Recently I was told by one or two fellow Armenian Special Residency Visa holders that I had to check in with the Republic of Armenia Police Department for Passports and Immigration, otherwise known as the Office of Visas and Registration or OVIR. Supposedly five years after the issue date the visa holder must go to OVIR and register with them, for purposes of national security I am assuming. My visa was issued on December 24, 2001, so I figured I’d check in a few weeks early from the actual deadline and get it over with.
My wife and I arrived about 15 minutes early from the office opening time of 11:00 am to wait in line. I have only heard horror stories about people having to wait in queue for hours at a time, only to be rudely dismissed by an official for some triviality. Since I have no patience for waiting around, and neither does my wife, we decided to go down there early and be the first ones in the door, but we were actually the second in line. As soon as 11:00 rolled around some guy wearing a pathetic green uniform came out to lift off the “Closed” sign from the black vinyl-seat rusted metal desk chair perched at the top of the entrance way stairs and mumbled “Come in.” Then the race was on—some guy tried to cut in front of us and I pushed him aside, declaring that I was second in line, then my wife told him he should wait his turn. We walked in facing a huge empty lobby, with a staircase leading upwards to the uncertain. In a rush I asked the uniformed guy whether or not we go should up. He replied, “What do you need to do?” We ignored him, now fresh in the sprint, and started climbing the stairs. The same guy tried to cut us off again and I pushed him aside once more. He kept saying more or less the equivalent of “go figure” to flaunt his mild discontent, but he was in hot pursuit of us. We reached the second floor and found a long corridor of closed doors. Then we climbed up to the third, then finally the last to discover even more closed doors, with no one handy to answer our inquiries. We looked at each other not knowing what to do, so we opened a random door to ask a woman sitting within where we would go concerning residency visas, explaining briefly my situation. In the meantime, the guy trying to pass us approached to exchange a few words with me. He wanted to start an argument, then before he could get a word in I told him to screw off (but in stronger terms). Then he grabbed my collar, demanding I speak more “sweetly” with him, but I ignored him, trying to overhear my wife's conversation. We had to descend to the second floor. I brushed the guy aside yet again and we made our way downstairs.
The second floor was for the most part completely dark—there was natural light coming through a window from each end but no lamps could illuminate most of the corridor. We saw a line develop in front of one closed door, then started to panic. My wife found an unlocked door and burst in. We had to figure out quickly where to go so that the wait queue would not get too out of hand.
For some reason I was expecting to approach a window, like you would find at a bank or at administrative processing centers like a department of motor vehicles found in the States, which was why we found ourselves running around frantically, trying to be the first in line for the next service representative. I forgot that I was in Armenia
, and that in order to accomplish something in its bureaucratic system you have to walk through several doors in order to obtain the information you expect, if that is even possible. Each similar experience I have had has been Kafkaesque.
She found out that we had to go to room 211. We ran up the corridor, checking each door along the left side—204, 205, 206 and 207. The door number to the immediate opposite of the last was 223. We looked at each other again, then ran towards the other end. Some of the doors were unmarked, then we started to freak out as no room 211 seemed to exist. So I started to count the doors with numbers, which all progressed neatly in numeric order, so through subtraction I determined the door that we needed—my wife burst in at once. The robust man sitting at the desk looking at her blankly told her to go next door. She knocked on that one, then opened it slowly, asking “May I?” We were hoping it was the right room, but we couldn’t be sure.
“How can we help?” the portly man with drooping eyes asked from behind his laminate desk.
“We were told to come in this office,” she started. “He has a visa,” pointing towards me.
“I have a 10-year visa, and I was told that I supposedly have to check in with you, as five years have already gone by…”
“Are you a citizen?” the man asked—why he did I could not figure out.
“No, I’m an Armenian diasporan,” I replied, then he looked away, and a woman approached us, seemingly from no where. The only other person in the office was a balding guy, also overweight, who was preparing to start playing his arcade game as the program was loading on his PC.
“What do you want,” she asked us.
“I don’t want anything, really,” I smiled and a bit surprised. “I just want to know what I need to do—whether I need to be registered with you or not.”
“He’s a foreigner, you know,” my wife added.
“Let me see your passport,” she requested, and I gave it to her. She inspected it for about five seconds, then gave it back to me. “You don’t need to do anything. Everything is normal.”
“For sure?” I asked, suspiciously.
“For sure. You don’t need to do anything more.”
“What happens if I leave the country, then return? They’re not going to give me any trouble at the airport?”
“None at all. You’re all set.” ‘Why the hell was I told that I have to come down here,’ I thought.
“Thanks. OK, let’s go,” I said to her, and we darted out. We could hardly contain our laughter before we emerged from the lobby into the parking lot, wedged between the dozen or so apartment buildings surrounding OVIR. It was all so absurd. We were in and out of there in 10 minutes at the very most, running around like two lab mice trying to find the cheese in the great labyrinth of the administrative oppressors. Turns out we weren’t really hungry, and there was nothing to eat anyway.
Labels: Personal Experiences, Social and Cultural