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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Part VII The post office (again)

Everything was ready. I had the passport application, notarized form, pictures, a birth certificate, DS---- (sent that morning by S-), a copy of Brandon's passport, a copy of my passport, the letter from State, the visa application, a copy of Brandon's visas, and a copy of my visas for good measure.

I hauled Edwin out the car, and headed down the the post office. After circling three times in quest of parking, I made it to the office and was stopped short by a line out the door. Annoyed, I set Edwin down and settled down to do some waiting. After five minutes, however, an employee came out to announce that everyone after a certain point (which I was past) was out of luck for the day. Panicked, I rushed in and started shouting about needing it done today so I could get visas and go home. The employee then gave me a bored look and told me to go to the downtown post office - they were open an hour later.

After a phone call to my mother for directions, I pulled up the the scene of the original crime. I went inside and saw the same woman who had started all of these problems by making me pay for the dang passport. This time I marched up to her and handed over my stack of documents, with the letter about paying on top. She read it, went to confer with a colleague, and processed my application. After forgetting to have me sign the application, and forgetting to include DS----, she got it right the third time and handed me another envelope.

And so, a little over 24 hours after calling the Special Issuance Agency in desperation, I had a passport application, complete with notarized form. Everything went into the FedEx envelope, the envelope got lined with a marker, and was handed over to the FedEx employee to be sent to DC. Then it was sent.

So will it get sent? Will the visas get affixed in time? Will we make our travel date? Stay tuned for the exciting (or perhaps not-so-exciting; exciting would be having to change travel plans at the last minute which I would not like to do) conclusion!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Part VI The Special Issuance Agency

One time quite awhile ago now, I was scared of making phone calls. After almost a year of being married to a government employee, however, I have grown out of that fear. If I hadn't, we would still be in Springville.

And so I called the Special Issuance Agency and God sent me to Val, whose name shall be called blessed from hereafter. I explained to Val the situation - passport mix-up, leaving in two weeks, three small children, my mother flying with me, and a strong desire to return home to my husband. And Val understood. She sympathized. Then she got my number, and went to speak with her supervisor.

In a few minutes, she called me back. That pesky notarized form? She could pull it from the previous paperwork. Not only that, but she would priority overnight FedEx it (does that say something that the US government doesn't use its own mail services?) so it would be there the next morning.

Testing my luck, I asked her about the visas. She looked on a list, and told me that yes, Egyptian visas require signed passports (some don't). Then she told me that she'd go speak with the visa guys.

In a few minutes, she called me back. If we could send a copy of Brandon's diplomatic visas, they could probably get the Egyptians to waive the signature requirement (I'd be the one signing it anyway). They would even have someone walk the passport over to the Embassy.

So after a few more phone calls, we had a game plan. I would receive the notarized form in the morning. Then I would go back to the post office and apply again for Edwin's passport (this time with the dang DS---- and a letter from State stating that I didn't have to pay for the passport). After having everything sealed up in the envelope for free, I would go to FedEx and stuff everything into their envelope, complete with a piece of paper directing the documents be sent to Val's supervisor. After sealing it, I would then line the outside with red marker so that her supervisor would be able to quickly spot the envelope. And then I would email the tracking number to Val.

And then I would repent of all of the unkind statements made previously about government employees.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Part V Options

After hearing that instead of a diplomatic passport, Edwin was now the proud owner of a tourist passport, I started exploring options.

Perhaps we could take him to Egypt on his tourist passport, and then get his diplomatic one later. The only problem with that option, however, would be that he had an entry visa on one passport, and an exit visa on another, which evidently governments that keep track of those things (ours doesn't) don't like.

Perhaps we could bring him in on his tourist passport and use it to leave this summer, and then take him back on his diplomatic passport. However, if somebody at the border decided that they didn't like that the girls and I had diplomatic passports while he had a tourist passport, they would have free license to put Edwin and me on a plane ride back to the U.S. My mother wouldn't have been happy about playing babysitter while we tried to get back to Egypt.

Perhaps we could re-apply for a diplomatic passport. That would require Brandon to sign and have notarized another one of those pesky forms, which then would have to be sent back to the U.S. And Sunday was a holiday, which means that it would be in the mail on Monday, January 18 and at best in NC a week later - the week our plane tickets are scheduled for. And then we'd have to apply for the passport, FedEx it to DC, get a passport made, have it sent back to NC, sign it, FedEx it back to DC, have the Egyptian visas affixed, and have it sent back to NC - in 4 days.

Perhaps we could get someone at the Special Issuance Agency to find all of the paperwork from Edwin's first passport and have it re-made into a diplomatic passport. But would they do that? Was it possible? The only way we could know was to call. And so I did.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Who knew?

While reading a friend's blog, I came across a video of Kathleen and Sophia's nursery teacher displaying an unusual talent. Perhaps if he tried that in church, he could get them to all sit still and be quiet... it may be worth a try.

Part IV The plot twists again

Having applied for Edwin's passport and faxed the OF---- to S- who was finally back in her office, I rested on my laurels for a few days. However, after not having heard back about the receipt of OF---- and needing some instruction on other matters, I took my cross back up and emailed S- about various and sundry.

Six days later, I received a reply that included a request for a copy of the birth certificate and assurance that I would receive form DC (diplomatic stuff?)---- after the birth certificate was used to enter Edwin into 'the system' so that I would initiate the passport process.

Wishing that I had received the information earlier that I yes, I really did need to send that birth certificate via fax, I sent it in. However, I was unsure about the need for form DS----, and so emailed S- again telling her that I had already applied for Edwin's passport. After a few unhelpful emails, I called and asked if there was any way to match up DS---- with Edwin's paperwork that was already in DC, complete with notarized form.

S- didn't know, but advised me to call whoever it was that I had mailed the form to. Luckily, the number was to be found in the encyclopedia of confusing instructions I had received and soon I was on the line with yet another employee of The Bureaucracy.

lady: George Edwin Sherwood? That was an application for a tourist passport, right?
me: No, it was an application for a diplomatic passport, but it was lacking a form. Can I have the form sent in so that he can have a diplomatic passport?
lady: No, you applied for a tourist passport.
me: It was supposed to be a diplomatic one.
lady: Did you pay any money?
me: Yes, the ladies at the post office insisted that I had to, even though I told them it was for a no-fee diplomatic passport.
lady: Well, they lied. You don't have to pay for a diplomatic passport.
me: So I have to apply again for a dip passport?
lady: Yes. But your tourist passport will be there in a few days.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Part III The post office

Certain now that I knew the order of things, my mother, daughter, Edwin, and I headed downtown to pick up some birth certificates and visit the Passport Agency (also known as the post office). It being a cold day and not wanting to go through the performance of getting children in and out of the car, and especially not wanting to constantly tell Kathleen to talk quietly and not mention 'passing gas' in public, my mother stayed in the car while I took Edwin to appear in person for his passport application.

In reality, I could have simply put a doll in the car seat and pulled the shade down. All of the indentification and picture-matching that occurred was 'Do you have the child with you? Where?' And then I gestured in the direction of the floor where I was supposed to have a baby in a car seat. I tried to lift it up for confirmation, but that effort was waved off.

After Edwin was identified, or rather alluded to, I informed the clerk that I was applying for a diplomatic passport.

clerk: (after conferring with other clerks) Okay, now what you'll have to do is have us put the application in an envelope and you'll have to mail it to DC.
me: Can I just FedEx it?
clerk: No! Now your total will be $85. Check or money order?
me: (confused) But a diplomatic passport is a no-fee passport. I'm only supposed to pay the post office fee.
clerk: No ma'am. Everyboyd has to pay for their passports. You're going to have to take up not paying with the State Department.
me: (having no other option) Okay. I guess I'll use a debit card.
clerk: (after more conferring) Oh, this has to be expedited. That will be another $60. Check or money order?

So after paying $145, I took the envelope that they had just charged me $60 for the privilege of having, and paid $5 to mail it to DC.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Part II The plot thickens

Part of the small forest's worth of forms to fill out was the OF (official form?)----. Where to send it, however, was not included in the other small forests' worth of instructions. I called Brandon's travel tech, S-, to ask for direction.

I reached her voicemail. "This is S-, and I'll be out of the office from December 15 (the day Edwin was born) until December 31 (several days from then). Undaunted, I went down the list for the next person to appeal to, the Med/Foreign Programs office.

me: Hi, I'm calling about form OF----. The instructions don't include a mailing address.
Med: Oh you don't want to mail that; it would take forever. You need to fax it.
me: But what about the birth certificate? Do I fax that too, even though the instructions say that it needs to be the one with the raised seal?
Med: Oh, don't worry about the birth certificate. You can send in the hospital copy, if you want.
me: So then after is send in OF----, do I get a form from the travel tech so I can apply for Edwin's diplomatic passport?
Med: You don't have to wait for any forms. You can apply for a passport as soon as you get a birth certificate.
me: Oh (If I had known that, we wouldn't have had to go through the notary debacle; we could have just applied when Brandon was in town).

So, OF---- was faxed off, and the form got notarized. How? Well, we won't go into that right here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I Love Bureaucracy

A Comedy of Errors
In Several Parts

I have been gone from my home for eleven weeks. I miss my husband. My children miss their father. My husband misses his family. My parents miss their sanity. I am healthy. Edwin is healthy. Even the girls are healthy. The only thing keeping our family apart and my parents' house messy is the enemy of all citizens everywhere: The Bureaucracy.

Part I
When applying for a minor passport, several rules apply. The minor has to be present. A birth certificate must be presented. And both parents have to appear before the government representative (also known as a postal worker). In the case of a diplomatic passport, there also has to be a form.

With this in mind, Brandon and I knew that we had to find a way around provision number 3. Luckily, the government provides forms for such things, so that a parent who can't be there in person can fill the form out testifying that they are allowing the other parent to apply for a passport and have it notarized. So in the grand tradition of forgetting the important things until almost too late, we remembered #3 the night before Brandon was to fly out of Raleigh (also known as Christmas day).

My mother has a friend who is a notary, but she was out of town. The day after Christmas being a Saturday, the banks were all closed. So my mother looked online for various providers of notary services and found that FedEx/Kinko's provides notary services. All was well. We only had to stop by their business on the way to the airport, and a complete stranger could testify that no, I was not intending to commit international kidnapping.

So, the day of Brandon's departure dawned and we took special care to leave enough time to visit the notary. After driving around a shopping center several times looking for the notarial residence, we found it with the help of a phone call. Brandon ran in, and promptly ran back out again.

When asked Brandon asked where he could get his form notarized, the clerk nonchalantly replied "Naw, we don't do that here." With 1 1/2 hours to go before Brandon's plane took off, we had no choice. We went to the airport. And the form went un-notarized.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

She's got flair

Today while taking care of Edwin, Sophia hauled a handful of dress-up clothes into my room, dropped them on the floor, and uttered a command: "Dress."

And so I did, creating a Japanese-Guatemalan-Russian Batman. Bad guys of the world, you may now tremble in fear.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Maybe I should have listened

Before Edwin was born, and even before Sophia was born, I had a conversation with my sister-in-law Alissa. At the time, she had two children, 18 months apart, and was pregnant with her third who would be born 21 months after his sister. She advised that one can have two children close together, but the third could probably wait awhile - longer than 21 months. I also received similar advice from another sister-in-law, Teagan.

I am now beginning to understand why most people don't have children so close together. This morning my mother had to be at church by 7, and my father had to leave at 8:30. Which left me putting on the girl's coats, putting on my coat, buckling Edwin's car seat into the back row of my parents' minivan while yelling at the girls to stay out of the car, buckling up the girls, getting into my own seat, driving three minutes to church, climbing into the back of the car, pulling Edwin out of his seat, wrapping him up, unbuckling the girls, herding them out of the car, telling everyone to hold hands while we crossed the parking lot, getting inside, putting Edwin down on an available seat, taking the girls' coats off, taking my coat off, and finally making it inside the chapel. And then repeating the same to get home with the addition of changing Kathleen's clothes, changing Sophia's clothes, changing my clothes, changing Edwin's diapers, and nursing him. And then we ate dinner.

However, it's too late now for regrets. Thank heaven for Rere.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


It's seven o'clock in the evening, and I am enjoying something that every mother deserves: silence. The girls are in bed (whether or no they're asleep doesn't matter), and Edwin has been blessedly, quietly asleep since six without any waking up and screaming every 30 minutes.

Just when you think that your temper is going to explode and your sanity make a hasty exit out of the back door, evenings like these happen. Which in reality is just a dirty trick because it lulls you into a false sense that you can handle the situation. It gives you just enough of a break in the chaos to be able to barely handle the next wave of insanity.

My mother is fond of saying that the only reason that women have more than one child is because of maternal amnesia. It's a good thing, too, otherwise we might be closing up shop earlier than expected.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Pictures, and not much else

For Christmas, Brandon and I received a camera. Our old camera was purchased, used, when we got married in 2005, so it was time for an upgrade. As a result of this upgrade, I've taken more pictures in the last three weeks than I have taken in the last nine months. But I'll only force a few on you, my gentle readers. Enjoy.