I am in need of a new government ID card and am not expecting it to be easy to obtain.
At the time of this story, I have lived on my first rock for a little over a year and have come to understand all too well that errands you once considered simple are rarely ever free of complications here. Learning from my past foibles, I prepare for this ID enterprise with the focused intensity of someone who knows exactly what it’s like to be screwed with on this island and seeks to avoid it at all costs.
I leave nothing (well, nothing within my control) to chance – I confirm the ID office’s hours and arrange to take off of work an hour early to make it there with plenty of time to spare; I call and confirm the requirements to apply for my new card several times over the preceding week, speaking with two different employees to minimize the odds of surprise stipulations; I call the office the day of my planned mission twice to confirm that they are definitely open before I leave work; and I dress modestly and professionally to ensure I don’t ruffle anyone’s feathers with the stereotypical expat informality (no shorts! no flip flops!) that is often received culturally as blatantly disrespectful. All is looking good and I am cautiously optimistic that I may in fact get what I need completed in one* visit.
*Side note: This is a fool’s thinking. It is never wise to to go into any task in the islands with the expectation that you will get what you need done in a single trip. On the off chance that you do, celebrate, as this is an unlikely win, statistically speaking. To protect yourself from crushing defeat, just count on delays. Anticipate disappointments and scheduling conflicts. You must not let the island beat you, reducing you to fitful tears so that it may point and laugh. Take heed.
I arrive at the office and – gasp at my good fortune – they are open and I am what looks to be the only customer! I put on my friendliest face, walk up to the woman in the window, and offer the requisite ‘good afternoon’ greeting. And… nothing happens.
I stand awkwardly a mere 3 feet from the woman’s face (or, more accurately, the top of her head, as she is reading the opened newspaper on the counter), unsure of how best to proceed from her non-reaction to my presence. Minutes that feel like hours pass as I fidget nervously, not wanting to break any of the unspoken rules I’m supposed to somehow glean from her silence. As more time passes, I begin to question everything I thought I knew – Did I actually speak aloud or was that just my imagination? Is she deaf? Did I forget to take off my invisibility cloak? Aaaahhh!! What do I do? What do I do?! I start to feel a genuine concern that I have somehow royally fucked this up before it’s even begun. The voices in my head argue with one another and when I can’t stand it for another second, I offer my greeting once more, this time posed as more of a question, and with decidedly less confidence.
As she slowly raises her head to meet my gaze, I immediately know from the contempt in her stare that I have listened to the wrong voice – I’ve broken an unspoken rule.
“Take a number, ” she grits through her teeth, and immediately goes back to her paper.
I turn my head and scan the room from left to right, taking in the sheer emptiness of the 30 or so unoccupied chairs behind me.
“Oh, okay… I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I needed a number. I didn’t see anyone else ahead of me. ” I give an uncomfortable laugh, the kind that sounds like you’re reading it phonetically – ha ha, in an effort to convey my easy-going-ness. My hope with the laugh is that we can connect over this bit of ridiculousness – let’s blame the bureaucracy together! But she is not having any of it.
“Of course you need a number,” she bristles. “How will we possibly know we need to serve you if you don’t have a number?”
Effectively chastised, I concede. “My apologies. May I have a number, please?”
Exasperated with my ineptitude, she sighs heavily and points her arm with what looks to be a Herculean effort in the vague direction to her left.
I gather my belongings and head West, searching the walls up and down, not sure exactly what I’m even looking for, until I spot the red ticket dispenser affixed to the back corner wall. I press the button, take my number, and sit down in the chair in front of her window.
Within seconds, before I can even set down my purse, the woman starts calling out to the room in a booming voice, to no one in particular, “Number 7. Number 7. Number 7, approach the window.”
At this point, as I have so often felt down here, I am momentarily convinced that I must be the subject of some bizarre, candid camera social experiment – though there is no two-way glass, and the humidity-induced frizz of my hair confirms the reality. Between the weeks-long preparatory build-up and now the actualization of this quest, what little willpower I had started with has effectively dried up. I’ve reached the crossroads: This is your life, my friend. Choose your own adventure.
There is always a choice. True, I am already not her favorite person, but my next move is the real decider of whether I will be walking out of here today with my new ID card or not. Do I suck it up, proceed in my role as Obedient Customer #7 and approach the window stoically? Or do I succumb to the inherent frustration of island life, deeming this the back-breaking straw to my humps, and exclaim in anger, Seriously?! Are you kidding me with this?! Or do I find some way to laugh it off, allowing it to roll off my sweaty shoulders like I did when the grocery store clerk grabbed my hips and informed me of my increasing girth?
“Number 7, approach the window,” she calls once more, impatience rising.
It’s the moment of truth.
I turn my head excitedly from left to right, scanning the empty room with feigned wonderment over who the lucky chosen one might be. Seeing no one, I glance down at the ticket in my hand, inhale audibly, and leap to my feet. Thrusting my ticket-in-hand arm in the air, I jump up and down, yelping with the delight of a power-ball winner, “Ooooh!! Oooooh!! Number 7!! I can’t believe it!! That’s MEEEE!!”
I approach the window smiling, free of the anguish of uncertainty. For I am now confident that at least for today, I’m pretty sure I will not be getting my ID card anyway.