These two topics arise during the conversation at almost every gathering of foreigners: parasites and paperwork. They hold the same high level of disdain and elicit low begrudged groans.
How many times have parasites, amoebas, or other unfriendly bugs assaulted you? How many of those nasty sicknesses can you tick on a list? Does your nearest pharmacy carry over-the-counter drugs that raise a few eyebrows?
When one of my daughters was three I went in to her room as she was waking up from her afternoon nap. Stretched out beside her on the mattress I found a worm as thick as my finger and as long as her arm. The doctor was pleased that she passed it while she slept and declared the occurrence, “Completely normal.” Yeah, right! Completely normal that an alien would implant itself in the bowels of my child, feed upon her sustenance, grow to an unearthly size and then wriggle out in an attempt to dominate our species with it’s evil machinations!
My child survived and is now a teenager; which we all know is a very special kind of alien being. We’re gonna let her stay, though, because she’s a cute and cuddly alien, not a slimy, wormy one.
First trip to pick up the reissued birth certificate: misspelled name. Resubmit. Second trip, same document: transposed numbers. Resubmit. Third trip: wrong last name. Resubmit and get reinforcements. Lawyer sets up special pick up time from a specific window at a specific time of day. I cringe, fully aware that the crowd of hundreds will perceive this line hop as preferential treatment. In the face of injustice the natives get restless.
After a few deep breaths at the back of the room I fix my eyes on the designated window. My heart beats faster as I take in the mass of people I will have to squeeze through to get to the front. I duck my head down and find pockets of space to reach my destination along the zig-zag path of least resistance. Hope surges as I make it up to the final group of waiters. “Waiters” in that they have been waiting the longest, probably since before daybreak, for hours, to be attended. I remind myself I paid my dues and waited along with them three times. They don’t know that, but it gives me the courage to make that last push and dash up to the window.
I spit out the name of the person I need to see and the tired government worker disappears to a back room. A stealthy glance to my right reveals a sight of terror. One of the waiters broke rank! Her stocky frame barrels at me with amazing speed. I rehearse my rebuttal and apologies in Spanish in my mind. I don’t have time to say anything before I feel her pudgy elbow make full contact with my ribcage. She slams me against the window and begins to rant. The angry mob behind her all raise their voices in accusatory chants of expulsion. I feel a hand close around my arm. The person I have an appointment with grabs me through a small opening of the door. She shouts something back to the crowd. Then she shuts the door fast and leads my stunned being back to her little
Files stacked high on the tiny desk spill out onto the tiled floor. Happy ending to the story: I retrieved my kid’s perfectly correct birth certificate, in triplicate.
The trails of paperwork never end. Never. I bet you could tell me about some kind of paperwork you just finished, are in the middle of, or will soon be doing. It never ends.
So here is my prayer for all those suffering under the weight of paperwork or parasites.
“May your lines be short and your patience long.
May you rejoice in the moments of health and know that in the moments of sickness this too shall pass… literally.
Or you’ll vomit and then you might feel better. Or you might not feel better but at least you might lose a few pounds.
May you have the gift of tongues to interpret the medical jargon on the very strong medications.
May you interpret, as well, the official wording on forms, visas, signs, documents, contracts, etc.
When the parasites come crawling and the paperwork keeps trailing may you be surrounded by people of compassion and be filled with perseverance that pushes through to find some kind of humor in it all.
Let’s have it. I want to hear your grossest, your most tedious, and maybe, if you can manage it, your most humorous story about parasites or paperwork. And while we’re at it why don’t we all go ahead and wash our hands just one more time, okay? Thanks!
Image credit: Special thanks to the movie makers of ‘Men in Black’