So off I went to the capital on Thursday - to meet with a book club and then to hand in the papers for my citizenship. As I predicted, things did not go smoothly. What a surprise.
Danilo and I went to town for me to get the bus, leaving enough time to have my photos taken for the citizenship paperwork. We had plenty of time to spare so we went to the phone company Claro to get a free new phone. You can have a new one every 18 months, free of charge. It was a painless process, if a tad long, and in the end I was the proud owner of a new Nokia. Only one problem, it had very little charge and the SIM in my old phone was cancelled. My old phone had plenty of charge and no SIM and the new one little charge but a SIM. Simple, I thought, just swap the SIMs over. No can do, as they were different sizes. Also all my contacts were on the old card, which didn't work.
I got on the bus and thought I would use my laptop and USB internet stick to get in touch with the book club lady, Laura, who was meeting me off the bus. Stick wouldn't work. Computer didn't recognise it and said the device was faulty. Only option left was to turn off the new phone and hope there was enough charge to call her when I arrived in Santo Domingo.
When I arrived I had to go to Listin Diario, the national newspaper office to prepay for the newspaper advert which will be issued once I become a citizen. I got lost on the way, and with the words of my husband ringing in my ear to be very careful as there were lots of attacks in the capital in December, I was lucky enough to find a nice lady who walked with me to Listin Diario. It was then a simple process to sort the advert and Laura came there and picked me up. So far so good.
We went to a beautiful apartment for the meeting, and around 20 ladies came, all of whom had read the book. I had not realised there were so many bright expat ladies working in the capital. Some worked for NGOs, some for private companies and they had been here for varying amounts of time - from a few months, to decades. A type of expat I had not met before and I really enjoyed talking to all of them.
Food was served, and one of the things I was really looking forward to was different food from that I normally have to eat here. Laura explained to me that they always have food at their meetings and the type of food is based on the location of the book. My little brain whirred around. My book was based in the DR. Yes the food was Dominican! Having said that it was not rice and beans and was really delicious.
One of the ladies I met was Kate Wallace of Tody tours. She is the famous bird watching expert and runs great tours for ornithologists throughout the country. I had written to her two years ago when I was putting together a guide book for the DR. If anyone wants to check out the birds here, she is definitely the person to go with.
Once the meeting was over I went with Laura to spend the night at her place. I cannot tell you how nice it was to speak English and I really did have a great time.
Next morning, bright and early, I was off to meet with the lady who translated my birth certificate for me, Olga, who I met when she contacted me having read the blog. She does a fabulous job and having gone to her apartment, we set off for the Procuraduria to get the translation stamped. She went into the Procuraduria, which was full of people, grabbed a ticket for our turn and then we went round the corner to the bank to pay the RD$330, then back to the office. She found a man she knew working there and within no time at all we had the stamp and then it was off to the Ministry of Interior and Police who are located in a building called the Huacalito - once the biggest building in the country. A Huacal is a plastic crate where bottles are kept. The word for bottle is botella. Botella is also the word for those on the government payroll who don't actually work, and they say there are more people with botellas supposedly working in the Huacalito, or not as the case may be.
I don't know how to describe Olga. Her English is perfect and she made me howl with laughter. She speaks to everyone, seems to have control of every situation, and just makes things happen. If you need any translations doing, or just someone to help you round the capital with anything legal but not at lawyers' prices, she is your woman. You can contact her here.
So, there we are at the Ministry. I have flip flops on, and Olga says I should have closed shoes. So to disguise our entrance we helped some caterers carry up their food and breezed passed the security people. Me with a tray of pineapple and Olga helping to pull a cold box. Up to the thirteenth floor and into the office. I handed over all my papers: Letter asking for citizenship; copy of our marriage certificate and Danilo's birth certificate; colour copy of my passport and Danilo's cedula; application form; receipt from the newspaper and four photos and my birth certificate, duly apostilled by the UK Foreign Office and translated by Olga then legally stamped. The apostille has to be done on any documents which come from overseas, as long as that country is part of the Hague convention, and has to be done in the country where the document was issued. My mum had to get a copy of my birth certificate and get it apostilled, then send it to me. She did it twice as I didn't realise it had to be handed in within six months of the date on the apostille.
The man was not impressed. My name on my birth certificate was not the same as the name on my marriage certificate to Danilo. I explained I had been married previously and when I married Danilo the Central Electoral Court had seen all the documents and were happy with them. So had the Migration department for my residency. Nope. I had to hand over my original marraige certificate from my first marriage plus my divorce certificate. I had them with me so gave them to him, but they were not apostilled. He would not be persuaded and so we left empty handed, and I had to ask mum to get me a copy of my first marriage certificate duly apostilled and when that arrives I have to return, and do it all over again. Deep joy not.
Off then to get a new Claro stick, which was fast, painless and free and fabulous customer service. I was surprised as by then I expected more problems.
And Olga was amazing as usual and ran around Claro giving everyone her business card. What a sales woman lol.
Finally we went for lunch and I could eat my longed for hamburger at Wendy's and met up with another lady who wants me to speak at the International Women's Club meeting early next year. That I can hopefully combine with the second attempt at becoming a Dominican. Olga had a discussion with Wendy's management on how to improve customer service and stop queue jumping and how to treat elderly customers, handing out her business cards of course.
Then back to Caribe tour for the long journey home. My phone worked, my stick worked and although I didn't manage to hand my citizenship papers in, I made some new friends and have a new stick and a new phone. Life is good.