Friday, November 13, 2009

November 13, 2009: Trip to immigration this morning

Today was much more frustrating than yesterday, although much shorter. We left at 9:45, got photocopies made of the paperwork from yesterday, and were at immigration by just past 10:00. Marie, Lukas, and Katie stayed outside on the rocks under the trees and Helen and I waited in the hallway, where an old man gave me a seat, then a younger woman gave the old man a seat, and everyone was very friendly and talking with Helen. After about half an hour, it was my turn. The lady at the reception desk said that Mrs. Maria is not there and won't be back until December 1st, please come back in December. I said that they must have the file, though--could somebody else help me, please? She sighed, called a colleague, and I got to go into an inner office.
At this point, Helen started fussing, refused to nurse, didn't want to play with anything, and eventually started screaming. She has a very loud, piercing scream. While she was screaming and I was trying to talk with the lady, Katie came in, took her shoes off, and started to roll around on the floor, and when I told her to put her shoes on and stand up, she had a temper tantrum. I sat her on a chair, not particularly gently, and kept trying to talk with the lady who didn't feel particularly responsible for me.

She first tried to tell me that I need to apply for a yellow slip. I explained that we had applied in JANUARY, that we had been there FOUR times already. She finally looked for--and found--our file, and said that I need medical insurance for my "babies". (The Greek word that actually means "baby" is used for children of all ages, and Greek-speakers, even those quite fluent in English, tend to use the word "baby" in English, rather than child. Lukas and Katie do NOT like it when they say that to them, but I digress.) I said, "Yes, I have the E106 here, and the Cypriot medical card." She wasn't the slightest bit interested in the E106, but took the medical card off to photocopy.

Then she came back and said accusingly, "I need to see the E106." I smiled and handed her the E106, which she took off to photocopy.

Then she came back again (Helen was still screaming, by the way, but Katie had gone back outside to Marie and Lukas) and said, "Now we can send your application to Nikosia." I said, "My application has already been SENT to Nikosia, and returned to you here. Mrs. Maria called me and said that I only need to provide proof of medical insurance for the children, then I can be given the yellow slip." She said no, since I'm American, my paperwork all has to be done in Nikosia, they can't do anything here in Larnaka. However, the lady who is doing Mrs. Maria's work at the moment will be in on Monday, so I can come again on Monday as of 7:30, if I want. But everything will HAVE to be sent to Nikosia, and they now have everything required, so there's really no reason for me to come back in on Monday. I asked how long it will take (as last time we were at this point, they said up to five months), and she said one week.

With Helen still screaming, I finally said okay, and left. I got all the children in the car, Helen finally nursed and calmed down, and then I left all the children in the car and went back in. (I ignored lines and simply walked into the inner office.) I asked if it would be possible for ME to go to Nikosia, and she said yes, of course, and gave me a slip of paper with the address. Not having much faith in addresses in the meantime (not to mention that there is no place to look up addresses in Cyprus...), I asked her if she could show me on the map where the immigration office in Nikosia is. She said yes, of course, and she and another colleague spent a very long time looking and my map and pointing out streets that they knew and having some long discussion of which I basically only understood the prepositions and conjuctions (while useful bits of speech, they don't help much in following a conversation), and finally told me no, they couldn't. I asked if they could then give me my paperwork, please, so that I could take it to Nikosia, and they said no, they will send it, that they have to send it to the police there. This made NO sense to me, I explained again that Mrs. Maria had said that everything is done, they were just waiting for the children's medical insurance, but she wasn't particularly interested. I explained that I hope to go to Germany at the beginning of December (oh yeah--that's another story, except that there really isn't one yet, since without the yellow slip, I can't go) and that I'm running out of time, and she said again, "One week."

I went back and sat in the car for a long time, with my head on the steering wheel, ignoring the children's fussing, etc., then finally left, and was home again by 11:15. Jörn called around 12:00 and I told him the story, and he's going to go in Monday morning at 7:30. But at that point, my paperwork will probably all have been sent to Nikosia anyway.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

November 12, 2009: The latest in the immigration saga

I'm just remembering that I never finished the passport saga, so I suppose I should finish that first. We borrowed a friend's car so Jörn could take Lukas to gymnastics and I could go to Nikosia on a Thursday afternoon. I tried somewhere around a dozen times to telephone to confirm that that was really okay, but there was never any answer. Just before leaving town, though, I tried one more time and got an answer--the first lady told me yes, of course, no problem, but she'd just check if her colleague was in that day. Her colleague was in and said no, of course I couldn't renew my passport in the afternoon--only in the morning. So much for that afternoon, although I then did go get new passport photos--at a different place, one Euro less, and four photos instead of two, but with my typical "Yuck--I hate having my photo taken" face. Anyway, I went the following Monday morning leaving home at 6:30. I of course hit rush hour in Nikosia, so didn't get to the embassy until nearly 8:00, and it was about two hours until I was through, but there were no problems, and three days later I got an e-mail telling me my passport was ready to be picked up. The trip to pick it up was totally uneventful--I even left absolutely everything except my car keys and my old passport in the car, to make security easy. (But they had cubbies for purses and such--I'd had to leave the diaper bag there the first time, although when I then said out loud to Helen, "Okay, Helen, no pooping," they did let me take out one diaper and the wipes to take in with me...)

On to the immigraton saga...

First of all, Cyprus is part of the European Union. Jörn and the children are Europeans, and I'm not only married to a European, I have permanent German residency status. Therefore, it should be a very straightforward matter to register our family here in Cyprus. Within a week or two of arriving, Jörn went to the immigration office and got, in writing, a list of what we needed to have in order to register.

I don't remember now exactly what was on that list, although I do know that passport photos were required, and we had to go get photos of Helen taken, but had recent enough ones of everyone else. Jörn went along to the appointment a month or two later, with all the required paperwork, and by himself, as they had specifically said that the rest of us didn't need to come.

At this second meeting, they asked him why he had bothered with certain items, and why on earth he didn't have certain others. A new appointment was made for June, and would he please bring the whole family.

In June we all showed up for the appointment, and after waiting outside for a long time, they called Jörn in, but looked confused about why he had bothered to bring along his wife and five children, and asked us to wait outside. So we waited outside in the parking lot in the June heat of Cyprus while Jörn was inside the air-conditioned building. (There were trees, at least, but no seats.) They changed their mind about certain requirements and asked us to return in July.

In July we all went again, and this time, although most of the meeting was with Jörn alone while we again waited in the parking lot (but this time I had brought water and snacks, at least), they did call us in at the end to check each face against the passports. Jörn and the children were all granted "yellow slips" (not quite residence permits, but the idea is basically the same--legal permission to be here), but the evil American was told that her paperwork had to be sent to Nikosia. They said that it could take up to five months, which would be the end of December, and that if it did indeed take that long, they could no longer give me a yellow slip, as my passport was due to expire June 11th, 2010, and had to be valid for at least six months past date of issue of the yellow slip--in other words, if they took until after December 11th to approve me, then I would no longer be approved. That was one reason I had to get a new passport. (I needed a new one anyway because it was questionable as to whether, when we return to Cyprus next February, they would let me in with a passport only valid for another four months. Some people said three months is fine, but we've heard so much conflicting information for so many countries that it's better not to risk it.)

Then at some point, the immigration office here in Larnaka called and said that they had everything back from Nikosia, and that Larnaka was in trouble with Nikosia for having granted the children yellow slips, as they had "no proof of health insurance." Of course, now it was too late, as they HAD given the children yellow slips, however, ever since then, they've been holding MY yellow slip hostage until we provide sufficient proof of health insurance for the children. (The fact that we have USED this health insurance for four of the children, multiple times and twice at the emergency room, in the 10 months we have been here, is irrelevant.)

I have completely lost track of how many phone calls Jörn has made to Germany and to various offices in Larnaka, and he's visited four or five different offices here, as well, as he's been told at each one that a different one is responsible. We eventually obtained the required E106 form from our health insurance in Germany, which states that Jörn Lange, his wife Sheila Lange, and "all members of his household" are covered by complete health insurance. This form is of course in German, but it's a fill-in-the-blank form, with numbered blanks, and the idea is that these "E" forms ("E" for European--for members of the European Union) are universal. Here in Cyprus, they need only look at a blank form in Greek and see that if box so-and-so is checked on the German form, that means such-and-such. Germany cannot provide us with a form in Greek (or English or any other language)--only in German. That's the whole point of the E-forms. However, despite requiring it of us, nobody in Cyprus has the E106.

Soooo...the latest information we were given (after Jörn called, at my suggestion, the German consulate here in Cyprus) was that we should go to the Ministry of Health in Nikosia and get them to WRITE the children's name on our E106, put a nice official stamp on it, and everything will be fine.

Jörn took Jacob with him today to the worship seminar YWAM is running this week, and at a little past 9:00 I headed to Nikosia with the other four children. Just before 10:00, despite one missed turn, we arrived easily at the address given to us by the German embassy and marked clearly on the brand-new map we have of Nikosia as "The Ministry of Health." I'd enjoyed the slight detour, too, as we saw part of the amazing wall in the center of Nikosia, and I was thinking about how, if the meeting went quickly, we could go to the park at the wall, and maybe I'd phone up my friend Jane and ask if we could come hang out for awhile (she lives very close to there), or maybe I should just head back to Larnaka and get to immigration before they close at 11:30, or maybe we'd go to Ikea and I'd get another spice rack for my miniature books, or maybe we'd look for a decent-sized bookstore, or...well, there were many possibilities!

Pulling up to the building, though, I thought it looked rather deserted, except for the Pizza Hut take-away and the pharmacy on the ground floor, and I thought it was odd that there was no sign of any kind around what appeared to be the main entrance. And parking was very easy--plenty of space in the parking lot behind the building. Well, the very nice lady in the pharmacy told me that the Ministry of Health had moved two years ago, and that it was "verry, verry farr away." She thought it was behind the old general hospital, but she couldn't tell me how to get there, either, and it wasn't even on my map, although she could show me the general vicinity, but again emphasized that it was very far away. I pointed out that I had come from Larnaka and it wasn't as far as that, and I had to go there one way or another, and loaded the children back in the car.

The "other side of town" is starting to look quite familiar--that's where the German and U.S. embassies are--so I figured I'd head over there and probably see a sign for the "Old General Hospital", or at least be able to ask at a gas station or someplace. I didn't see any signs, and Helen was starting to get very upset about being in the car for so long. Traffic was much heavier, I was being distracted by Helen, and I got rather mixed up. I never did find where I was on the map, but by the sun eventually managed to get to the west side of the city and passed by the Presidential palace twice before I finally found a place to park and nurse Helen. I then went into an office supply store, where several of the staff as well as several of the customers were very friendly and helpful, and then finally one staff person who spoke excellent English even drew me a map--to the Old General Hospital, anyway, as she had no idea where the Ministry of Health might be.

I found the Old Hospital without any trouble, but missed the entrance the first time around, so got to drive around it twice, then into the parking lot, no place to park, back out and around the whole block again, and once more into the parking lot where I, probably not entirely legally, but safely, anyway, which is much more than can be said for most of the people parking in Cyprus. This time I left the children in the car and went to ask where the Ministry of Health is.

The lady at the front desk answered, "This is not the Ministry of Health. This is the Old General Hospital." I said "I know, but I was told that the Ministry of Health is very close." She told me to go out the back doors and then I would see the black building. Then I confused her by turning around and walking out the front door, but when I came back in a minute later with four children (and my purse and the bag full of paperwork...) she nodded.

We walked down the very long corridor in the obviously VERY old hospital, went out the creaky back doors, and found ourselves on the sidewalk, with no black building in sight. We walked for awhile, and then saw a modern building on the other side of the street that maybe could be considered black (it was all dark, reflective windows), but there was no sign in English on it. I carefully studied the Greek, but except for "Nikosia" (Lefkosia, actually, in Greek), several prepositions, and the address ("between the rivers", although more accurate would be "between the mostly dry sometimes trickles of water"), I didn't understand any of it. I should have at least found out what "Ministry of Health" is in Greek, but I hadn't.

Anyway, we did walk on a bit, but not seeing anything else that looked promising, we went back and went inside. There were several posters of health-related activities (brusthing teeth, washing hands, etc.) hanging up, so it looked promising. By the time it was my turn at the front desk, it was nearly 12:00. The lady there told me to see "Mrs. Marta, inside", and vaguely waved her hand behind her. There was a short hallway and three or four doors, all of them open, but none of them had the name "Marta" on them. I put my head inside one where there seemed to be a lot of activity and asked (in Greek, this time) where Mrs. Marta was, and the lady there waved vaguely and said (in Greek, at least!), "Inside." I went in the direction I thought maybe she had pointed, but that lady wasn't Mrs. Marta either--it turned out that she was at the back of the first office into which I had looked--inside.

Mrs. Marta didn't speak the most fluent English, but it was certainly hundreds of times better than my Greek, and I tried to explain the situation. All I wanted her to do was to write the children's names on the E106 and put a stamp on it. She told me she needed our alien registration numbers, and I explained that that was the problem: I do not have one yet, and I'm trying to get one, and that's why I need this form filled out! She kept explaining that I couldn't have a medical card until I had an alien registration, and to please go to immigration and get registered, then she could give me a medical card. I told her that I don't want a medical card, and that I can't register until I have this form. I even told her in Greek that my husband and children are German, but I am from the United States, and that's why I have a problem.

Mrs. Marta finally called Mrs. Emily upstairs (in Cyprus, people are generally all called "Mrs." or "Mr." and their first name), and then handed the phone to me so I could explain this to Mrs. Emily. Mrs. Emily spoke excellent English, but could not understand why I needed this. I sympathized--in fact, I've been told by other people that there is no law requiring anyone to even have health insurance, so nobody understands why the immigration office is requiring this of us. However, the immigration office is refusing to register me without this, so it's not like I have a lot of choice. I talked with Mrs. Marta again, and she called Mrs. Emily again, and then Mrs. Emily came downstairs to see my paperwork and talk with me personally.

By this time the children were getting rather ansty, and although I did quiet them, I apologized to Mrs. Marta and explained that they'd been in the car for nearly three hours and it was hard sitting for so long. (Actually, the car was only about 2 1/2 hours, but we'd also waited for awhile.) She raised her eyebrows and said, "From Larnaka?" and I explained that we'd first gone to where the Ministry of Health used to be, but a lady at the pharmacy there had told me that it had moved two years ago, and I had had a lot of trouble finding the new place. She said, "No, not two years ago--very recently!" I asked when, and she just said again, "Very recently, not two years!"

Mrs. Emily appeared to mostly understand, and said that they'd be happy to put the children on the form and issue a medical card for my husband and children, but that they couldn't issue one for me, because I didn't have an alien registration number. Nobody cared at all that we have European health cards which we can already use at any hospital and that I don't WANT a Cypriot medical card, but I finally said that was fine. She took the paperwork with her and asked me to wait.

In the meantime, Helen had a diaper that HAD to be dealt with, and immediately. We were given permission to use the "employees only" toilet, and off we went.

When we got back, Mrs. Marta happily handed me a medical card for Jörn and the children and the E106 with the children's names on it, but no stamp, and when I looked it over, I saw that MY name had been crossed off!!! I asked her why my name had been crossed off, and she said because I don't have an alien registration number, and therefore, cannot be issued a Cypriot medical card!!

I did not cry. I am very proud of myself. I explained again, very, very slowly, "This form was issued by my German health insurance to show that I have health insurance from Germany. I do not NEED a Cypriot medical card, I need to get the yellow slip! If they don't believe that I have health insurance, they will not register me. This form was from Germany. This form was proof that I have health insurance. I do have health insurance. You should not have crossed out my name."

Mrs. Marta called Mrs. Emily again, I talked with her for awhile. They apologized. In the meantime, my name is crossed out, in ink, which makes it look as though I do not have health insurance. I wrote down Mrs. Emily's name and phone number, and she said that the immigration office should telephone her if they have a problem. I guess I'll find out tomorrow morning if that works.

We finally got back to the car and left the parking lot at 1:10, four hours after leaving home. No park, no visiting Jane, no Ikea, and likely no lunch, either, if Lukas was to get to gymnastics by 2:30, especially as it was now the middle of the lunch rush hour. (Most Cypriots go home for lunch and many stores close for a couple of hours in the middle of the day.) At 1:40 I pulled up to a Zorpas bakery and bought too-soft bread (didn't get our favorite bread, because that would have needed slicing which would have taken longer) and expensive cheese, which Marie made into sandwiches and handed out as I kept driving. We made it to gymnastics with 10 minutes to spare, I let Lukas out, and we came home and I started typing this. At 3:30 I picked up Lukas again, and now it's 4:45 and Lukas and Katie are playing outside and Marie is doing math.

Tomorrow I'm going to the immigration office here in Larnaka, but at least I know where that is, unless they've moved since July...