Immigration

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that anything that has to do with immigration gets my gag reflex going. For those of you who want to know if we got married in the U.S. or Costa Rica first (because yes, it matters in the process), we married in the U.S. first and then got it certified in CR. We turned in our paperwork almost right after getting back from our wedding, but there were some complications and one of our papers expired before we could get scheduled for a meeting with immigration. Side note: we were paying a lawyer (who was a family friend) good money to take care of these things for us, but we found out too late that she was not doing her job very well.

While reading over our documents one night, it hit me that my tourist visa would be expiring in one week and that due to the meeting complications, I was going to be illegal here. Not to mention that I already had a job … which if you don’t have the correct papers, can lead to a swift deportation. Don’t take this lightly, I’ve seen normal people deported from CR before. I started sweating immediately and we called our lawyer. She casually confirmed my suspicions and said I need to leave the country immediately (this was the moment that the family friendship started to deteriorate).

After a minor breakdown and hours of ranting, we bought bus tickets for several days later and hightailed it out of there. We went to Bocas del Toro, a small chain of Panamanian islands near the southern coast of Costa Rica. Minus the panicking and the exhaustion of several buses and water taxis, the trip turned out to be a blessing. It almost made up for the fact that we didn’t get to go on a honeymoon and it was honestly one of the first times since we had gotten married that we felt relatively normal.

While the trip was a blessing, the residency process was not. We finally were given appointments with immigration and did what we had to do, but no matter how organized I was, something always went wrong. Like “they lost our original marriage certificate” kind of wrong. I mean, I should have never given them the original document, but I was naïve to the ways of the Costa Rican filing system (i.e. possibly nonexistent).

I was also unaware of how difficult it was to get fingerprinted here. At the time, there was only one place in the capital to get fingerprinted for the residency process. The first time I showed up, I was oblivious to the line stretching out the gate and around the block. After waiting far too long, I overheard one of the guards saying something about running out of numbers. Only the first 50 people in line were allowed to be fingerprinted that day and I was not one of those first 50 people. The next time around, I decided I would be there when the doors opened at 7:30 a.m. Unfortunately, I was not the only person to have that thought. In fact, I wasn’t among the first 50 people to have that thought. Fail. I approached the guard and asked what time she thought I should arrive in order to be among the first 50. She thought getting there between 1-2 hours before opening time would suffice. Sooo, basically camp out at the crack of dawn. I’ll admit it; I had to have a crying/cursing Costa Rica session in my car to pull it together. After my pity party, I went back to the guard and asked her if there was any other way. She told me that sometimes they would give out more numbers in the afternoon if there was space. The next week, I rolled up in the afternoon hoping for the best. There were huned’s of people there. I went up to my guard (we were becoming fast friends) and she had sympathy on me. She took me to another line and told me to wait there. Besides getting the stink eye from all those people I had apparently just cut in front of, I was feeling pretty confident.

As I came to the front of the (shorter) line, another guard asked me if I had brought the correct seals. What seals? No one had mentioned seals, the instructions I had been given didn’t say anything about seals, and can I bribe someone to ignore the fact that I didn’t have seals? No. Go look around the block and ask at the banks and law offices, they probably have them. I literally ran around the block looking for the seals and of course, no one had them. Finally, desperate and furious, I stopped at a little soda (which is like a little hole in the wall restaurant), and the cook sold me some seals for 20 cents as she served up some rice and beans to another customer. What the…?

By now, I’m panting and sweating and all my guard friends are cracking up at the poor gringa’s plight. I must have done something right though, because as they laughed, they let me pass everyone in line. Success. Not only did I get fingerprinted that day, but I made friends with some guards who clearly needed some comic relief and found an unlikely love for a greasy cook selling 20 cent stamps and Diet Coke.

And then we waited … a long time. About two years in, we finally called the immigration office regarding my visa and I remember overhearing Albin talking to the lady and getting increasingly frustrated with her (which is unusual because Albin is often much more merciful in situations like these). She refused to help us because she said it was impossible that my residency had taken that long and that residencies are processed within 90 days. Albin assured her that wasn’t the case for us and that we just had a question. Nope, a two year wait was impossible and therefore she could not answer our question. He hung up with a prompt “gracias por nada” (thanks for nothing).

Two and a half years later, I was finally given my temporary residency permit; even though it would expire after one year, there were tears of joy that day. I am currently waiting for my permanent residency permit that I get through having my baby in Costa Rica (anchor child anyone?) and I was told it would only take 90 days to be processed. That’s what I was told in regards to my temporary permit, so I’m not getting my hopes up this time. The 90 day limit is today, so I’ll keep you posted.

Immigration processes and policies are definitely a complicated matter. Albin and I have been praying about and considering moving back to the U.S., but we’re trying to come to terms with the inevitable high cost, long wait, and load of work it will take to make that kind of thing happen. It’s intimidating, overwhelming, and humbling (especially when immigrantion is a hot topic right now and people aren’t careful with their comments). Trying to do things correctly and legally through the immigration system is frustrating enough to make even Donald Trump think twice about his hateful assumptions (fun fact: Did you know Trump is married to an immigrant?).

Moral of the story: residency processes just suck. Accept it and move on. No matter where you’re applying, prepare yourself to receive a different answer from everyone you ask about ANYTHING, to spend a lot of money in filing fees (and seals apparently), and to wait. If you are married to (or are going to marry) someone from another country, you said “I do” to lines in immigration offices. Embrace it.Try to have a good attitude and enjoy the ride. All that hard work means you get to live with your foreign dreamboat, and even Trump can attest to that :).

Sidenote: If you’re not going through immigration processes, try to have some grace with immigrants despite the current attitude of condemnation that is so popular in the U.S. right now.  Not everyone trying to get into the U.S. is a druglord or rapist. As evidenced by the devastating story of the Syrian children who drowned this past week as their family tried to escape the war- you never know what extreme circumstances are bringing someone to take desparate measures. That Syrian father wanted was a better life for his family, can we blame him? That could have been you or me, risking everything to give our family a peaceful future. Don’t be quick to judge, friends, almost all of our families were immigrants at some point. 

Crossing the border into Panama

Crossing the border into Panama

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Our First Car (First Year Fails: Part IV)

Our first car was an old, faithful ‘92 Nissan Sentra. Albin and that car had a profound love for one another. I, however, learned to drive a stick in Costa Rica in that car, and I’m pretty sure it never forgave me. I have a lot of not-so-fond memories of Albin trying to gently teach me how to go over muertos (speed bumps are appropriately called “dead bodies” in CR) and me freaking out and stalling every time.

About the same time we were going through our apartment disaster, it came time to perform the annual car revision. You have to pass the revision in order to get a little sticker in your window that says you’re good to drive. If you get caught without the little sticker, you can lose your license. Even though our car wasn’t in the best shape, we weren’t too worried and assumed we would pass the revision.

It failed.

I’m not a car person, but something about a hose was messed up. We got the hose fixed and about a week later we went back to do the revision again.

Failed again.

The second time, it had something to do with the muffler and too much exhaust. That little fix was a bit more expensive and time consuming, so it took a few weeks. After that was fixed, we took the car back for a revision.

Failed.

Are you kidding me? Why were they picking on us? There were much crappier cars out there and they were passing! I was starting to get mad. It was a conspiracy! We switched mechanics and this guy claimed that he had all the tools to do the revision in his shop so we would have an idea if we would pass or not. I can’t remember what he found, but he fixed that up and it wasn’t cheap.

By now, our car saga was gaining some fame. Every day we had people asking if our car had passed or not and people were recommending mechanics to us by the dozen.

This next time we were sure our car would pass, so Albin was going to swing by and do the revision quickly after work. That day, I was anxiously eating my fingernails because we were getting precariously close to the expiration date on our sticker. Since we’d spent all of our money on fixing up our car, our dogs, and on buying antibiotics to fight the pneumonia we got from our rotting apartment, one more tab from the mechanic wasn’t in the budget. As I was sitting there praying that the car would pass, I get a call from a defeated Albin announcing that we had yet again FAILED.

FAILED! WE FAILED REVISION FOUR TIMES. Who does that?

Not only did we fail the fourth revision, but Albin said that as he was in the revision and they were running the tires and engine to check for exhaust, the car literally blew up and smoke started furiously pouring from the hood. He said it made quite a scene and the guys just stopped the revision right there and Albin dejectedly pulled away. He then told me that he was currently on the side of the road and that we might be a little late to Bible study that night because the car kept exploding and overheating.

Two hours later my defeated man walked into our rotting apartment and said that he didn’t think we would make it to Bible study. I started laughing hysterically, mostly to keep from crying hysterically.

We switched mechanics (again) and after paying for a bunch of new parts and slyly avoiding all traffic officials who would happily fine us for driving far past our revision date, our car was ready to go. We both went to the revision and it was the most agonizing process ever. I got an ulcer while we waited for the results in the parking lot. Albin went back in to get our score and came out slowly.

“Well?” I screamed.

He shook his head sadly and just before I was about to lose it, he started to smile and shouted, “We passed!”

Tears of joy were flowing. I jumped into Albin’s arms and we raised a holy hallelujah. We were celebrating like we’d won the lottery. I’m sure those revision workers got a good laugh that day.

 

Our First Apartment (First Year Fails: Part III)

Getting your first apartment with your man is a fairly exciting ordeal. Once we received the appliances that we bought on our “honeymoon,” we had a lot of fun setting that 10’x10’ hole-in-the-wall up. We moved in right after we married in December and it treated us pretty well for the first several months. Our only complaint was that the bathroom was attached right to the kitchen/living space, so anytime we had people over, it was inevitable that everyone was privy to what was going down in that bathroom.

Anyway, May marks the beginning of rainy season here in Costa Rica. They weren’t kidding about this place being a rainforest; it rains A LOT. Since it’s not common to have air conditioning or heat here in the city, you have to keep your windows open most of the time–which means things can get pretty musty and moldy. I’ve lost a leather belt and pair of shoes because they literally just molded right in my closet. The month of May also marks the time we adopted our sickly little puppies. If you read my last blog about our puppies, then you know they had ringworm all over them and subsequently gave it to us. Just imagine us trying to rid our tiny, damp apartment of dog fungus. Impossible.

After about a month into the rainy season, we noticed that some slight discolorations were appearing on our bedroom walls. It almost looked like a tie-dye pattern of grey, dusty stuff. We scrubbed them and that seemed to help a little bit for a time.

As the rains picked up though, those slight discolorations multiplied and our walls literally turned black. There were streaks and circles of grey all over the place. As if that wasn’t gross enough, suddenly little bubbles started forming under the wall paint. They started out small but quickly became huge softball-sized pockets of moisture. When the wall paint couldn’t hold any more moisture, they would burst like a pimple and spray water all over our bed. I am not exaggerating people; you can’t make this stuff up. We were seriously living in Tales from the Crypt.  You can see the video below if you’re interested. It’s not great quality and I switch for a few seconds into some wretched Spanish, but you’ll get the main idea.

Turns out, there had been water seeping through the concrete walls and our landlady just painted over the moldy mess before we moved in. Since it was the beginning of dry season when we moved in, we lived in ignorant bliss for several months and she got our money. Not surprisingly, spending a few days in our moldy puss ball room gave us both a fun case of Bronchitis which quickly turned into Pneumonia for Albin. We were both so sick that we didn’t have the energy to fight with our landlady who claimed innocence and took forever to fix the problem. We just rotted in bed alongside our sick nasty walls, tried not to scratch the itchy ringworm from our dogs, and prayed for Divine intervention. I’m shuddering just thinking about it.

There is no moral to this story, nor is there any wise insight to impart. I think that rotting apartments and piece of junk cars are a sort of rite of passage early on in marriage. In my mind, being able to tell our kids someday about our first car and apartment gives us some credibility when we tell them how good they’ve got it. Then I’ll bust into some “Living on a Prayer” for full dramatic effect. Until then, though, these first year fail posts are a great reminder to me of how far we’ve come … and seeing as our current walls aren’t popping like pimples, I’d say we’re moving on up.

 

Our Poopies (First Year Fails: Part II)

About five months into the madness, Albin finally convinced me that he absolutely HAD to have a dog. At this point we were still living in our rotting apartment (we’ll get to that another day), so I was more than a little hesitant. Apparently his mother had heartlessly deprived him of his childhood dream of having a dog, so it was a big deal to him. To give you an idea of how much Albin loves dogs, I’ll recount an exact quote from Albin: “Tricia, do you know what I would do if we had a million dollars? I would buy tons of land and save tons of homeless puppies.” He refers to all dogs as puppies, even if they’re all old and crusty. My favorite part is that for a long time, he would always confuse the word and call them “poopies.”

One day, we went to go check out the “poopies” at the local refuge. Albin literally bounced through the gate. There was a gringa volunteer working that day and she saw Albin’s bleeding heart and instantaneously took over. She showed us a kennel where four little poopies were playing. As soon as we got there, Albin says, “Can we get them?” Me: “Like all of them??? Are you kidding me?” The peppy volunteer lady told me that they wouldn’t get very big. Right.

The lady told us how they thought the poopies were only six weeks old and that they hadn’t received proper nutrients since their mother had left them. I could see Albin’s eyes starting to tear up and I knew how it was going to end. We took home two poopies that day. Albin kept looking over his shoulder at the two left behind, but one of us had to be rational. I kid you not, to this day Albin will randomly mention those two poopies we left and ask if I think someone came to adopt them. Yes. Definitely yes, Albin.

poopies

Brand new poopies

We brought the poopies home and that’s when the fun began. What we didn’t spend in buying a dog with a pedigree, we spent in saving the lives of those dogs. They had every sickness possible: deficiencies in everything, bacteria, impetigo, kennel cough, fleas, diarrhea (everywhere), doggy respiratory infections, allergic reactions, distemper, and fungus. At one point, a not-so-professional veterinarian’s assistant told us in a preschool teacher-like voice that Rocky had distemper and he would die. She also mentioned that if Rocky and Luna had ever shared water, Luna would probably die too. Very encouraging. Over the course of three months and millions of vet visits later, I am too embarrassed to say how much money we dished out; however, it was substantial. I may not be as big of a dog person as Al, but we weren’t going to let them die, obviously. Miraculously, both dogs are still alive and well today, and Albin is as pleased as punch (ok, I am too).

But, there was the fungus. We started noticing that Rocky and Luna had little spots all over them.Their hair began to fall out. I was convinced it was the mange, but after an overpriced vet visit, we found out they had a severe case of doggy ringworm. The vet told us that ringworm couldn’t be passed from canines to humans.

Conveniently, she was wrong.

Not too long after, I started itching all over and quickly developed ringworm spots in EIGHT (!) separate locations on my body. The worst was the one right in the socially unacceptable itching location of my pelvic area. It tormented me. I also had a very obvious one on my neck that my co-workers identified and I adamantly denied. Albin also caught the plague and we were ostracized from society for a good period of time. Even more embarrassing was that before I knew about the fungus, two of our dear friends had come to stay with us and when they returned to the U.S., they realized they had it as well. I was mortified and so.over.it.

Somehow, we all survived and I didn’t ship those dogs back to the refuge. Fortunately, they have immune systems of steel now. They’re still scavengers at heart so they eat whatever animal’s crap they find laying around and lick poisonous frogs, but somehow they always survive.

Luna has some anxiety problems, so she is afraid of anything that moves on its own or makes noise. A plastic bag being blown around the yard is enough to make her hide in the bushes for hours. She also hates mowers, vacuum cleaners, hair dryers, blenders, Mariah’s plastic pool, billowing curtains, the stroller, the printer, open refrigerator doors, crinkly paper, tinfoil, and anything that falls.

Luna hiding

Luna hiding in the bushes while I was vacuuming the house

Rocky is a special case as well. If I truly believed in Karma, I would believe that God was punishing him for his deeds in his past life. He has no teeth, no balls, and no tail; no teeth, because he apparently didn’t get enough calcium when he was a puppy. He only has a few little snaggleteeth here and there, so he swallows everything without chewing. He is the most selfish dog on the planet, so if that means he has to swallow a six inch rawhide bone so Luna won’t steal it, he will. This also means that his tongue isn’t held in his mouth by any teeth, so it is just hanging out the side. We made the decision for him to have no balls, but we should all be thankful he wasn’t allowed to procreate. The missing tail is a mystery. Luna is his sister and she has a tail, so we don’t know why he doesn’t. We affectionately refer to his stump as the “mullet chunk.” It has short hair in the front and then a long tuft hanging off of it like a little chunky mullet. I think it must tickle his little butthole because he’s always chasing after it in circles. He is ridiculous, but makes me laugh every day.

Rocky Tongue

Notice Rocky’s Tongue

The Mullet Chunk

The Mullet Chunk

At the end of the day, I suppose the hundreds of dollars that we spent on saving their lives were worth it. Luna loves us with an undying devotion and is clearly thankful we saved her life. Rocky has no conscience and would never let us know he is thankful for anything unless it was a rack of ribs; but I know God gave him to us for comic relief. Even though Rocky’s sole purpose in life is to sneak into Mariah’s room to smell her dirty diaper bin and then run around the yard with my freshly re-planted baby avocado trees in his mouth, I really do love him. He and Luna just add yet another random dimension to this already crazy thing we call our family, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Rocky guarding a green bean he scavenged off of the floor

Rocky guarding a green bean he scavenged off of the floor

Luna guarding Mariah

Luna guarding Mariah… at least one of them has their priorities straight

 

Our Non-Honeymoon (First Year Fails: Part I)

I decided that following my last post about the miscarriage we had after our first month of marriage,  I’m going to post a series of blogs about our first year of marriage. You may think I’m being dramatic when I say that our first year was an epic fail; but in this case, I’m not being dramatic. The only two things that didn’t fail: God (because He doesn’t), and our actual marriage commitment (oh, but it came close). Our honeymoon, my residency, our health, our communication, our living situation, our dogs (at first), our Nissan Sentra, my job– they were all a mess. Some of those circumstances were comical (or at least they are now) and some of them were devastating blows to our marriage. Either way, by the time we got to our first anniversary, we felt like we’d been married for ten years. During that time, people who didn’t know us well would continually give us the provocative eyebrow raise and make references about how we were in the “honeymoon period,” but really had no idea that we were barely surviving that special sexy season. Then they would say, “Just wait until year seven, then it really gets difficult.” I think we died inside just a little bit every time we heard that.

Lest you fret that this series of blogs will be entirely negative, this first entry is pretty light and comical, mostly because it was RIGHT after we got married. I can also say that even though a lot of crappy things happened our first year, we did survive, and we’re stronger for it. We’ve struggled immensely, fought hard, and loved well. We’ve come to know each other in amazing ways and have a profound respect for each other now that we’ve seen how the other responds to difficulty. Most importantly, we’ve learned that Christ is the center of our marriage and have come to understand that He is the only reason any marriage is truly successful. I hope these posts are encouraging to any of you who aren’t living a Facebook photo-worthy marriage or feel like you missed the boat on the good old honeymoon period …

Albin was able to get two weeks off for our wedding. He flew to Cincinnati, we got married six days later, flew back to Costa Rica three days later, bought a bed and settled into our apartment for one night, and then spent the next night at my suegra’s (mother-in-law’s) house for our excursión the next day. Excursión sounds so much more exotic than it really is. Basically, appliances are expensive in Costa Rica since they have an import tax placed on them. To get around the import tax, there is a tax-free zone, called “Golfito,” in the southern part of the country. It’s very common to go to Golfito  through an excursión, which is when a company with a bus takes care of your transportation and lodging for your trip. Each person is allowed to spend $1,000 in Golfito per year, so my suegra and Albin’s abuela (grandma) went with us so we could divide up our money to buy our big appliances (found out later that everyone is allowed to spend $2,000 per year, which means suegra and abuela didn’t need to go after all). Back to the story.

We spent the night at my suegra’s and slept in abuela’s single bed (this was the 5th night of marriage, mind you) the night before our expedition. At 5 a.m. we got to the bus stop and a large and in-charge Tica woman named Doña Adelita welcomed a big group of us. We arrived in Golfito in six hours with no problem. We were greeted by a wall of humid heat the minute we got off the bus. By now you know about my sweating problem, so you can imagine. Doña Adelita got up and gave us the “rules.” That day we had three hours to make all of our purchases. We would leave promptly after three hours and head for the border of Panama, where we would spend the night in their “accommodations” and have a chance to shop at the border crossing (i.e. seediest place in the Western Hemisphere). The following day we would return and have two hours to pick up our purchases and get them ready to be shipped back home (it was a rule).

I don’t know how to even describe how this all went down. If you remember the game show “Supermarket Sweep,” then you’ll have an idea. We literally had to run from place to place, comparing prices, bargaining, and buying in 100 degree heat. It was so stressful. Three hours may seem like a lot until you realize you have to compare, bargain, and buy your washer, dryer, oven, microwave, fridge, pots, pans, toaster, blender, Crockpot, and television–all in different stores. On top of that, add in suegra and abuela giving their opinions and telling us what to do, Albin trying to translate everything since I was lost in life, and the lack of sleep due to just getting married. Just imagine me panting and sweating with a deer-in-headlights look on my face as all that bartering and opinionating is going on in Spanish. In literally no time, Doña Adelita was blowing her foghorn and saying it was time to go. Right now.

We shuffled onto the bus headed for the border. Absolute chaos at the border. We eventually arrived at our accommodations which weren’t anything comparable to a hotel, motel, or Holiday Inn. It was an 8×8’ room and it was ghetto. My suegra and abuela graciously took the bunk beds so we newly-weds could take the double bed (6th night of marriage), locked the door tight, and tried to justify in our heads that all of this was completely normal.

The next morning, Doña Adelita rolled up at 5 a.m. and we went back to the free zone to pick up our items. I swear it was hotter than the day before. We secured all of our items and got all of the receipts in order to go through what is essentially a customs line. As we neared the front of the line, Albin started frantically shuffling through the receipts. He couldn’t find the one from the washer and we wouldn’t be allowed out with our new washer without the receipt. Utter panic ensued. We lost our place in the long line and went running to every store trying to find the receipt. So. Much. Sweat.

As abuela guarded our purchases, we ran around rabidly trying to ignore Doña Adelita’s loudspeaker notifying us that we were about to miss the bus. At the last minute, we found that blessed golden ticket at one of the stores and ran back to the line, begging Doña Adelita not to leave us. She had mercy on us and we were able to get our appliances on the shipping truck.

Back on the bus, I passed out immediately and slept for about two hours. Up until this point, the bus was air-conditioned and was the only respite from the unbearable humidity. Naturally, the air-conditioner was overworked and went out. The windows of the bus were airtight (due to it normally being a bus with AC), so there was no air flow. We started stripping. Then the bus driver had the brilliant idea to turn on a movie to distract us. It was reminiscent of Saw III. Between the gore in the movie, the boiling bus, and the curvy mountain road, someone was bound to get sick. Of course it was the lady next to us. She started throwing up and you can imagine how that went seeing as the windows wouldn’t open. People were moaning the whole way home.

The good news is that we made it home. There was a problem with the shipping truck and we didn’t receive our appliances for four days, which wasn’t a huge problem at first since we slept for two days straight. Things started to become dire when our clothes from the excursion started rotting and smelling up our apartment along with the food that couldn’t be kept cold due to no refrigerator. Oh, and did I mention it was Christmas? We went to Denny’s for Christmas breakfast. Sigh.

Moral of the story: Go on a real honeymoon.  Seriously, I know there was the whole thing about not having enough money, or time off work or needing the appliances, but we TOTALLY regret not having a honeymoon.