Folders full of documents, crumbling stone buildings, grimy bus rides, 2-hour waits in sweaty bank lines, and long peeling-vinyl hospital corridors with white-coated nurses and pensioners shuffling their canes and dingy slippers along.
I’m right in the thick of the massive bureaucratic process called getting my Russian “Permission to Stay.” One year into the process, and a few emotional paperwork failures later, I’m a bit calmer and more philosophical about the whole thing. I’ve given up hoping that things will work out, and am pleasantly surprised when they do.
I can feel the heaviness of Russia’s aging bureaucracy weighing on me as I sit in the hallway of yet another crumbling Soviet polyclinic. So this is the famous Russian patience. It’s hard to tell what color the cracked vinyl on the seats used to be. A collage of crooked Cyrillic signs are pasted to the wall and door, warning me – DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, enter until the light signals.
Staring at the round, mounted lamp, I’m reminded of Batman somehow. All my energy is focused, ready to spring into action at the merest flicker.
After English lessons in skyscrapers, racing through marble metro stations, busy students in sharp black suits, and constant cell phone interruptions, Polyklinka No. 16 seems to be in a different time parallel. Far away from the shiny, fast-paced, money-gorged offices, this is an entirely different Moscow.
Past the dusty Soviet wood and stone wall mural, over the sleeping stray dog, out the creaking wooden door, past the nurses gossiping on their smoke break and into the overgrown green of the clinic courtyard. I’m clutching fist-fulls of papers from the head doctor, making the rounds to prove to the Russian government for the second time this year that I don’t have tuberculosis, HIV, AIDS, any other STD’s, and am neither a drug addict nor an alcoholic.
The stone-faced nurses routinely jab me with needles, demand jars of my bodily fluids, and perform X-rays. I’m expecting to be yelled at, but am pleasantly surprised when X-ray lady snuffs out her cigarette to give a sarcastically commiserating monologue about how ridiculous immigration is to demand two lung exams in 5 months,
“Seriously, what kind of work are you doing that they’re so worried about you getting TB? Is this really necessary? Oh well, let’s just give them what they want. There we are! Won’t this picture of your lungs make them giddy with happiness. Ridiculous, just ridiculous, you poor thing. Don’t worry, I’m on your side.”
But, secretly, I’m starting to like it…
I can feel my comfort zone expanding. My fear of Russian doctors, nightmarish bureaucracy, unknown marshrutka routes, Sberbank, mysterious polyklinika needles, and cranky Russian women who yell at you, is fading.
It kind of feels like an adventure. Russian bureaucracy is like a long scavenger hunt. There are cryptic signs and spravki on the way, cranky bus drivers and Sberbank tellers to help you with your quest, and an elusive document at the rainbow’s end. All you need is lots of courage, patience, and perseverance needed to make it through…At least that’s what I keep telling myself!