What to do, what to do? Did it even matter, or would no one notice? There was no room for error, as I would need to pick up my permit on the first try and would not be able to run around the city changing things.

I asked a few people their opinion and most felt that I should go with the spelling on my residency application, as the visa would be canceled in a few days anyway and then no one would know that I ever had an "alter ego." I wasn't thinking very clearly at this point, but figured that they were probably right and it was worth trying to change the spelling.

Thursday, October 14th-my last attempt to get my residency permit before my visa expires

The moment of truth would come in the afternoon when I would find out if the local authorities had picked up my residency permit on Wednesday and I could finally claim it.

In the morning, I went to the fingerprint place again. It was the same story: everything under construction, and the one lady there, with no other customers.

She yelled at me even though I couldn't possibly be bothering her as there was seemingly nothing else for her to do all day. But she scolded me in a nice way...maybe it is a cultural thing.

"I TOLD you to check every letter. You've made so much trouble for yourself, having to come down here again. Now we'll have to write out your form again." (it took 2 minutes)

I didn't even have to get the prints taken again (I did have hand wipes with me, just in case).

I felt at peace about the decision and made my way back home with my new fingerprint registration, where my last name was now written "correctly."

Then it was time to leave for the immigration office...

The Big Moment...

We went upstairs to where the inspector was. Apparently they did a lot of the paperwork up there and worked with clients downstairs. I poked my head in the door and the woman, seeing me, said "It's all set. Your document is here. Go downstairs and they will call you by your last name."

So that was that. It had come!

But I Have to Wait Again

Now, more waiting in the familiar hallway. There seemed to be no method to how they were calling people, as far as the order. When they called my name, I sat down at the desk while they checked my passport, visa, etc, according to the list. More problems with the last name: they were NOT happy that my current visa deviated from the application they had on file. Thankfully I had held on to a copy of my visa used at that time, so I could sort of prove that the other spelling existed and referred to me personally. This confirmed that I had done correctly by changing the spelling on the fingerprint registration.

After a lot of grumbling and checking with her superiors, the lady on staff gave me a few documents to sign, and told me to come back with them in a few hours! This was already the 3rd assignment that day, whereas I had thought I would just show up and get the permit. But I was close...

Something Material!

We returned with my signed forms at the appointed time, and I had another mini- panic attack while waiting for my last name to be called. Finally it was my turn (again) and I sat down and handed over the forms, keeping a copy for myself. Then there was a stamp in my passport, where I checked everything carefully. I was granted permission to reside "temporarily" in St. Petersburg for 3 years.  I was given a chance to ask questions about registration. But unfortunately I had not studied the forms thoroughly enough yet. I couldn't use the opportunity to get information.

"Oh, if there aren't questions now, they'll come up later," she said drily, as I left the room in a daze.

We walked out into the hallway and somehow in my shaky state I was aware of a sign-up sheet being passed around for the next day. It was for registration. I signed up and was number 17. Despite the stamp in my passport, I wasn't out of "danger" yet. I had just a few business days left to have everything filled out CORRECTLY and handed in.

More to Come...

I felt a bit weak in the knees as we walked away. I could feel that I needed to kick into high gear to be successful, but I didn't have any strength left. Thankfully, there were a lot of people, and especially the Lord, standing by my side.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unusual missionary jobs

At some point I was in a biography mood while Kindle-browsing, and decided to download a few missionary volumes. One of these was about Gladys Aylward, missionary to China.*

I'd heard of her before, but only briefly, and I was interested in reading more of her story. It has turned out to be quite a page-turner even though I feel like I'm reading something I might have read in grade school as far as the reading level.

It always amazes me when I read about someone who may have been similar to me but had a totally different calling. Maybe my life would have seemed intimidating to Gladys, but I don't know how I would have survived in her situation. I like this book overall, but I had to take a break after it gave me some violent dreams.

This passage blew me away the first time I was reading it: click for more/-

'So,' continued the mandarin, looking rather proud of himself, 'the government has given me a problem. I need someone to be a foot inspector. A man would not do, because men are not to look at a woman's feet. I need a female foot inspector. But where, I asked myself, would I find a woman who could travel on foot over rough roads and climb mountains to reach the small villages to make sure every girl's feet have been unbound? Only a woman with unbound feet could do that. And I asked myself, in all of China, who is the woman who speaks the Yangcheng dialect and has unbound feet? That woman will be my foot inspector.'

The mandarin stopped for a moment to smile at his logic. Then he proceeded. 'There is only one such woman in the whole district, and it is you, Gladys Aylward!' (see book credit below)

Can you imagine moving to a foreign land to be a missionary, and being commanded to look at people's feet? Obviously many missionaries have medical duties, but what a specific task! It is so bizarre on the one hand, and on the other hand so clearly a witness to God's leading and providence. He brought her there and showed her exactly what to do...

*Gladys Aylward: The Adventure of a Lifetime (Christian Heroes: Then & Now)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Where I left off

Another day in the life of a foreigner in Russia trying to get a residence permit...

Date: Tuesday, October 12
90 days in the country are up: Tuesday, Oct.19 

Time is ticking...

Friday (Oct. 8th) had produced another "no" answer; meaning, the local immigration office didn't have me in their file. They kept telling me no sooner than October 23rd, even though the other office had told me September 23rd. Who was bluffing?

Monday was spent trying to get some answers by phone. The central office confirmed that my results had been "sent out" and that they had done their job. The local offices didn't answer their phone. The next day, there were working hours at the local office, and Andrey and I went in once again to see if there was any sign of my residence permit. continue reading/-

There were long lines as usual in the immigration office. As we were discussing our plan of action, a young woman was sitting nearby, eavesdropping.

We went into the waiting area/corridor and signed up on various lists. Maybe they weren't the right ones, but at least I could try to speak to an officer.

Then a young man came in, looking a bit anxious. He didn't speak perfect Russian, but he was looking for the right list, where he had been sure he'd signed up. He unfolded a notice that he had gotten in the mail. It was notification that his application had been approved and that he could show up at the local office. It was the piece of paper I was supposed to have gotten in the mail...

He couldn't find the list and we all looked around, and then our eyes narrowed on the young woman who had been standing off by herself in a corner (and eavesdropping on our conversation). She was tightly clutching a white piece of paper. A list. She reluctantly surrendered it, claiming that it was only for people who had their notification.

I was #5. Not bad, but they were only open for 2 hours. We left and came back and there was another huge group of people, all claiming that only those with the magic "notification slip" would be let in. I pushed my way in anyway, when it was my turn.

Same story. I wasn't on their list. My papers might be "on the way," but there was no way to check. Wednesday was the next day they would pick up the mail, leaving Thursday for me to claim them. The next Thursday would be too late; I'd have to be across the border by then.

I don't know if it was Andrey sitting next to me or the urgency of the situation, but the woman at the desk (after glancing at my visa and the calendar and cursing under her breath) decided to give us a few more helpful pieces of information. One was a list of items to have with me on Thursday, in the event that my permit DID come. The other was a list of documents to gather for registration. They too would have to be produced almost immediately, before my other registration ran out a few days later (not sure why they couldn't have given them to me a month earlier when I had asked).

For Thursday, what I mainly needed were photocopies of my current documents, as well as proof that I had gotten on the fingerprint registry at a certain branch of the police station.

To get fingerprints taken, I was advised to have a copy of my letter of notification, if received (mine hadn't been), as well as some antibacterial hand wipes.

I sped back home, made a quick phone call to my friends notifying them that they would have to get their apartment deeds together in a flash to register me, then set off to find the fingerprinting place. It was at the edge of the city, at the end of a tram line. As I looked for the right building, I remembered that I needed hand wipes. Arrrrrgh. What would happen if I didn't have any?

Bingo. Grocery store on the corner. But it would have a long line..ah, drugstore next door. Popped in, got some hand wipes, and then found the police building. They were doing "remont" and I had to knock. A lady let me in and led me to her office. Apparently I was the only "client." We filled out the paperwork and she made me CHECK EVERY LETTER. Then she rolled my fingers.

After that, she left me to clean off my fingers using my own hand wipes (which I couldn't get open now that my hands were covered in ink), and that was it.

Everything was in place for me to pick up my permit...except the permit itself...

Friday, October 22, 2010


In Russia there is a lot of waiting in line. There are some rules of etiquette that go along with it, which I've discussed before.

Sometimes the waiting seems normal and bearable, like at the grocery store or the bank. But there are a lot of more critical situations, like at Immigration or the doctor's office, where every minute that passes seems like torture.

In recent experiences I found that it wasn't so much the waiting that was the hardest part (although it was truly challenging). What I found most disturbing was the way that people turn on each other. I can include myself in this; although I didn't do anything punishable, there were certainly times when I thought to myself, Why can't they all just go away? How can that man be so stupid? Didn't he read the schedule? How could that woman show up this late and think she could get a place in line? read more/-

I found to my horror that these people whom I didn't know were becoming my "enemies." After all, there was no way for us all to succeed. We were destined to fight. We were all just as desperate as the next person. Most people had taken time off work and some had left children at home alone. Some had been up in the middle of the night, guarding the List.

No one was in a non-urgent situation, as far as I could tell. We were all just about to miss our deadline, or had already missed it, evidenced by a few there to pay a fine. There was nothing we could do to make the time pass any faster. I was torn between a compassionate sense of wanting to help everyone else in line succeed and a logical sense that I was going to have to leave the country if I didn't get my own paperwork in order.

I couldn't help but wonder what would have happened if I had given up my place to someone else? Would God have helped me get my paperwork done another way? Or was it right for me to "fight" my way through the crowd?

I think I'm alive

Pretty soon I am going to write about what it took to get two stamps in my passport. One thing it did take was a lot of energy that I didn't have, so I've spent the last week recuperating and letting my immune system replenish itself (if there is such a thing).

I'm thankful to be able to legally stay in Russia and not have to worry about counting 90 days out of 180. It makes me appreciate anyone involved in an immigration/refugee situation.

I'm thankful for God's faithfulness, and I'm also thankful for friends who remind me of His faithfulness when my own hope is wearing thin!

Friday, October 15, 2010

10 months later

Lots of waiting, and it came down to the last 20 minutes on the last possible day.

As you can see, my temporary residency permit was approved...on September 23, the date that they had promised. 5 months after submitting my application. But I didn't know it was going to be "in limbo" for the next 3 weeks...something I will be warning other applicants about!

The work's not quite over; I have to submit another round of documents in a very short amount of time. But at this point I am in! Praise the Lord.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I was walking home one evening a few weeks ago, and my road had been torn up during the day, just like that.

That's my building (the one in the middle of the photo) across the street. How would I get home? see more/-

Turn right and go past the building materials...

Turn left and trot over the bridge(s). They built the right one first and it was quite a feat to get over! The second one is MUCH better except for in one spot where there is sort of a half step because they didn't space them evenly and there was too big of a step at the end.

Just what are they doing?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

This explains a lot

I tutor a young woman in Business English. She's quite fluent but needs to work on a few skill areas, especially for work. We did some talking about cultural differences in the business world, since she works with both Europeans and Americans in addition to Russians.

A recent homework assignment asked the student to rate her native culture on a scale between contrasting behavior traits. To be honest I couldn't make sense of all of the terms that the textbook gave.

One pair related to time perception. Is your culture "monochronic" or "synchronic"? What did that mean? I offered an approximate definition, but promised to find out more. A search yielded the table you can see below (after the jump).

I can think of a few situations with roommates and such where these differences were obvious. For example, a Russian friend would notice something dirty (shoes, the stovetop) and stop immediately to clean it, whereas I would put it on my to-do list to take care of when I could work it into my schedule. However, I also switch back and forth between planned activities. Uh oh! click to see table/-

Monochronic People
Polychronic People
Do one thing at a time
Do many things at once
Concentrate on the job
Highly distractible and subject to interruptions
Take time commitments seriously (deadlines, schedules)
Consider time commitments an objective to be achieved only if possible
Low-context and need information
High-context and already have information
Committed to the job
Committed to people
Adhere religiously to plans
Change plans often and easily
Concerned about not disturbing others; Follow rules of privacy and consideration
More concerned with relations (family, friends, close business associates) than with privacy
Show great respect for private property, seldom borrow or lend
Borrow and lend things often and easily
Emphasize promptness
Base promptness on the relationship
Accustomed to short-term relationships
Strong tendency to build lifetime relationships

Source: Hall & Hall (1989)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Getting a package slip

I check our mailbox in the entryway a lot and it usually contains a flier or notice of some kind. And the notices are for the landlord or his mother: a registered letter, something from the pension fund, etc.

The other day I grabbed the usual assortment and started to put it in the pile to give to the landlord for when we actually make contact with him (it's already the 6th of October...he does want the rent, right?). But then I looked a little closer and noticed that it was MY name there on the slip. I had received a...banderole? Hmmmm. Something between a letter and a package...

There was an address of a "pick-up center" I needed to find in order to claim my "banderole." A hassle, yet at the same time I remembered back to the college days, when we received those yellow package slips with joy, even if we knew the package would contain something we had ordered ourselves. It was such a treat to get mail! Continue/-

And now, who knew what surprise was waiting for me? Not many people knew my address, but someone had decided to take a risk and send something from faraway...

It took about a week before I found the time. Not that the pick-up center was far, but knowing the usual situation at the post office, I might have to stand in line for hours. Plus, they had lunch from 1-2 pm. So I would have to factor that in.

I got to see a new part of my neighborhood. It was pretty, with tree-lined alleys of different colors in the fall sunlight. I even ran into a pretty little church building. Who would have known it was hidden back there?

The package slip noted that the pick-up center was "in the courtyard." Good thing, because I don't know if I would have thought to go around the corner. In a regular apartment building, from the courtyard side, was a little "post office" sign.

I went inside to empty waiting room. So much for the queuing drama! The room was lined with post office boxes and then at one side there was a little window you could go up to in order to receive your package. Once I got the ladies' attention, they looked carefully at my passport and registration (to confirm it was the same person), and then I got my media envelope. Oh, that's what a "banderole" was.

The return address was marked "Sweden." Too impatient to wait until I got home, I ripped open the envelope. Inside were two boxes cards, with my name on them. And the name and address of a company who hired me, but hasn't contacted me for a month. Very interesting...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bureaucratic phone calls

The quest for a residency permit continues, as my 90-day visa gets close to expiry...

I suppose the possibility of deportation is enough reason for anyone to get motivated to make some phone calls. :)

Since I last wrote about needing to make progress, nothing had happened. Last week was spent "trying" to make a phone call, which meant that pretty much every day I "intended" to do it, but put it off due to the fact that I either 1) didn't have time 2) didn't have a working phone 3) didn't have the right phone number.

It's imperative to call during work hours, of course.

I know that a lot of this was due to my own procrastination, but it didn't seem possible that SO many things could go wrong when trying to make one phone call! 

Then there was the weekend...continue/-


This morning I woke up and picked up my cell phone to see that the balance was 3 rubles (about 10 cents). Not again! Then a friend came to my rescue and put some money in my account using an electronic pay station. :)

Now that I had both a working phone AND a phone number, I could finally get down to business. I dialed the number...and got a fax machine. Arrrrrrrgh.

This happened several times. I checked and rechecked the phone number and it was the one I had used before and that a friend of mine had recommended. And I still got a BEEEEEEP. So I thought maybe it was just an automated answering machine?

An hour later...success! The phone RANG and there was a PERSON on the other end. She looked up my last name and said everything was all set and I could go to the local office for pick-up....after Wednesday.

This is great, but I'm still not sure when I can actually get into the local office and get my hands on this piece of paper, or get the stamp, or whatever is going to happen next. I can't seem to get through by phone to that office. So far I just have a few words of verbal confirmation from the central office, and that will have to be my progress for the day...

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!   Currently:...