Friday, October 8, 2004

In the Loupe, Chapter 4

So I had my first taste of Guadeloupan red tape. They told me I needed to get a "carte de séjour" (work permit) to replace my temporary one. Who are They, you ask? I have no idea. But that's what They said. Now, I have a French passport, which makes this not only unnecessary, but, according to the French consulate in Toronto, illegal. You can't have a work permit and a passport. I say this to Them but They're not sure - a little nervous, I should just get it checked out.

So I take the morning off work and Karine and I go to the préfecture - some kind of government building dealing with passports and such, and I don't know what the word is in English but have a sneaking suspicion it sounds just like préfecture and I'm betraying my worldy ignorance - making sure to get there before 8:00 to get a ticket, because after that it's busy - there will probably be a good 35 people in line.

Get out of the car at 7:15, wander around looking for a sign or some indication that we're in the right place, and there's nothing until we turn a corner and there are no fewer than 300 people sitting outside a building in the sun, mostly frustrated Haitians, and the building is closed. Are they in a line? No. Does anyone know what's going on? No. What will happen when the doors open at 8:00? There is a limited number of tickets and then they shut down, so we imagine there will be a mad rush for the door and we (by which I mean "I", as Karine takes one look and says I'm going in alone!) will get crushed to a desperate, hot death. So we leave.

Back at the inspection office everyone is agreeing that, indeed, a passport negates any need or even right to have a work permit, this is ridiculous... but if They said it, then it's better to make sure. Don't worry, says someone, I have a friend at the préfecture. A confusing telephone call ensues and I have committed Wednesday, my day off, to meeting some lady at some building and talking about my passport.

Wednesday: climb the hill to the préfecture - ah yes, those hills - and wait in the meeting place until 12:00, our meeting time, until 12:10, 12:20... what is going on? Wander around the building but the info desk is closed from noon to 2:00. Stand there kind of like an idiot and finally decide to leave, and some nice lady asks me what I'm doing there and takes me to find this Dominique. We find her, and she has absolutely no recollection - it was less than 24 hours earlier! - of our phone call the day before, plus I don't know the name of her friend and it's all very confusing...

We finally get upstairs to the lady who's in charge of foreigners. I present my problem: I have a French passport, so I don't need a carte de séjour. She agrees, Dominique agrees, I should be good to go. But first she has to explain to me that I don't need a carte de séjour. I know, I say. I kind of figured that. So is there anything I have to do? Any paper I have to fill out and send to someone? Photocopy my passport? Good idea, she says, and photocopies my passport. Because, really, I don't need a carte de séjour and a passport, she explains again - in case I missed it the first three times, or in case I'd forgotten since I suggested it myself. Then she shows me my name on a list of foreigners who have yet to apply for their carte de séjour - can I be taken off this list? I ask. Oh, no, that's impossible. Why is it impossible? It just is. But it's not like you need a carte de séjour....

Thirty minutes later, exhausted from trying to keep up with this absurd conversation, I am finally on my way out the door. I have learned nothing that I didn't know going in, I still don't know who They are or how to settle my business with Them - Karine said that you need a carte de séjour in case you get stopped and asked for papers by the police. And I can just show them my passport. And apparently that's all there is to it.

Good times in Guadeloupe!

But it doesn't matter, first of all because in perspective, with those hundreds of stranded and poor Haitians, I've got good luck coming out of my ass. And second, because school is awesome. The kids are amazing, minus that one class, eager and fun and bright and they can even sing. AND they think I'm a rockstar. I told you about the kids running up and excited? Nothing next to my first day at Circonvallation, my favourite school with the best two teachers. I arrived at the end of the lunch break and they knew who I was from our initial introduction day, so a few kids came up and said "hello! my name is...!", really cute. Then all of a sudden the other kids came to see what was going on, and then EVERY SINGLE KID on the playground, which was about seven classrooms' worth, were standing in a mob around me, yelling their names and anything they know in English, trying to touch my hands. And with my heavy bags and all the pushing, I actually was pushed down to the ground! I was there on my knees, laughing and laughing, surrounded by kids in English class hysterics, until the principal broke it up. I saw them again on Thursday and they were excited but I think the mobbing is over. But let me tell you, it marked me. English class is their favourite time of day, and I am walking into a very good situation. They'll do anything I ask them: sing any song, play any game, repeat anything; they're so excited, all the time.

Let's hope it lasts...


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