I just realized that I promised, but did not deliver, the story of Rory’s Guatemalan birth certificate. I have some free time now, so here goes. You might want to get some popcorn and a drink- as with most things in Guate, this could take a while.
Rory was born. My sister came to visit. I cried a lot when she left. My dad said he probably wasn’t going to be able to make it to see us and meet his granddaughter before the summer. Dave’s parents said they couldn’t come for Spring Break. I was sad. Dave and Sissy and Daddy said, “Go/Come to GA for Spring Break!” I checked our United miles, realized we had enough for two tickets and the plan was set in motion. We were going home.
Step One: Rory needed to be declared born. And an American. It made sense to go ahead and get her passport at the same time. I actually had to make the appointment at the US Embassy for all of this to happen about six weeks before she was born, just to guarantee (HOLY CRAP! I JUST SPELLED GUARANTEE RIGHT ON THE FIRST TRY! That is one of my words that I can never spell…) we’d get seen. For several days before the appointment, I worked on filling out the paperwork and figuring out what I needed to take with us. I had a folder. I had a checklist. I was SO prepared.
Step Two: Attend appointment at the US Embassy. Dave had to go with me. We packed the baby and her bag, my folder and checklist, our passports and off we went, hoping to find the Embassy… because we didn’t actually know where it was. You can breathe a sigh of relief, we found it easily after some slow driving down Reforma. We alerted the guy in the window to our presence and waited.
Step Three: Realize you left the formula for the three-week old baby on the counter at home. But it’s going to be fine because this whole process should not take longer than two hours and she just ate before we left. No worries.
Step Four: Get called to the counter. I handed over our passports and my folder, quite pleased with my organizational skills and eagerly expecting some praise from the man at the counter, something along the lines of, “Great job, Mrs. Horner. You are so prepared. Here’s your gold star.” What I heard instead was, “Where’s your RENAP?” Now, on the information sheet sent out by the Embassy, it clearly says you have to have a RENAP, not the birth certificate from the hospital. We had gotten a certificate of birth from the hospital. It was green, they put her little feet prints on it and someone signed it. Then, my doctor had given me a more official-looking form. This one had been typed and had a seal of some sort and had also been signed. That’s what I took to be the RENAP. After all, I’d asked me doctor what I needed to get her passport and that’s what he’d given me.
That wasn’t it. The RENAP is the official Guatemalan birth certificate and, not surprisingly, there is a whole other building and process for getting it. This is Guatemala- they couldn’t possibly make it simple.
So we’re told we have to go get this. First, the guy at the counter says it will take at least a week to issue. Hmm. That’s not going to work. Almost in tears, I explain that I had just booked a flight home for us because I was assured that we would have her passport in time if I came to our scheduled appointment. The guy decides that, rather than risk a crying fit from a hysterical new mother, he will call the RENAP offices. And he finds out that it only takes two days to issue. Better. He says I can bring it back on Monday and everything will be fine. He writes down the address of the office, points in its general direction and shoo’s us away.
Step Five: Try to find the RENAP office and figure out what to do. After driving up and down Reforma several times, we finally find it. We are at T-minus 90 minutes until the baby will need to eat. It’s going to be fine.
No it isn’t. The next 30 minutes go something like this:
Us: Ooh! A giant sign that says RENAP! Let’s go there. Speaking to the lady under this sign: Necesitamo un renap.
Lady under the sign (in Spanish): No, that’s not here. You have to go around the corner.
Us: Going around the corner. Ooh, another RENAP sign. Speaking to the guy in the little office under the 2nd RENAP sign: Necesitamos un renap.
Guy in the little office (speaking in Spanish): No, that’s not here. You have to go to information around the corner.
Us: Going to information around the corner.
This office was the size of a small kitchen and filled with 72,000 people. We get in line behind the other two people with babies. When we finally get to the counter, the woman tells us we must go pay for something at the bank right inside the doors to our right. So we go. But the banker says he doesn’t have whatever it is we’re supposed to be paying for and sends us to the bigger bank (you guessed it) around the corner. We go there, are pushed to the front of the line because we have a small child. I ask if anyone speaks English and NO ONE does. The woman tells me she doesn’t have what I need to pay for and I have to go to Zone 1. That, my friends, is like telling someone they have to go to Atlanta for something… and that’s all the information you’re given. I am becoming slightly ruffled. Firstly, I have failed as a mother on my first big outing with my child- she has no food. Secondly, it is hot and I don’t speak Spanish.
Step Six: Decide to go home and have a disagreement about it in the street. Who cares? No one speaks English anyway.
Step Seven: Change our minds and stomp back to information because we can’t think of anything else to do. Out of nowhere, a man shows up and speaks English. Then he brings a young woman who also speaks English. Both of these people decide to help us. We are pushed to the front of the 100+ people line (imagine a big room, filled with chairs with desks around the perimeter. Each time the person in the first chair gets up, everyone else hops to the next chair up. Nope… not kidding…). We fill out some forms, the baby starts screaming, I give her water which is all I have, we fill out more forms, we go to the desk, everything is going fine…
Step Eight: Argue about the fact that your child does not have two last names. Which she must, in Guatemala.
Step Nine: Decide on the two last names (just double her last name) and sit with a grin as the lady behind the counter gets ready to hit print.
Step Ten: Lose the network connection.
One hour later, the connection comes back. The child has been screaming for that whole time. I stood outside the office because it was so hot and was smothered in hateful looks the whole time. Not because she was screaming, but because I couldn’t make her stop. I got told to breastfeed her and when I said I couldn’t, I got judged. Harshly.
But it was finally over. We left there with the RENAP and drove home. I went back to the Embassy the next day and dropped it off. And the passport was ready two weeks later. And we got to go home.
I wish it surprised me how complicated the whole situation was… but it didn’t. It is Guatemala, after all…
(That’s an actual picture of the office)
ETA (edited to add): Today on the way out of school, I watched a cafeteria worker climb a tree so he could get on top of the school roof, for what, I’m not sure. All I thought was, “Nowhere in the US would that happen…” OIG.