Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Dark and Stormy Notche

My little street turned into a Venetian canal last night, complete with a current in which swirled sampans of plastic trash bags. The bags floated past my door when I opened it to check on the storm which was brief but bountiful.

In the midst of the drama (Would the water come up my last step and into the house? Will it continue to pour?) the electricity went out. I rousted up candles, stuck them in a decorative minora and read a book on my computer. It was really quite cozy.

At intervels I stuck my head out the door to see who would rescue us if necessary. Several fire trucks drove through the flood, one pulling a rubber dinghy. I knew the policia were just dying to get a chance to use them.

Parked cars looked dangerously close to floating away. I worried about the wild cats who lived underneath them --surely they would have the street cat sense to move to higher ground.

People waded around in the sewage, attempting to unclog street drains. Buenos Aire's garbage problem comes back to bite it in the butt after every good downpour.

Candles and flashlights flickered and flashed from every window as people peered out to watch the show. Would the city bus actually attempt to go through the flood? Yes. Would the electric company send a truck? Yes. Would they fix the problem? No.

My neighbor across the street shouted to me, "Like Venice, only cheaper!"

In the morning the streets of my barrio were strewn with every kind of debris imaginable. It stuck to shrubs, it lay awash on door stoops. The good people of Buenos Aires were busy mucking out their flooded homes and businesses with brooms and floor squegees. I joined in and washed the sewage muck off the sidewalk in front of my house.

The electricity came on later in the day and we all waited to see if the same thing will be repeated tonight as the skys cloud up again.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

So I've spent the last 48 hours as an illegal immigrant and I'm sitting in the waiting room of the U.S. Embassy in Ascuncion, Paraguay, watching a Mexican telenovela involving pirates.

I'm the only person paying any attention to the television ... the rest of the waiters are South American and chat among themselves.

"Wow," I thought, as I watched a hunky pirate on the screen make love to a woman in petticoats on a Mexican beach, "This kind of show could be wildly popular in the states ... I can't even understand what they're saying and I'm hooked."

I'm waiting to find out my fate since I inadvertantly entered Paraguay without a visa (and we're not talking Visa CARD). I've spent 48 hours as an "illegal" ... me, "Miz Goes-By-the-Rules".

All those "Locked Abroad" shows I used to watch? Not going to happen to me. I've carried in no drugs, no briefcase of cash or gold strapped to my body ... plus there's a U.S. Marine right outside the door. I'm on U.S. soil (I think).

After a half hour of watching pirates I'm told by an official, "We can't help you here." I'm to report to Paraguayan Immigration tomorrow.

In the morning I bring my Paraguayan friend, Marlene, her auntie, and her auntie's grandchild. Marlene is to translate for me. I warn her, "You may see a side of me you've never seen before."

We're shuffled from office to office, official to official. My final meeting is with a woman who tells me I must re-enter Argentina, go to the nearest Paraguayan Embassy, get my tourist visa, and then re-enter Paraguay. We're talking days. We talking incredible amounts of hoop jumping for a gringa whose Spanish is limited to saying "hello" and "It's very hot today."

I turn to my friend, Marlene, and say quietly, "I'm sorry ... you're going to see a side of my you've never seen or will ever seen again." It was time to play the pissed off American card, so politically incorrecto. So necessary right now.

Pulling myself up to my full five foot three, I assert that, "No, If you do not do help me I am going to walk out of here and hire a Paraguayian lawyer to help me. Also, I intend to complain to the U.S. Embassy."

Marlene translates.

I continue on in the same vein, trying to work the words, "U.S. Embassy" in at every opportunity. Marlene's tag-along-aunt get her two cents in as well, though I don't know what she says.

The head bureaucrat excuses herself to go consult with someone in another office. Did I push it too far.? Will they arrest me for being an illegal and throw me in a cell, thus making me eligible to appear on "Locked Up Abroad"?

She returns to usher me into another office. She produces a stamp. She can, indeed, stamp my passport. All for $40. No crossing borders and bribing border guards and riding buses into the pampas.

I am legal.