Disclosure: The below is narrative of my story spanning five / six weeks. Hopefully it’s a unique case and is not the general norm.
Do you recognise this building? No? Lucky you. I’ve just returned from my fifth visit to the Registraduria Nacional del Estado Civil. A.K.A. The place where order dies and bureaucracy is alive and well.
I’ve paid the $10mil taxi fare so often that I might has well have unpacked my bags right here on the plastic floor and made myself at home on the red cushion plastic chairs, that are neatly lined up in rows of four like a patient army.
Why do I do this to myself? I am cursing the fact that I am over 18yrs old. Other than for obvious reasons, all this would be non-existent if I was a child. I am Colombian. I have my passport which says so. I have a Colombian birth certificate. Yet, nothing works in Colombia unless you have the cedula (national I.D. card). I will have my cedula. But as I’m over 18, it will take a year to arrive. Yes, that’s right; ONE YEAR.
Why? Where is this time spent? Who has heard such a thing? I don’t know.
So, I have been back and forth to this lovely place on the autopista with nowhere to sort out my papers. Here are the steps I’ve gone through….I must warn you; this is an unusual case so don’t be alarmed. But if you are an adult, receiving a cedula takes 12 months and it will be easier to rob the bank than open an account without one…
Go to the registraduria as my contrasena the Colombian Embassy gave me in London has worn out, so my I.D. number is illegible.
I am given a ‘transmite’ paper which means that I am entitled to the cedula, but it is going through the bureaucratic process so this green piece of paper will do instead.
We leave the registraduria happy.
We get a phone call. I have been registered twice as Colombian; once in the 90’s and now in 2011. Why they didn’t tell me in 2011 when I was at the same place? I have no idea. We need to go back and delete the first I.D. number. I have spent a lot of money on my Colombian passport with my new I.D. number that I am not surrendering the most recent one.
We go back. We are shown on a computer screen the original birth registration. The man proudly points out my mum’s signature on it as proof he’s not mad… we are. I haven’t seen it before. I was 14yrs old. I don’t even remember what boy I was into at that age. Can we get a copy of that paper he asks? Hell no. It’s in London. My mum won’t have it. Heck, if she had, she would’ve told me in the first place.
OK, no worries. We can go to a certain bank and deposit $5 mil pesos (£2 / approx.) to get them to retrieve a copy of the paper.
We leave with the bank details.
We come back with the receipt. The same guy accepts the payment and tells us it’ll take 3-5 days for the original form to arrive.
Now the people know us. And we know them. Hi Nora if you’re reading.
We duly take our ticket and sit waiting on the red cushion chairs on plastic legs neatly lined up in rows of four. Eventually our name is called and we are served at the same counter by a different guy. This time, he is much friendlier, but perhaps we have been beaten down by the process and are so submissive, that if asked, my aunt and I would roll over on our stomach for a pat.
Waiting for the master to call our number.
We are given the long-lost form. We now need to explain everything to someone somewhere else and request that they erase the original I.D. number. We are not coming back again, so my aunt writes the letter by hand there and then and we beg people to photocopy bits for us.
Aunt writes letter
We hand in the paper to another desk in another part of the building and are told that we won’t hear back for another two months. We sigh, happy in the knowledge that this is the last time we need to be here.
We’re back. This time, to get my little green piece of paper authorised by an official. Apparently my worn out contrasena, transmite paper, Colombian passport or Colombian birth certificate isn’t enough to grant me a bank account. The bank wants my transmit paper ‘authorised’. Fine, we’ll do that…
…The registraduria no longer authorise the transmite paper as the law has changed. And no, I can’t get my cedula earlier than October…yes, it does take a year to arrive.
We head back and visit other banks. Without my plastic cedula, I am looked at with bemusement.
Right, so I’ll stick to keeping my cash in my sock then.
Who said globalisation had taken over the world?
I am minding my own business when I receive a letter. It is from the Registraduria. They want me back in and I have four days to do so.
We return and are ushered into a separate part of the building on the second floor. My letter is reviewed, processed, stamped and I am given another piece of paper and we’re directed back to Norma.
Norma flicks through my case, and scurries off to do things. We are told that my first (original) registration will be deleted and we will be able to keep my latest number. We leave again.
We’re back to see Norma.
Ok, at this point, I give up and have no interest in trying to find out what / why they need to see us again. By this point, we know everyone and they know us. I study the ‘#8 ventilita’ handmade sign, wonkily sellotaped onto the glass. I know that around 3pm, it’s a quiet time for the staff and an opportunity for them to chat amongst themselves, show off their new jean purchases and gossip over gum and tinto.
TWO HOURS later, and Norma has done some more paperwork and I am told that now my first registration has been erased and I will now receive my cedula in one month. It will also come to Bogota, and not to London. Great, I think. But, we need to come back in order to get a new ‘tramite’ card as my current one is now outdated. Right, okay….Is there a nearer one we can go to? Yes! We’re told, and turns out there’s a little one quite near the house. By this point, it’s 4pm and they’re closing up.
We decide to wait until the next day before gracing the new Registraduria’s door.
Next day and we’re back, but this time in Usaquen.
It’s a small, little house in the back streets. We enter and are told to queue up. Great. No seats this time. I stand whilst my aunt reads her book. I am told that no, I cannot sit down, and yes I do need to stand to the right of the 50cm space. I contemplate complaining of a fake preganancy or playing up my cold which is ravishing my body. But decide to play good and stand. And stand. And stand.
Finally, the guy asks to see my papers. “Oh no” he says, “your case is very complicated”. I need to wait while he deals with the easier cases. I sit and wait. And wait. Finally, he has mentally prepared himself to look at my documents. “Oh no” he says, “your photos aren’t acceptable”. I need to get some new ones done, which have the appropriate amount of space around my face. Fine. No problem. We cross the street and get some new ones done.
We return, and they’re shutting. But luckily we’re seen again by the man. I have all my fingerprints taken, just stopping short of my toes. I have my photo applied to the piece of paper, and I sign three times. Finally I am given the document. It’s a contrasena. It’s EXACTLY the same as what I started with. So I’ve basically gone through all of this to get a new contrasena. They’ve taken away my tramite I.D. and now I’m told my cedula will take two months to arrive. We also need to go to the government website to make sure we re-direct to Bogota not London.
So after all of this, I have been a Registraduria eight times; erased my first registration, was given a tramite, surrendered my tramite and was given a contrasena which is EXACTLY THE SAME as the original. This time, it’s not faded though. My aunt buys me a case for it. I will now protect it like gold.
My journey as been extraordinary, fantastical and basically bizarre. I question what they are actually doing and why this all can’t be done electronically like in Britain. It seems to be a lot of people employed to run around and do pretend jobs. Only in Colombia. I haven’t (cue sharp intake of breathe) read Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but his ‘magic realism’ is very much alive and well in the Registraduria.