Thursday, June 02, 2005

Lying son’s of bitches…

So, excuse me if I seem a bit rushed but I just go back from Vilnius, Lithuania. I was up there mostly to pick up a new visa. I DO NOT go to Poland anymore; period! I also was speaking to some language schools about what sorts of hoops must be jumped through to do some teaching. And I got to see the new Star Wars film, which was to my less-jaded-than-yours eyes completely satisfying and wonderful. And I got to hang out a bit and talk a lot of English and drank a few beers too. But basically I was there fulfilling the requirements for my new visa.
But there was a problem. The problem was that the guy who arranged the invitation for the visa for me lied to me about how much I would be paying for this visa. That is what this is about, don’t you know. I hate being lied to.

When we had our meeting with the this fellow named Durnapaka, the director of a tourist firm here called Roza Petrov, he specifically told me that the visa his firm’s invitation would garner would cost $100 and would only take 15 minutes to secure. I remember asking him about this several times and always he was smiling and secure and confident and… slick about it: Yes, the visa will be good, yes, it will be less expensive than a normal one by half. I had obviously been ripped off by the Embassy every time, he knew how to deal with them, he knew what was required and this invitation would indeed result in a $100, three-month visa.

But of course you know because I am writing about it that this didn’t happen and that consequently I had a hard time with this when I was there.

Actually all was going great up in Vilnuse up until this time. I had had pretty good meetings with language schools up until then. I had got to drink a few beers, met some new friends and was looking forward to the movie. Only the rainy weather was a drawback. But then, once I had finally gotten to the window to turn in my paperwork, and this is another thing because it had been an hours wait just to gt there. So much for that 15-mimnutes-in-and-out line. Anyway, I was at the window, I had just slid my passport, photos, application and invitation through the slot when I happened to notice that the guy who was preparing my paperwork had written the number 144 on a small scrap of paper.

- Excuse me…
- Yes?
- That number you have written; it is the amount of Euros you want me to pay for this visa?
- That’s right.
- No, actually it is not. The number I should pay should be no more than 72 Euros.

All of this was in Russian. The guy is a lifetime paper-pusher and didn’t like anybody insinuating that he might not be doing his job correctly. He started to go through his paperwork, finally finding and showing to me through the glass that the particular visa I was asking for was indeed priced as he had said.

- You see, it says so right here. 64 Eros for the visa, 10 for the embassy payment and this is the cost because you are an American and it is doubled because you wish the visa to be completed today.
- I understand what you are saying, but this can not be the correct because I was assured by the Roza Petra firm that the cost would only be $100 and no more.
- Did you want to wait a week for the visa? If you are willing to come back in a week, we can make this visa for you for the price you have mentioned.

And you know this made me mad. Durnapeka had specifically told me that I would not have to pay double.

- I am sorry, this is just not right. I was told something completely different.
- But this is the proper price for this type of visa. You are American, yes?
- Yes.
- Then this is the price.

I was mad.

- No, the price should be only 72 Eros and no more. This I was absolutely assured of.
- Ok, I am sorry, did you want this visa in a week? Because the price you are asking for is the cost of a visa after a one week wait.
- But I don’t want to wait a week. I can’t afford to wait a week. And I was assured that I could receive the visa on the same day and that it would cost only $100.
- I am sorry. Do you want the visa?
- No, I want you to call this Durnapeka fellow and ask him. He said to call him if I had any problems. Obviously I m having problems. Let’s call Durnapeka.
- I cannot make such a call. Would you like to speak to the director?
- Yes I would.

And so they sent me to a glass room at the end of the embassy and I sat down with the director and another fellow at a small round table. There was a telephone on the table.

- What seems to be the problem?
- I was told that I would only have to pay $100 for this visa and you are charging me twice that.
- But this is the price of the visa you are asking for.
- But this is not what I was told.
- Who told you this?
- This guy here on the paper. Durnapeka. He told me this himself.
- This is a tourism company…
- And what?
- Perhaps you would like a tourist visa instead?
- What are you talking about?
- A tourist visa would only cost 64 Euros.
- So you are saying that if I want to pay less, I have to agree to a tourist visa instead of this invitation visa?
- Yes. But you would also need a voucher.
- Why do I need a voucher? An invitation is a voucher.
- I do not see a voucher here. I only see this invitation.
- The invitation is the voucher.
- But I thought you said that you didn’t want this visa. I thought you said you wanted the visa for 64 Euro.
- No, I said I wanted to pay $100 for this three month visa.
- No, the tourist visa is only for one month. And you need a voucher.
- Look, I don’t need a tourist visa, I have an invitation. I don’t need a voucher because the invitation is the voucher. I just don’t understand why I am being asked to pay twice the price what I had been told I would pay.
- I see. Well I can give you this visa for the price you want.
- You can? Thank you. Please do.
- With pleasure. Simply come back next Tuesday and I will give it to you.
- Listen…
- I am listening.
- Durnapeka told me the cost of the visa, same day. This is all I am asking for. And, he also said that if there are anu problems, he should be called. So please, here is a phone: Call Durnapeka.
- You want me to call Belarus?
- Yes, Durnapeka is in Pinsk.
- I am not dialing Pinsk from this phone.
- You want me to do it.
- No, you can’t use this phone.
- Why not?
- Because calling Belarus is a very expensive call.
- What kind of crap is this? You are the Bellarusian embassy. Are you telling me that the Belarussian embassy can’t get a decent deal for calling Belarus?
- What can we do>
- Let’s cut the crap. Either call the guy and let’s get this all straightened out or just give me the visa for the right price.
- I agree. If you wish your visa today, you can pay this price, buy a voucher and take a tourist visa or come back in a week.
- Listen, I don’t know why you guys are playing with me. I just am trying to finish up the work on my vitilnye zhitva. I have a five month old daughter in Belarus and these visa and fees and needing to travel are killing me. I make almost no money from Belarus. I am not rich. I do not have American money. I make what you make, probably less. I am trying to do right by my people and you guys are all robbing me blind of what few pennies I do have. Look. Look at all of these visas in my passport. Look how long I have been here. Look. Look at this picture of my daughter. Listen to the sound of my voice: I am trying to feed them, do you understand. I need this visa so I can be there for them. I am needed and I am doing all I can to help, but you are standing in my way and you are taking food out of my daughter’s mouth. Now, of you can’t understand this, please, just call the guy who arranged for me this visa and talk to him. If you can get him to agree that he had lied to me, I will be satisfied. Or, if he hasn’t lied to me, give me the price of the visa I was told about and let me get back to my family.

Great speech. Maybe a little emotional. But all in all, I thought it was a sound argument. But they didn’t give a shit. Everyone stood up. The director left. The second guy told me that they all had work to do as well. The choice was as he had said and he was not going to call or speak to this Durnapeka fellow. All of this was my problem and if he did not need his time further, he had his job to do.

So you know I paid. It was Poland all over again. You wanna sit and wait and rot, do it. Don’t want to sit, pay the money. Well, it wasn’t really like Poland because in Poland, the guy first runs you over with his car, and then decides that you have to pay to fix his car for him after he does this. So it is not exactly the same. Or is it?

All in all I was there for maybe 4 hours, much longer than the 15 minutes I was advised. I had to go change money and yes, it hurt like hell. Not just that I was having to pay more than I thought that I would. The money itself hurt because this extra $100 is such a huge amount of what money we actually have. And, the extra is also possibly going to eat up what we will need to finish the original bureaucratic process that this visa was a part of.

So what I am going to do about this is what I am thinking about at the moment. Yes, I am going to talk to Durnapeka. I am not going to hack him and his whole staff into pieces with my light-saber, though you now the movie has that fantasy running in my head three shows a day. And I don’t even know what I am supposed to say to him. Except to say that to me at least it is clear that he is a lying son of a bitch. Not that I think that this matters. I mean, calling someone a name doesn’t really hurt so much and also, because of how I had actually agreed to do business with him in the first place, this also sort of makes me a lying son of a bitch as well.

Why? Because the visa that I had applied for was a work visa and the nature of the work was that I would be here to speak of Jewish history and ethnology. That’s why.

We were at Durnapeka’s office simply to have some forms typed. His office does that as well. He called us into his office and asked if he could help. We told him what we were doing and he smiled that he could simplify the matter for us. Simplify it, speed it up and make it easier. He pushed the print button on his computer and slid an invitation across the desk. The purpose of the invitation was for what I had mentioned. Durnapeka had smiled. He told me how much money he needed for the service. I calculated how much we would have to pay to make the invitation ourselves, and when he threw in that the visa would only cost half the money and would only take 15 minutes, we bit. I bit. I took the invitation, and this is what happened.

He told us he could save us money on the visa. We believed that this was the right thing to do at the time.

And you know I never made any claims that I was a vestal virgin or anything. I just don’t revel in it. But it is not like I am so dirty that I don’t notice that it still makes me sick every time it happens. And also, it is hard not to understand that this sort of thing happens every day to people here and they all have to make the same sorts of choices. And they all get just as dirty. And to my mind there is not on goddamned funny thing about it.

Anyway, that’s the news from Lithuania. I am here again and am still doing what I need to do. ETA for the conclusion of the bureaucratic quagmire: 6-weeks more.

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