Tuesday, December 20, 2005

I'm in bureaucratic hell and afraid I'm failing

I feel obligated to start with the preamble that I know there are extremely serious problems in the world. While I struggle with my bullshit, there are people who are being tortured, who are starving, who live in extremely oppressive countries. Come the "worst" for me, I am "stuck" living in one of the wealthiest and freest societies in the history of humanity. I am very well aware of my luck -- and to me, it is that, luck, as I did nothing to deserve the gifts I was born into, just as the poor and oppressed did nothing to deserve their fate. I am getting into the realm of philosophy here and that is for another blog ...

So, here's my pathetic whining, the reason for my tears of frustration, my churning stomach, my aching head:

1. I finally received the clearance letter from the Costa Rican government. They spelled my name wrong and they put "no date of birth" in the space where it is required because the consulate did not provide it (although, of course, I did -- in several places). I could scream. I will submit what I have with my PR application to CIC while I request another letter from Costa Rica. I figure that if the CIC returns the application, I will have the new letter to include when I send it back. If the CIC accepts the application and sends the letter with my file number, I will send the new clearance letter and ask that it be added to my file, referencing the number.

2. Yesterday, after waiting for months for a promised letter from my current supervisor, I wrote a letter myself and asked that she sign it. I sent it via email last night and then visited the office today. (I rarely see supervisors, as I work at assignments at other locations.) SHE'S NOT THERE ANYMORE. And the current person says that it is against corporate policy to write letters. They use a third-party processor, called "The Work Number" to verify employment and it will only provide the barest of information. I've had experience with these "Work Number" people before, as another (previous) employer uses them as well. They won't issue a letter to me and if they hear that it's for anything having to do with immigration, they'll stop talking to you. I ended up calling number after number at the corporate offices of the employer, until I finally emailed someone who was mentioned on an outgoing voice mail, explained my journey thus far, and begged him to have pity. I got a three-sentence letter; at least it's something.

I believe that with persistence and time, I can get something from this employer, too. But I am concerned because it is my current employer. I feel that this will hurt our application because I don't think that the CIC is just looking to see that one is employed, but that one is highly employable. I've written a ton of material about my skills and what I've accomplished -- but is the CIC willing to take my word for it with hardly any back-up from a third party? Somehow, I doubt it.

Meanwhile, the documents we've been collecting over the past five months are aging.

I'm not in much of a rational mood right now, but better than I was a few hours ago. I am trying to think of some creative solutions, like submitting letters from people I've actually worked with (who are not my employers) along with whatever "official" letter I can get. I mean, it makes sense to me, but I don't know the mind of someone who evaluates applications at CIC. Are they strictly "by the book" and have no room for circumstances?

Have I just been wasting my time (and money) all along? Should we cut our losses now before we pay the hefty application fees? I feel like I need to see it through, so that I am not defeating us. But it will be crushing if we get rejected. Really crushing. Perhaps it was hubris to think I could make this happen anyway.

On "Marriage"

Hi, folks,

As you know, I'm new to this blogging thing and have yet to figure out some of the protocols. There was a comment with a question and I want to respond, but am afraid that it might not be found in the comments section alone. Thus, I am making it a post of its own. If this is a faux pas, forgive me.

"1beb" said (in part, see comments for full text):

It forces me to wonder what LGBT's are really fighting for. Acceptance? Or the rights given to someone in a marriage. Seriously, who cares if they call it a civil union so long as you and your partner are afforded the same rights as breeders.

My response:

Hi, 1beb,

Thanks for your comments.

I have to say that I am not familiar enough with Canadian law to answer your question about Canada. I can, however, express my concerns about the distinction between "civil union" and "marriage" in the United States.

There are many, many laws and policies that mention married couples, husbands & wives, or spouses (at the federal level, I believe it is over 1000 and when I get a chance to research it, I can get a better number). It would be next to impossible -- and highly improbable -- that all of those could/would be amended to include civil union partners. As far as I know, there is no magic bullet that can provide equality in all but name, except to call it the same thing.

My other issue is one of separation of church and state. If "marriage" is a religious word, the government has no business using it. My preferred solution, actually, is not for the government to acknowledge same-sex marriages, but rather to call the legal status for all couples "civil unions" and then let the religious institutions decide what they want to call "marriages."

In other areas, there is this separation. When a child is born, the child needs a birth certificate from the government. The family may choose to have a religious ceremony and that may be extremely important to them. But the two are separate. Being baptized (for example) does not give one status with the civil government and no one expects it to. In the same way, upon death, a death certificate is needed for legal reasons and it is separate from any religious ceremony that takes place.

It is not the government's job to "bless" anyone. But if they give a status that includes rights, privileges, and responsibilities, it must be available to all.

I do not expect, nor would I want, a church (or other religious body) to be forced to perform a marriage ceremony for any couple it did not want to. Indeed, they can and do refuse couples now: Roman Catholics (officially) do not recognize divorce and remarriage. The Southern Baptist Convention says that in a proper marriage, a wife should submit to her husband. Many religious bodies would never recognize the marriage of two people who do not share the same faith (and, perhaps, not of the same "race," as was true in the past). That is their beliefs and they are entitled to them. They can, along with their members, decide what is a blessed and holy state for couples. But the government should not base its rules on particular religious beliefs. There are religious bodies that will recognize same-sex marriages now, although it is not widespread. The government is not supposed to take sides in religious questions.

To summarize: The word "marriage" is a problem. If the government insists on using it as a legal term, it must do so with equality. Otherwise, we need a new word for all couples to use in the legal sense and give "marriage" back to religion.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Stephen Harper made me cry ... twice

Because I've been in the thick of the application process, I haven't really blogged much on my thoughts and feelings in terms of motivations for this undertaking. I can get quite worked up and I will post my manifesto at some point when I can spare the energy. But I did want to share these episodes because they're somewhat timely.

On the first day of campaigning for the federal elections in Canada, the leader of the Conservative Party, Stephen Harper, declared that he would call for a free vote in Parliament in reference to same-sex marriage. Now, when he talks about it, he makes it seem that it is all about freedom of conscience and allowing MPs to vote what they really feel, rather than reigning them in, as apparently was done. And, he insists that what he wants is a vote -- almost that he doesn't feel one way or the other. Well, who can argue with that?

It sounds so rational, so democratic. But we're talking about people's lives and the equal rights of a very small minority. In a constitutional democracy (or republic, or monarchy, etc.), society is one of laws based on ideas (or ideals) set forth. One doesn't vote on everything: that's mob rule. People often confuse the two: democracy and mob rule. We also often forget that the rights of minorities are our rights because one day each of us may be on the other side of the mob. And, of course, I have yet to hear an argument about same-sex marriage that rationally explains how two people of the same sex having their marriage recognized harms any other marriage. (Key word: rationally)

Anyway, back to the crying. I was so disappointed; this is so "American." Why revisit this? Gays (LGBT, queers ...) certainly are bruised in the U.S. from being a political football, used to work people up over an emotional -- but really very small and largely inconsequential to most folks -- issue to get votes. It's hard to describe the feeling of being used in this manner. It's bullying writ large and I know a lot about being bullied ... but that's another story. So, in tears of frustration and flashbacks to near past and far past, I decried, "Why can't they just leave us alone?!" When can we just be people and not an issue?

And, maybe it was all for the best. I've taken to idolizing all things Canadian, and I really must stop it. There are asswipes everywhere and Canada will have its share, even in laid-back Vancouver.

OK, so that was the first time Stephen Harper made me cry and I guess that was about a month ago or so. The second time was last (Friday) night (or was it the night before?). I feel lucky that we get the CBC where we are, so I get to fantasize that I'm already there. But, seriously, I am learning a whole lot; let's face it, Americans know next to nothing about Canada except maybe hockey, "eh," and beer.

I tuned in and just missed the English debates of the party leaders, which I had wanted to see. But they did run some highlights on the news. (Canada Now?) Of course, one of the first questions to Mr. Harper was about same-sex marriage. And he repeated his very rational-sounding explanation. But I heard more this time: He made it clear that he was in favor of equal benefits/rights for "equivalent couples" to marriage, but he upheld the "traditional definition of 'marriage' as between one man and one woman." Well, this blew me away! And yes, my eyes welled up. Why?

THAT WAS KERRY'S STAND IN THE U.S. PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION! The Democrat! So, get this: the "Conservative" stance in Canada is that of the Democrats in the U.S. Maybe Stephen Harper is the "compassionate conservative" W always claimed to be? Well, the Republicans here are in thrall to the theocrats, so I don't expect compassion any time soon. Don't get me wrong: I don't agree with this "separate but equal" stance and it pissed me off about Kerry. But when the conservatives in the U.S. not only want to bar the government from recognizing our marriage, but also want to invalidate any protections under the law we've made for ourselves (powers of attorney, wills, directives, etc. - at great personal cost, btw), and, by contrast, the Conservative Party in Canada cedes that all couples should have the same rights and protections, it is cause for tears of wonder. At least for me.

Oh, Canada!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Quick Follow-up to Yesterday's Post

Last night, as I was reading "What Canadians Think ... about almost everything" in bed prior to lights out, I tried to find the source of the statistic I mentioned in yesterday's post -- and couldn't. I looked and looked and the book doesn't have an index (librarians shake their fists). But I read it somewhere; I really don't just make stuff up out of thin air. At the same time, I'm not satisfied until I can provide proper citation, so I've deleted the item from the post until I can do so.

I made a bunch of phone calls and web visits today trying to find a service to officially translate (provide a certified translation of) the police clearance letter from Costa Rica once I receive it. (It's like getting a document notarized; only certain people can do it.) At first it seemed that there were loads of options, but it wasn't true. I'm too tired to write the whole story. The first legitimate place quoted me $250.00!! I've decided to work with a woman who runs her own business in translating materials and quoted me $50.00. (Funny how that seems reasonable in comparison.) She knew what I was talking about without my having to explain, seemed ingelligent and competent. She can't start work on it until December 12, but I still have work to do myself on the application, so why not? At least it will get done.

Forgot to mention yesterday that we did check out the job situation while we were in Vancouver. There seem to be a lot of jobs, but on the low end of the scale. I visited the Vancouver branch office of a temporary services agency that I have had luck with here in Seattle and am thinking this will be a good starting place. They can access my records now because I'm in the computer system already, so she told me to come see them as soon as I had my SIN card or am close to it.

Temping has a poor rep, but I think it's a great way to get started in a new city. One has access to businesses and workplaces that would otherwise be inaccessible. I get to learn about the job market, what my skills are worth, what different "corporate cultures" are like, etc. Plus I meet new people and that's good socially and vocationally -- a great way to get local experience and pick up local references. Alan and I both temped when we first moved to Seattle and it worked out very well for us.

I feel that I have been neglecting family and friends (including newly made ones on the 'net through this process) for the past several weeks. Ack! I will feel better and back in the world again when I get this application on its way to Buffalo!

To those who have taken the time to write comments (and anyone else who may be reading this): thank you for your support!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Reconnaissance in Vancouver & other news

I hardly feel like I can write, there's so much on my mind. I hope this is coherent.

Alan and I took a four-day trip up to Vancouver. We've been saying that we need to make a few trips during the process to learn as much as we can about what we hope will be our new home city some day. Alan had "use 'em or lose 'em" vacation days, so this was the perfect excuse. We took the train, which we've done before. It's really beautiful because it goes along the coast, sometimes amazingly so -- at time it feels like the train is on tracks on the last edge of land possible along the water. Much nicer than interstates and besides, we don't have a car and neither of us is comfortable driving anyway. (nervous nellies) And the train is much more comfortable than flying; there's plenty of room and you can get up and move around easily. Am I turning into an Amtrak commercial? (I am pro-rail, btw, and it really bothers me that when folks talk about subsidies to Amtrak they forget the deal that was brokered decades ago. What is it about Americans and memory? And keeping to agreements? Lumber anyone? I'll let much better qualified folks rant about that.)

Wow, digression central.

Vancouver is way cool, but we knew that already. Love the sky train (fast and frequent). Despite what we've heard about Toronto's transit system from the "we move to canada" blog, we didn't realize honor-system payment was the norm for all of Canada. Dopey us, we wandered about our destination station, looking for the turnstile to put our ticket through so we could leave without sounding alarms. Finally, a native had pity on us and said, "you look like you're looking for something." So, we told her and I think she was amused, but not in a condescending way. "No. We have freedom here. Just leave the station; you've paid your fare."

Gosh, I can't stick to a point. Bottom line learning: our cost of living will go up and our income will go down. That's the reality, at least for our first 2-5 years probably.

Visiting Safeway (omg, my card works in Canada!), it was deja vu all over again to when I had nearly blacked in response to the prices on my first shopping visit to a supermarket in Hawaii (where I lived for some years). Yikes! But I did notice that sale prices were much the same as our sale prices. [And I've mastered the art of sales and coupons, much to Alan's amusement (and appreciation); he knows he must stop for a recitation upon my return home from shopping of each item I bought on sale AND had a coupon for.] Restaurants are more expensive North of the border, so we'll be having less of that. So, in general, we'll need to roll back to a few years ago when we had to economize to get ourselves out of debt.

And we still want to go. Hard to say no to a more enlightened society that, for example, spends money on healthcare and not war-mongering, a more livable city that doesn't worship the car with a stripe of highway through its center, and a government that recognizes our marriage. (Although I understand that if the Conservatives win the election, they have promised to re-visit the issue. Should we be concerned?)

We've picked out a neighborhood (West End, sorry if it's a cliche') and even an intersection we'd like to be near. See, we've done the city relocation thing before and we know the incredibly banal stuff that turns out to be important (to us, at least): proximity to a full-size supermarket, public transit, and laundry facilities. Yes, nice eateries and artsy stuff is great -- but in every day living, we have found that certain things need to be real close or it's a drag. Walking and busing to the finer things in life is not as big a deal. But have you hauled groceries/laundry for blocks or boarded a bus with a load that doubles your weight? Not pleasant and it gets old real fast.

We had fun exploring the city, although most of it was all the "downtown" neighborhoods (not crossing water). We walked our little legs off and even ventured via bus to Granville Island (but missed the plays we wanted to see) and skytrain to Commercial Ave (these were the exceptions to the "downtown" neighborhoods). As we felt our way around, we would "translate": "That's like our Cap Hill." "Yaletown is Belltown." "London Drugs = Bartell's." Etc. I hope current residents will not take offense. (offence?) It's our way of putting things in context, but it's not like we intend -- or want -- for everything to be the same, like the stereotypical tourists that travel to distant foreign lands and then only do things exactly the same as at home. We've visited Vancouver before and appreciate the city for itself and we're excited at the prospect of being a part of this vibrant, multi-cultural city. But this visit was with "making this home" glasses on. I'm sure that once settled, we'll start having random new exciting discoveries and occasional bouts of culture shock.

Unfortunately, this trip, we did not have time enough to explore the natural beauty very much. But Stanley Park, the seawall, and beaches beckon. And we'll be a little happier doing it when we're not damp anyway. It was pretty wet most of the time we were in Vancouver, but we're from Seattle, so we're not as freaked out as a newly-transplanted Californian. There was one bright, crisp day and it was glorious.

We stocked up on books, magazines, and newspapers -- ones we could only find there. I have plenty to read. I'll try to list some book titles on the right side of the blog home page. Right now, I'm nibbling "What Canadians Think ... about almost everything." Very interesting. Forgive me for sharing a self-centered factoid: [deleted until I can find proper citation, see next post].

So where are we with our application? I'm killing my current employer with kindness -- I brought her flowers on the day before (U.S.) Thanksgiving Day -- to get her to write the letter I need. Who would have thought that this would be the last item I would be waiting for; you would think it would be the first received.

I talked to the Costa Rican Consulate and she said she received my clearance letter on Monday and would mail it Tuesday or Wednesday. I should receive it any day now and then I have to get it "officially" translated, which I'm researching how to do.

I've cut back on my (paid) work hours so that I can really devote more time and attention to getting this baby done and on its way. If it's not sent by December 31, I will be a basket case. Wish me luck (and focus).