By Dan Goldman
W hat follows is one whole month. It started at my desk one afternoon where I sat drawing a comic that likely contained a fart joke. A pop-up window from my Calendar leapt up in front of my eyes reading REMINDER: DAN, YOUR VISA EXPIRES IN 30 DAYS.
According to the research we’d done at the Brazilian consulate in Miami before leaving the States, my initial tourist visa (good for 3 months, extendable to six months with another round of paperwork) wouldn’t matter in Brazil because I was married to a brasileira. We just had to register our marriage with Brasilia (all the federal agencies live in the nation’s capitol) and then I could swap out my visa for my RNE [Registro Nacional de Estrangeiros = national registration of foreigners], which would give me permanent resident status in Brazil. With just the tourist visa, I could remain up to six months in Brazil before having to leave and reapply from outside the country, but with an RNE, I’d be free to come and go as I pleased as long as I set foot in Brazil even one day every two years. Clearly the better deal for a little bit of paperwork.
I called Lil at work and let her know about the visa’s 30-day countdown… and had to immediately hold phone away from my ear while she screamed. As I brought the phone back to my ear she asked: “Why didn’t you remind me about this sooner?!?”
“Because we have a whole month to fill out that visa extension paperwork. A MONTH.”
“Honey, I love you but you don’t know shit about Brazil. The burocracia [bureaucracy] is the single fucking worst thing about this country; any Brazilian will tell you that. I truly ope we can get this done in time. Get together your passport, last plane ticket stubs and your cartão de entrada [entrance card, given upon arrival in country] and meet me in Centro in 30 minutes, okay?” I was rattled, and like a good little gringo husband, did exactly as I was told.
Half an hour later, I’m a fish in a school of pedestrians walking along Avenida São João past a row of mulheres de melância [watermelon-assed women] hookers in matching white pants. Lil is waiting for me outside this charming old colonial governmental office building with a plastic legal envelope full of documents under her arm and we go upstairs. Once up there, it was exactly what you’d expect: take a number, flickering fluorescent lights, take a seat in a broken plastic chair, wait and wait. Our number’s called pretty fast and we headed to the counter, Lil doing the talking to the pimply young woman who asks me questions in a thick nordestino [northeastern] accent I cannot understand before realizing Lil will be fielding all my answers. She showed the woman the visa stamp in my passport, our marriage certificate from the USA, my cartão de entrada. There’s a babble and rabble and we leave. Lil’s angry. Once the elevator door closes, she stamps her feet and the old elevator shakes and groans. I see us plunging to our deaths at the bottom of the elevator shaft.
“You see?? Goddamn it, this is only the fucking beginning!!” Her arms were folded. I didn’t understand what was going on, so I asked. “The government’s website told me I needed these seven pieces of documentation, but they told me the wrong ones. That stupid cow behind the counter just shrugged and said the government’s website was out of date, so now we have to go home, get different papers and come back here.”
So we did that. And we went back. And then the Stupid Cow said we needed to walk down to the cartório [notary office] to get some of our papers notarized with signatures, stamps and foil stamps with holograms on them. When we got there they were closed.
“Typical. Now we have to do this tomorrow.” But tomorrow was a Saturday and the cartório was closed until Monday. Twenty-six days remaining.
Monday morning came and we went to the cartório, where they told us that in order to notarize the necessary documents, we’d need additional forms of identification and proof of residence. “But nobody at the other office told us we needed those”, Lil countered. The old woman behind the counter with too much makeup and a wispy mustache handed us a paper with REQUISITOS REVISTOS [revised requirements] printed across the top, dated three days ago. Lil shot me a look that could curdle milk. She took a deep breath and nodded and we went back home. By the time we got back, the office doors were locked; inside, the entire staff was gathered around a small color TV watching um jogo de futebol [a soccer game] with their backs to the door, pretending they couldn’t hear us tapping our housekeys against the glass.
Tuesday: back to the cartório. They told us we had everything we needed but four passport photos. No one told us we needed them, not even the revised requirements paper. We walked further downhill towards Glicério (one of the more dangerous neighborhoods in Centro) to the Poupa-Tempo [save-time], a massive office complex housing many small government/municipal agency offices in a single building, designed to minimize stress from bureaucracy. Cue laugh track. My photos were taken and printed, we got handed another revised requirements paper, this time dated today. According to this new revision, we don’t have the right materials with us anymore and have to go home once again. We returned to the cartório later in the afternoon and were able to get our things notarized correctly. Lil explained to me that every step in this process costs money, every office has their hand out: from the notary to the passport photographer to the Poupa-Tempo offices to the parking lots around these offices, the bureaucracy here is an industry unto itself. It was approaching four-thirty and we ran back uphill to that office near the hookers, made it upstairs before they closed the gate on us. The same cow-girl was there. We got called up fast and she looked over the now-notarized visa extension papers, the multiple copies of notarized American marriage licenses, the first round of RNE applications… and snorted, handing our papers back to Lil: “Moça, não podemos concluir seu aplicação porque seu documento original devem ser autenticadas nos EUA.” [We cannot complete your application because your original document must be notarized in the USA.]
Lil sucked her teeth and quietly asked if she’s expected to fly back to the USA, notarize the document for this girl who may or may not be using the currently-updated requirements for the visa extension, and then fly back in order to complete our application. Stupid Cow stared back at her, nodding com cara de pau [with a wooden face] and snaps her chewing gum. Lil cleared her throat as her body seemed to catch fire with a cold and wicked flame of pure hatred that passed through my own body, aging me one full year. She took my hand in hers (it was shaking) and led me back out to the elevator like a child. They rattled the accordian gate closed behind us as we left the building.
“What are we going to do?” I did the math on my fingers. “We now have twenty-four days to renew my visa before I have to leave and reapply from the States.”
“Well, obviously we’re not going to spend thousands of dollars to fly back to New York just to take care of this; who do we know there that will help us?” I scroll through my mental rolodex; my youngest cousin moved there just as we left after living abroad in Japan for many years. We devised our plan over bowls of misso lamen [miso noodle soup]: I would international-overnight our original marriage license to my cousin and he would physically walk the license upstairs to the Brazilian consulate in Midtown for us and have it notarized and authenticated, then overnight it back to us. I called him and he agreed.
Twenty-four days left minus two days in transit to New York, one day to drop-off, two days for the consulate to process, one day to pick-up, two more days in transit back to us. 24 – 2 – 1 – 2 – 1 – 2 = SIXTEEN DAYS REMAINING on my visa by the time the notarized license was back in my hands.
We were drinking heavily by this point.
Back to the visa office eight days later, everything in hand. “Thank fuck that stupid cunt isn’t working today”, Lil smiled daintily through her teeth. We were called up and presented our revised-revised-revised-revised paperwork, everything proper and in order to the letter. The woman handling us was older and matronly, large breasts under her sweater pointing towards her shoes. These are the things I remember. She walked away from the counter and was gone for fifteen minutes; no one asked us to take a seat, no one looked up from their cellphones at all.
When Droopy-Boobs came back, she asked Lil: “Onde está a tradução autenticada da licença? [Where is the notarized translation of the license?]” I took a step back and saw Lil’s spine twist and seize up in anger-induced instant menangitis. Another deep breath. She calmly took my hand again, led me downstairs. Back outside the government building in the street, she handed me her bag to hold, balled her hands into fists and screamed from some untapped river of lava deep inside her core: “PUUUUUUUTAAAA QUE PARRRIIIÓOOOO!!! [literally: Whore Who Gave Birth... it’s a bad, bad Brazilian curse]”.
A professorial older man with thick glasses and hairy ears stopped in front of her and hooked his thumbs into his Members Only jacket: “Burocracia, heim? Filhos da puta, os ladrões do governo… [Bureaucracy, eh? Sons of whores, those government thieves.]”
The next morning we went to an area of Centro new to me to drop off our US-notarized license to be translated at an agency recommended by Lil’s dad; they apparently specialized… this kind of bullshit. They told us they have to send it out to their Brasilia office and that the translation will be ready for pickup in ten days; Lil bargained with the girl behind the counter and got it down to eight. Fifteen minus eight equals ONE WEEK REMAINING now if you’re keeping track. From here, it becames my job to spend the next week helping my lady unclench her angry body with triple the love and attention and gratitude for all her stress and hard work and quasi-patience that made this visa thing suddenly a full-time job for us both.
A week later, we arrived back at the translation office where the chubby girl at the front desk handed us our envelope marked “Goldman, Daniel.” I opened it to make sure everything was in order… and the passport was from Colombia for a woman named Melba. My own American passport and the now-globe-circling notarized original marriage license was nowhere to be found. We sat and waited in the lobby reading old computer magazines that announced the launch of the iPhone for about an hour before Gordinha [Chubby Girl] informed us that our documents turned up at the Brasilia office in an envelope labeled for Colombian Melba and would take another three days to arrive in São Paulo. They apologized profusely and took our home address, offering to to SEDEX [Brazil’s Fedex] the papers directly to me at home.
By this point we were both shaking with anger, because after all this, we were really cutting shit close. By the time to documents arrived, I’d be four days away from ILLEGAL ALIEN status.
The documents did arrive at our building, a day later than promised (naturally). “So we’re ready to go then…?” I asked Lil. She nodded, stopped to think, and bit her lip.
“No. Let’s go to the cartório again first and get this fucking translation notarized, just in case. There’s not enough time to play around.” I agreed; she’s a smart one.
We did that. We then went back to the government building and both the gum-chewing cow and Saggy Boobs were behind the counter this time. Lil slapped the revised-revised-revised-revised-revised-revised-revised package onto the table and Saggy Boobs disappeared into the back office again.
Our hearts sank. We were out of time for any more of this shit. Saggy came out ten minutes later, looking pale and grim: “Tudo bem [all good],” she announced. Everything was in order and approved to be sent off Brasilia.
Lil and I leapt in the middle of the office like an Toyota commercial. They explained to me that I’d receive my CPF [Cadastro de Pessoas Físicas, my Brazilian social security number] in two months but I’d likely wait 12-24 months for my RNE to be processed. In the meantime, having no RNE meant I still couldn’t legally earn money (although with my CPF I can certainly pay income taxes) or have a bank account here or open a business. But I could stay in Brazil legally, with complications:
Without the RNE, I still couldn’t come and go as I pleased; while I wasn’t bound to the tourist visa anymore, my passport had (and still has) an em processo [in-process] sticker in it. In order for me to travel outside Brazil, we have to physically report to the Policía Federal and fill out paperwork telling the government where I’m going and when I’ll be back… every time.
Conveniently, inside the P.F. building there is also the Office of Naturalization, where you can inquire about the status of your RNE. Just prior to trip back to the States to see my family for Thanksgiving, we did just that. The man behind the counter wore a large wooden crucifix around his neck and possibly a lemon wedge in his mouth. When he typed my processo number into the system, nothing came up. After calling Brasilia, he informed us that my RNE application was actually approved after six months (not the 18-24 we were told) but went unclaimed for ninety days and had been deleted the system. We were floored, flabbergasted. Before we could even mold our emotions into words, he handed us a slip of pink paper with a URL on it and repeated the exact language printed on it: that we needed to keep checking This Here Government Website to see if the RNE application was ready to be claimed.
Lil’s face turned to glass: “Mas ninguém nos enviou um cartão postal, ninguém nos chamou, ninguém nos mandou um e-mail! [But nobody sent us a postcard, nobody called us, nobody emailed us!]” The Man with the Wooden Crucifix shrugged and tapped a yellowed fingernail on the pink slip of paper again; we had irritated him. “Então gente temos que fazer todo o processo novamente? [So we have to do the whole process again?]
The motherfucker tapped the URL on the paper again, clearly giving zero shits. He sighed, looked past us and moaned “Próximo! [Next!]”
Next time: ”The Brazil You Think I Moved To”
Previously in TOUCANNUÍ:
Part 00: Intro: Dead Yorkie, a dead dog and mission statement of sorts
Part 01: A Month by the Sea, in which the journey begins in a red minivan
Part 02: Bem-Vindo, mostly airplane and airport
Part 03: Tanta Chuva, about a rainy first day in-country
Part 04: The View from São Joaquim, meet the new joint
Part 05: The Fruits of Feirinha, a greenmarket odyssey
Part 06: Ser Estrangeiro, on being a foreigner
Part 07: Nova Express, the brain’s first language level-up
Part 08: Bonito, Part I, the family Christmas trip to the wild begins
Part 09: Bonito, Part II, bacon-flavored fish & piranha soup
Part 10: Bonito, Part III [fim], river magic and bye-bye
Part 11: This Will Be Our Year, a new year, a clean slate, grandparents
Part 12: Velorio, a funeral with animal spirits
Part 13: Post-Dictatorship Spending Disorder, urban Brazilians & their money
Part 14: Global Digital Speedbump, the working-abroad dream sours