And now to the Hannah serial adventure of the residency permit. I was able to get my student certificate (öğrenci belgesi) by Thursday and went early Friday morning to the central police station down in Fatih, because I was required to take care of it there since they have the foreigners division. This takes about an hour and half of travel each way. You know you have arrived at your destination by the police officers with gigantic guns in front of the place, similar to the soldiers with gigantic guns guarding Sultanahmet. Anyway, you act very friendly as you walk past them, go through a metal detector that may or may not be on, give someone your passport so that they can randomly type things into a computer. They say that it is to keep track of who is in the building at all times, but no one checks you off when you leave. I think that it is to provide more civil service jobs. Anyway, now you’re into the complex. You march up a couple of stairs and a courtyard through a haze of smoke, and in my case on Friday, rain, into a building that could use a couple more heaters and walk into the Secretary of State’s Office from hell. First of all imagine that no one at the Secretary of State’s Office speaks English. This is the Secretary of State’s Office for foreigners, for whom the best common language is probably English, but no matter, it’s Turkish or nothing. Awesome. Next imagine that all the signage is also in Turkish. Good. Imagine that the lobby is full of various offices for people who have forgotten parts of the application because no one can figure out what is actually needed for the application. Imagine now that you walk up the stairs. There is an information desk with 2 Turkish speakers at it. They look at the number on your paper that you show in their general direction praying for mercy and some kind of aid. They tell you to go to a desk. You walk past rows of desk with plastic in front, most of which are either not staffed or have staff not doing anything at them. The aisle you walk though is too narrow for the average American to begin with and about 25 people are standing in it waiting for their number to be called, even though the number system is a mysterious creature and subject to flights of fancy that include going backwards and sideways. It doesn’t help that the numbers go up to about 800 and how they are assigned is also mysterious and most probably simply an Act of God. You don’t have an appointment that day because the school told you that didn’t need one. You go up to the appointed desk the next time the guy is free. He avoids eye contact or the acknowledgement of your existence for a few minutes by ordering tea and chatting with his compatriots, who are similarly ignoring their charges. Finally he looks up and you smile, because charm and bribery are your only hopes. He begins to look at your paperwork, which is complete darn it, even though no one else’s is. He frowns when he gets to the date on your paper and tells you to go to a different office. This is down more rows and rows of desks. You must finagle your way in and find the one person working that day. He looks at your paper, has you write your name on a piece of computer paper for reasons as misguided as the ones for looking at your passport at the entrance and tells you to come back at 7:30 PM for an appointment. It is now 9:30 AM. If you are me you decide that walking more than an hour to Sultahahmet in the pouring rain is a great plan. You end up at the archeology museum for the afternoon, cold and trying to dry out, which you do successfully except for your feet, which will think will be cold and damp for the rest of your life. The museum is fantastic though and you randomly meet up with a friend and have dinner with them. You take the tram to Fatih again and show up about an hour early, because what the hey, maybe they will be free. When you get there you go through the same routine except that the place is almost deserted and pretty much all the counters are free. The guy asks you to sign various forms in Turkish without explaining what they say which momentarily convinces you that you sold your soul to the Turkish Police. You decide that if it means you get a residency permit it is worth it. It turns out you agree to get kicked out of the country etc if you lied on your forms. He underlines many things in red pen and asks you a question which you worry is something terribly important but it turns out he wants you to confirm your parent’s names and your place of birth. You’re not entirely sure you can remember. He finally starts stapling things all over the place and hands it back to you. He says that you can come back on Monday to pay for the thing since in the incredible wisdom of this bureaucratic adventure appointments are available after the cashier closes but they can only begin processing your forms once you have paid for the thing. He tells you that you will owe 198 TL for the pleasure of another hour and a half commute. You decide that bitching him out for the absolute lunacy and frustrating quality of this adventure will not aid the process and so smile and leave. You heave a deep sigh of relief that the Turkish police have not decided to jail you, kick you out of the country or use their gigantic guns on you. And you leave.
Then you get up nice and early on Monday morning and go into Fatih. You go through security again. You give them your passport. You go to the cashier’s desk and give them exactly 198 TL. He signs a form in great swirly letters, gives one to you and does some more artistic stapling with the other and you return to the desk and wait for someone to be free, give another great big smile and hold up the line behind you. The man tears off a chunk of the form where he has written the date when you can pick up your permit. It is the day that you want to leave the country. You ask in the nicest voice you can muster after having roused yourself at 7:30 in the morning for an hour and a half on public transport that consisted of sitting next to a man that you are fairly certain has TB and then giving up your seat on the tram to an old lady and almost falling over 60,000 times as it careens around corners in a frankly non-safe feeling manner. You ask the man at the desk if your appointment could maybe possibly be earlier. He raises an eyebrow and asks when you want it to be and you very sweetly say just a day earlier. He alters the date and says that’s fine and you thank him profusely. Leaving the building you sing Mr. Rodgers “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood” to the guards and their gigantic guns. And you go home. And you begin to prepare for your hopefully final trip into Fatih to pick up your residency permit and shake the dust of the Emniyet from your heels forever. Please please please let it be so. I’ll let you know soon enough. Hopefully you found this story funny and enjoyable. Because I have to tell you, if you can’t laugh at the ridiculous bureaucratic tangles in this country, you might just lose your mind.