I was here because I needed to get my exit papers out of Russia. Sitting in that hallway with Sasha, I couldn't help but wonder if George Orwell sat here before. Of course he didn't, but for some reason, I believed that I was following in his footsteps. The whole scenario reminded me of 1984.
Sasha cut in front of the line to get my papers. We entered the office, and it had better lighting than outside of the uneven patterened one outside. We had to wait. The officer was at her long, lunch break. How many lunch breaks do these people have?
A red haired lady in her 20's gave us some papers and what we needed. The woman we cut in front of opened the office door and started screaming at us in Russian. Sasha ignored her, as did the officers. Sasha took the papers and said "Office. Office."
There must have been 15 people standing outside. One lady was on her lunch break. Therefore, there was only one person helping clients.
I never really understood what the word bureacratic meant until my experience with the Russian Internal Affairs Department. I think it helps too that I have a better understanding of law and policy. What bureacratic really means is that the government will show you will no longer be treated with respect.
It took 50 minutes to get to Sasha's office. For the first time, he seemed stressed and he said, "I need to work. Work." He meant I was taking a lot of his precious time away for this visa problem, and I felt horrible, terrible, shameful, and helpless. The last of these handicaps ate away at me.
We filled out the paper work, but there was one thing still missing. A new ticket to Munich. I called the Russian Airlines, who said they could not change the ticket date over the internet or the phone. I thought - What is this?! Is this the 1980's?! Thus, I had to walk to the ticketing office at the center of the city.
The ticketing office also made us wait a long time. Even though it was 6pm in the evening, there were again many people waiting to buy or change tickets. There were about 10 agents working. But it made you think - why didn't they just offer more e-services? I know why. People would lose their jobs and for some reason, Russia doesn't feel disadvantaged keeping up with the west. After about an hour (something that should only take 5 minutes by phone), this is not including my time to get to the ticketing office, I had a new flight ticket.
I went back to the 1984-Office. I asked anyone waiting in line: "English?" A kind lady responded and said she would help me. We entered the office sanctuary again, and I handed them my papers. A red haired lady - who had hate in her eyes - said, "No! Where's his host?" She was asking where's Sasha. Sasha had to work I explained. Can't they accept these papers?
She said, "No sponsor with you. No papers."
The kind lady said, "I'm his sponsor."
So they took the papers. Then the demon lady chatted with someone in the back office (the secret room) and explained the situation. They threw the papers back at me and said, "Your man friend not here. No accept papers."
I hugged the kind lady. That must have made her feel good because she would know that she helped out a helpless stranger in the blue room. She confided in me that even though Russian people don't know how to manage the blue room so well.
Now - I keep getting asked why not call the embassy? Why not call the consulate? I called the consulate. Matthew said he would try to talk to the demon lady, but when I handed her the phone, she screamed at me to get out of the sanctuary. I said, "Please. It's my US Embassy." She said get out again, and Matthew said you better leave and not make them angrier. They could make your life even worse. So - I left.
I called Sasha and explained the situation. I felt so ashamed again that I had to pull him away from work again. But in two hours he came, and the demon lady finally accepted my papers.
I know it's a bit degrading to call her a demon lady, but I'm not sure what happens to the human part of these government workers. I explained this phenemenon to other Russian citizens, who also confirmed - you become more evil if you work for the government. I don't know exactly how, but I think they become brain washed.
I was led with Sasha to the basement. It had the same kind of lovely decor of the blue wall and bright lighting. Now, I really felt like I was in some kind of Virtual Hell. There was one desk and a tall Russian at 6' 6" would come out stating your name officially by throwing open a door they worked from.
We waited for an hour. They were processing my application and Stas, the tall Russian came out and said I would have to come back because it was lunch time again. Sasha looked stressed because he had to work; so, he found another translator from my work. Valentine, my other translator, said it would take him an hour to get to the office.
Valentine, through no fault of his own, took longer. When Stas saw us, he said you're late. I just looked at him with sad eyes; how could I explain that I had to get a new translator who took awhile to get here? Valentine said we're lucky because they could have cancelled our appointment and made us come again tomorrow instead of proceeding.
But Stas proceeded with what he kept repeating as "protocol." When it was lunch time that was "protocol." When we had to come back - that was protocol. When Sasha had to be with me to hand in papers - that was protocol. Everything was just protocol.
Stas sat behind the desk. The desk was located at the dimmest part of the room. It was there he dictated to me my confession. I wrote it out in English; my translator wrote it out in Russian. I was signing a paper that said I was guilty. There was a terrible effect in my soul that was breaking my spirit by writing out this confession, and I could not bear it. So, in English - I slipped in one sentence: "I never intended to break the law and was not under the impression I did." It was my only defense for me to feel like I was not being completely stripped away of what I knew to be true.
I was not entitled to a lawyer because it was only an adminstrative rule that was broken and not a criminal one. I was told if I did not sign this paper they would arrest me, and although I would have welcomed this earlier, we were already so far into this process I did not want to stay in Russia any longer.
I was fingerprinted in some old Soviet style. Stas said it's an old way but still works. He smeared sticky ink and then printed each of my fingers. This is for overstaying. I said, "I feel like a criminal." My translator said, "You are a criminal now."
Stas knew what we were talking about and said in Russian, "Well, what would happen to me if I overstayed in America?"
And I said, "They would deport you. And I want this."
Stas didn't like the answer. Soon - I would be going to court.
I didn't go back to Sasha's place that night. I don't really know how, but I found a few students (all of which come from good families) to let me stay in their place tonight. I had too much shame and too much guilt for making Sasha walk with me through this kind of hell.