It all began back in March, when we had first started the program. Things were going relatively smoothly and it looked to us as though the Ministry had everything under control. Little did we know that within a month, all Hell was going to break loose.
As the orientation commenced, the Ingles Abre Puertas aka IAP (English Opens Doors for all you Gringos) staff assured us that the few hick-ups that many of us had faced upon our arrival were typical and we SHOULDN'T WORRY. This phrase; “no se preocupen” would be repeated to us countless times at every point in which a normal human being would in fact worry. On the third or fourth day of orientation the staff collected all of our passports so they could register all of us at once and save us the trouble of having to do it ourselves. Needless to say, this was a bit nerve racking. From the very moment we get them it is ingrained in us that our Passport is our life when abroad and should never be handed over without question. However, considering that we were told before hand that it would be necessary to receive temp visas, and the collection of the passports was done so in a very orderly manor, we handed our lives over with the reassurance of “no se preocupen.” This was the moment that Hell's gate slowly began to creep open. Over a week goes by and we trusting little volunteers still had not received our passports back. The only form of encouragement we have is that we ALL have not received them, not just an unlucky few, so in the case of some huge mishap the ministry would have to deal with 70 angry foreigners and not just a couple. As fate would have it though, our passports were actually returned ahead of schedule and all of us got them back with plenty of time to spare. At this moment, one VERY important thing should have happened that did not and if said thing had happened, I would not have needed to write this story and you would not be having the pleasure of reading it. This is of course the ONLY good thing that came from our passport adventure; a wonderful story to tell.
Point one, at which all could have been prevented; the IAP should have made it very clear to all of us that this was not the last thing we would need to do to register with the grand Republic of Chile. When we arrived at our respective towns we would have to register our Visas and receive our Chilean residence identification cards or carnets as they're called here. Now, to give IAP due respect, this vital little piece of information was in fact included in our Volunteer hand books that they did tell us on numerous occasions that we needed to read. The problem was that the hand book said very clearly that the regional coordinator would inform us when and where we would need to go to register our Visas. We, the 6th region volunteers have no regional coordinator. Thus the gates of Hell swing wide open.
For the next Month Bethany, Vanessa and myself struggle through what would prove to be one of the most frustrating and disorganized times of all our lives. Fact 1; Bethany is the only one of us that spoke Spanish. Fact 2; No one at the Departamento Provincial de Educacion (Provincial Department of Education in Gringo) aka the Prov. speaks English. Put 1 and 2 together and Bethany becomes our coordinator. Let me also point out that we were told prior to our arrival here in Pichilemu that everything had been arranged and someone from the IAP would be there for a week to get us acquainted with our new home so “no se preocupen.” Definitely did not happen, and definitely needed to have. This would be point two, at which all could have been prevented.
Point three, at which all could have been prevented is slightly dependent on point two and slightly resembles point one but could certainly have occurred without point two having taken place and is slightly different than point one. To receive your Carnet (see above if your not sure what that is), you must register your temporary visa within 30 days. After the 30 days, you are required to pay a fee of 50 US dollars and, as we would find out later, be put under residential probation pending an investigation. I will explain this in due course, suffice it to say, we were screwed. 33 days after we had received our Visas, the IAP calls to find out how things are going and to make sure that we have registered our Visas. 3 days after the deadline. Not 3 days before, not even the day of, but 3 days after. So this point gets included because I feel that had the IAP truly been considering the well being of their volunteers, the backbone of their program, this phone call would not have come when it did. Regardless, the IAP informs us what we were supposed to have done and that it was clearly stated in the volunteer hand book that we obviously did not read. After pointing out that in fact it was not the accused who had obviously not read the manual but the accusers, we got around to how to resolve the issue. Now the fun began.
We were told that the first thing we would need to do is go to the Governor's office here in Pichilemu and inform them of our situation. At this point one could add another point at which everything could have been prevented, as this was yet another perfect opportunity for the IAP to send someone to help us through our ever increasingly difficult situation. We met with the Governor's secretary who after hearing a good 5 seconds worth of our situation promptly told us exactly where we needed to go to resolve our issue; the Police of Investigations in San Fernando. The red flag shot right up at this but who were we to say no and she did tell us that we would not be fined and of course “no se preocupen.” Bethany then called the IAP who then called the secretary and then called Bethany back to say “go to San Fernando, you will be given a verbal warning, you won't be fined and, of course...”I don't even have to say it do I? If that sounds confusing to you just imagine how we felt. Certainly could have used a coordinator at that point right?
Point four, at which all could have been resolved was the day we went to San Fernando. You would think that the fact that we were having to go to the Police of Investigations would have merited a liaison from the IAP but Bethany spoke Spanish so clearly there was no need. We were then taken to the office of so and so. Officer so and so then spent the next two hours typing up a written warning stating that we had committed such and such infractions of such and such laws and that pending an investigation and such and such actions we would be given our Carnets. As this form was being written, officer so and so received a phone call. Bethany overheard him say that he did not understand why the Governor's secretary had sent us to him as he was obligated to put us under investigation and that all of this could have been resolved there in Pichilemu, by her. Either she wasn't paying attention when we were explaining our situation, (YES) or she was lazy and didn't want to do the work, (PROBABLY YES ASWELL). Anyways, after the papers were made we signed the forms and received our temporary residential identification cards and then were very casually asked to hand over our passports. All three of us froze. Without knowing it, Bethany and I both started to consider walking out then and there. My mind began to race with what ifs and plans of escape. Alas, out of sheer lack of a better idea and a pure leap of faith that this guy wasn't going to screw us over, we agreed and for the second time handed our lives over. We were however very certain to make it clear that our passports were extremely important to us and we were somewhat reassured by the fact that so and so told us if at any time we needed them, we could come and borrow them. He also said however that we were not allowed to leave the country during our probation. This concerned all of us a bit but I figured, if there was any kind of emergency, we wouldn't really have any problems getting out of the country. Later that week I contacted the US consulate in Santiago who told us that they knew exactly where we were and if anything were to happen, they would get us out and recover our passports. This was the first time in a long time that someone said “don't worry” and it actually made me feel better. Anyways, Officer so and so informed us before we left that under normal circumstances, infractors such as ourselves would have to come once a week to check in so as to make sure we hadn't left the country. He told us that because he didn't really think we were going anywhere, we could just call every Monday to let him know we were still around. He also said that at most, we would have to wait 2 weeks to get our passports back, at most. 2 weeks turned into 3 and still no passports. Bethany then receives a call from the Governor's Secretary informing us that we will have to pay a fine before we can get our passports back and our Carnets. We all think EXTORTION and quickly contact everyone we can think of at the Min. of Education so that someone will come and sort this out for us. This is quite obviously Point five at which the IAP could have stepped in.
Resolution. At this point we were all a little furious. We refused to fork over the third of our paychecks they were asking of us for a mistake that was clearly the Ministry's booboo. I was ready to be locked up kicking and screaming, just so the IAP would finally get the point that this was not something they could continue to ignore and work on from the fringes. Unfortunately, I never get the opportunity. Bethany relays our situation to her boyfriend Nick who relays it to his dad. His dad relays it to his Lawyer friend from Santiago who calls Bethany and says what the heck is going on and how can I help? Bethany tells him all that has happened and within 24 hours he is able to get more done than anyone else has in over 3 weeks. He calls her the next day and says “go to San Fernando and get your passports. Then go to the Governor's office in Pichilemu and get your ID cards. If anything doesn't happen how it's supposed to, call me!” Thus a lawyer slams shut the gates of Hell.
Now, after Bethany gets her lawyer involved who has pretty much already saved all our butts and did 90% of the work for them, the IAP sends someone to help. Gabbi, who we really do like by the way, meets us in San Fernando and takes us to get our passports and then our money which was a whole other can of worms. We weren't quite home free at this point cause the Carnet office in San Fernando was packed and the bank was closing so we chose to get the money that day and go to Santa Cruz another day to get our Carnets. This proved pretty painless actually but still inconvenient and rather anticlimactic. They don't even look all that great and we hardly ever use them. I often wonder what would have happened had we never registered anyways. Would they really have known? Some days I'm just not sure and other days I'm positive that the Chilean Gov't. doesn't have a clue!
So in the end it all worked out and the many points at which the Ministry could have stepped in proved to be useless. Who knew that all we needed to do was get a lawyer involved? In the end, we are still here and each day things get a little easier. Do we still have some problems? Of course, but the trick to it all, we finally realize is simple; “NO SE PREOCUPEN!!!”