Monday, July 23, 2007

Two Days Until Departure, Passport Saga

You would not believe how busy these last few days are. We are preparing the final aspects of our departure on Wednesday, the 25th of July. In case you haven't been paying attention to my life, (or I've been too busy to say anything to you), I'll give you the quick run-down.

The four kids, wife, and two rabbits will accompany me on a two year jouney to Switzerland. The company is paying for the relocation costs, paying part of the rent, and giving me a transportation allowance. It's quite an opportunity for the kids, who will be going to school at The International School of Bern.

The two rabbits are being shipped by a shipping company. We originally wanted to bring them along with us in carrier cases, but that would involve seriously difficult logistics issues. The airport at Bern can only handle little aircraft, and not any aircraft large enough to handle an animal cargo hold. The only other alternative is to fly into Geneva or Zurich, and that would require a long drive in a foreign country the first time. Air Animals Inc. will do a good job in shipping in the animals, we hope.

In June, I took a trip to Switzerland, and a side trip to the Netherlands. The Swiss journey was to find a place to live, and to get generally acquainted with the country. I found Fribourg to be a little more difficult to get used to. I don't speak French, and everybody there expected me to speak French. In Bern, I felt much more at home, and had engaging conversations in German with the locals.

I visited the gliderport, and enjoyed flying their very handsome two seat glider, the Duo Discus. They have lots of excellent gliders, and a very nice club, and I don't know how they can afford to fly with such low prices. they were very happy to know that I'm a flight instructor in the United States for gliders, and tended to be a lot more friendly after learning that fact. Teaching an American with poor shabby German skills is more difficult than accommodating an already (presumably) expert glider pilot with shabby German skills, I suppose.

Stacy will probably not be able to work, while in Switzerland. She is a nurse by training, but does not know German or French, and won't be allowed to practice nursing without those language skills.

People all wonder how difficult it is to relocate a family. Often I hear stories of how the military relocated a family with ease. To respond, I would say that this is much different. It seems pretty clear that VeriSign doesn't do this very often, and there were very many challenges along the way. Some of these challenges weren't even VeriSign's or our relocation company's fault, but the fault of the US government.

This subject leads me to passports. In the post-911 hysteria that is sweeping America, some smart things are being done, and more dumb things are being done to make us feel safer. (Thanks Captain Obvious). One of these is requiring that American citizens coming in from Canada and Mexico now need passports. The sudden requirement of passports put a burden on the State Department, who apparently didn't grow their capacity to generate these new passports. Also to make the matters more difficult, the passports contain special RFID electronic chips in them, and delay their production.

This has led to a serious back-log in the passport acquisition of normal citizens. Despite the fact that the passport restriction has been temporarily lifted to enter the US, there still is a huge backlog, and the time to get passports is causing much pain among American tourists wishing to visit nations abroad.

This, of course, made our relocation even more difficult.

In order to get to move to Switzerland, we need a work Visa. We need a residency permit, too. In order for these to be applied for, we need passports. The application process in the Swiss Embassy takes six weeks. We applied for our passports in late April, and they still hadn't shown up by July. Time to escalate. We managed to find that our congressman, Frank Wolf (whom I had always voted against) had a special office for his constituents to escalate passport requests.

This did some good! The passports were found in the system, and shipped to us via FedEx. They were received the next day. Stacy excitedly opened the package to find the passport for Joseph, Cecilia, Josh, Jake...

"Where's my Passport!?!?!" Stacy cried.

Which leads me into a whole new story...

The Passport Saga...

This required ANOTHER trip. This time to the passport issuing agency office in downtown D.C. We had a 0900 appointment, and managed to show up on time. We saw the long line of other citizens waiting for entry. Because we had an appointment, we cut in line (that was cool) to get inside to wait in yet another line. Ugh.

We waited 90 minutes in the first line, and the congressman's assistant finally called. We were told that we would never get our passport that day, and that we could go upstairs to suite 200 to get a new passport, with the congressman's letter faxed to the office.

All of the kids were with us, and did not wait patiently. While waiting upstairs, we would not even fit into the waiting room, and were forced to sit outside, in the hallway. The quantity of waiters was definitely a deterrent to getting us access inside the waiting room. I elected to whisk the children away, but was met with whiny response from the younger children, "No! I want mommy!"

I dragged the unwilling children out of the boring hallway to be met with further complaints. "I want mommy!" "Where is mommy!" "When will we see mommy?!?!" I dragged them, still unwilling, to the local corner bakery, where I ate a sandwich, and the kids ate a cookie and some chips. It's impossible to find those kids anything to eat that doesn't resemble junk food. (This is Stacy's fault for not exposing them to tasty food at an early age).

Josh had a melt-down when I gave him one (big) cookie, while he was expecting two. A total meltdown. Curious onlookers in the restaurant observed, and reached for their cell phones, ready to call child protective services for what was most certainly the cries of a child who was abused. I dragged Joshie to an unoccupied booth, and calmly scolded him, warning that he would get zero cookies for his behavior.

His behavior improved, and was granted the cookie of redemption. The children's behavior improved, and I decided to take them to the White House. The office of the State Department wasn't far from where I used to work, so I figured it would just be a few blocks.

The kids were surprisingly nice, at that point, and we took our time in front of the White House. Jake saw two squirrels "fighting" and was freaked out about it for the rest of the day. Jake, with recent "life studies" education, was well aware that the squirrels weren't fighting, but the little kids didn't know any better. When he and I realized there was no confrontation between the squirrels, but the "tussle of love", Jake and I looked at each other with the look of "We know what is up, the kids don't. "

"Those squirrels were scary!" the eleven year old remarked over and over.

We moved on to the Washington Monument. We found a nice little ice cream stand near a homeless guy who rested in the shade near a public bathroom. I had to escort Joey into the public restrooms, and watch very carefully, as he tried to grab the urinals and reach in for those tasty-looking hockey-pucks. Yuck.

We hung out at the base of the monument for a while, and I taught Jake a little something about sun-dials. It was a pretty sunny day, and the shadow that was cast upon the ground was sharp and contrasted well against the sky. We were patient enough to sit around and watch the shadow crawl across the benches. We checked to see if we could get into the monument to look around, but by that time, all of the tickets for the day were given out.

We continued our journey, the ultimate destination was the Library of Congress (all the way across town.) I didn't tell the kids that "you see that little green dome next to the Capitol building waaaaaay over there?! We're walking toward that, kids!" Nope. Just moving along one block at a time.

We stopped at the Smithsonian building's Enid A. Haupt Garden and visited the nice cool fountains in the back. They had a very nice outdoor garden, with entertaining fountains. We stopped at the fountains at the Hirshhorn Museum, and found an excellent set of fountains in front of the National Museum of the Native Indian.

The stops at each fountain entertained the kids long enough to move on to the next destination. By the end of the day, Stacy was still in line (good thing we went for a walk), and increasingly irritated from boredom, lack of food, lack of companionship. By the time we got to the Library of Congress, Stacy had finally gotten some food, and the promise that this passport would be available by 4:30.

I hung around my mother's office, until we could meet up with Stacy. Mother introduced us to many people I hadn't met since I was the height of an outstretched hand from the waist, followed by the quote of, "I haven't seen you since you were this tall!"

We have our passports. We're still in that scary position of not having our visas. We'll be in the country as tourists until we can gather our work permit and residency visas. I won't be allowed to work for the first few weeks. We've even arranged to pick up our visas in Lyon, France.

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