Home > Missionary Life > The Joys of Paperwork

The Joys of Paperwork

US passport

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My Venezuelan identification, called a cedula had expired. Multiple trips to town to try to remedy the problem had been without positive results. The entire country had been without the ability to make the identification cards for longer than one could dream possible. But now, they were ready to make identification cards. Stations were set up throughout the city to process the masses — and masses there were. Arriving at one such location, I prepared for a long wait in a long line. I was not disappointed.

After hours under the hot tropical sun, I finally entered the building. I sat at the foldout table across from the woman filling out the forms, answering all the pertinent questions. Next was the wait in line to have my picture was taken, followed by another wait to have my fingerprints taken. The final step before printing the card was to verify the information. The end was in sight…or so I thought.

As I read the information that was to go on the card, my heart sank. They had me down as an American that was born in Canada. I didn’t want to deal with it, but I knew if they printed it as such it would come back to haunt me. I admitted the error in the paperwork and was sent back to the woman at the table, the one with all the forms. I could understand why the woman had become confused.

“I was born in Wales, Great Britain—not Canada,” I explained to the woman.

“But when you became a Resident of Venezuela you were a Canadian?”

“Correct,” I answered, pleased we were getting this sorted out.

“But now you’re an American as well?”

“Yes, that’s correct.” Whew! This was going better than I’d expected.

“But that can’t be,” she then insisted, dashing my hopes of a quick resolution.

“But it is true,” I patiently insisted.

We went back and forth for a while, but she didn’t get it—and I couldn’t get why she couldn’t get it. She would agree with every statement—then say it couldn’t be.

We gave up. She sent me several levels up the chain to the women in charge.

“So let me see if I understand this correctly,” she told me. “You were born in Great Britain but moved to Canada and became a Canadian. You then entered Venezuela as a Canadian, but now you’re an American as well.”

“Yes.” She’d got it!

“That can’t be,” she said next, echoing the other woman’s sentiments and blowing my bubble of hope. “You can’t be a citizen of both countries.”

We went round and round going nowhere.

God, I need a way to explain this that also allows her not to lose face, I prayed. God gave me the answer.

“Let me explain it this way,” I began. “My three youngest sons were born in Venezuela. Being that their father is an American, he had the right to petition for ‘Birth Abroad’ status for them, making them Americans through him. When we were at the American embassy doing that, the Venezuelan woman working there urged us to be sure to also get their Venezuelan paperwork in line also, getting their Venezuelan passports as well. We smiled and let her know we had already done that. See, Venezuela doesn’t say you lose your Venezuelan citizenship just because you become a citizen of another country. Likewise, Great Britain and Canada do not say you lose your citizenship there just because you become a citizen of the United States. Therefore, I do have three citizenships.”

Before I explain what happened next, please understand that being a foreigner, and American at that, in a country that wasn’t very friendly to Americans at the time, my general goal was to try to be as invisible as my glaring white skin would allow me to be. But invisibility was not an option… .

The light went on. I could see it in her eyes. She got it and admitted it, not just to me, not just to the women across the room that had been working on my paperwork, but to all in-between.

“She was born in Great Britain,” she yelled across the room as all eyes turned on me.

“She then moved to Canada and became a Canadian,” she yelled in the same loud voice as more eyes turned to study the pale foreigner.

“And then she married an American and became an American citizen,” she concluded, saying what I had been saying for a long while now, but that suddenly made sense. And as long as it made sense to her, the other woman was willing to accept it.

I felt anything but invisible at that moment as I walked back across the crowded room to finish up the paperwork. All eyes were on the strange foreigner who seemed to have the exceptionally strange hobby of collecting citizenships. But I didn’t care. I was going to walk out of there with a valid identification card! Mission accomplished!

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  1. August 1, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    >So funny to read but probably not too funny for you at the time!

  2. August 2, 2009 at 2:29 am

    >Not funny then, but funny shortly thereafter as I walked out with my "cedula" in hand and a big smile on my face!

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