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A veteran journalist's take on such diverse subjects as religion and religious violence, democracy, freedom of expression, sociology, journalism, criticism, travel, philosophy, Southeast Asia, politics,economics, and even parenthood, the supernatural, film criticism, and cooking. Please don't hesitate to participate by starting a comment thread if you have an interest in any of these subjects...or anything else, for that matter... p.write@gmail.com

Wastin’ away again…

Waiting is the hardest part
Patrick Guntensperger
Manado, North Sulawesi
First, I apologise for the gap in postings; it’s not because I’ve had nothing to write about, but rather the opposite…I’ve not had time to sit down in front of a screen and hit the keys. But now, I have nothing but time. I just don’t have much Internet connectivity. It’s chancy here at best and it’s a day’s expedition to go to an Internet cafe or even a reliable WiFi hotspot.
I am reclining on a chaise longue on the patio of our house outside of the city of Manado, North Sulawesi in Indonesia. It seems that I will be doing much of that for the foreseeable future…possibly for as much as a year. I’m here because now that I’ve done all that I need to do to put my parents to rest, Yolanda and I have put the battle to get our son legally recognised as such back on the front burner. So here we are on the equator, battling bureaucracy once again and, as usual in the tropical Far East…waiting.
Among the hurdles that the Indonesian bureaucrats have erected this time is that I have to establish residency here. That imposes a requirement of a half dozen different permits, visas, and other documents, each one of which requires the acquisition of yet more documents, each one of which takes a bribe (or  “handling fee”). It also requires me to fly back and forth to Jakarta at the other end of the Indonesian archipelago several times to submit documents, be fingerprinted, etc. and at least one flight and twenty-four hour stay in Singapore (or Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, or anywhere else offshore).
There is something in the soul of bureaucrats of developing countries that seems to thrive on pointless, redundant, and copious paperwork. They are also slavishly devoted to rubber stamps…not in the metaphorical sense of “rubber stamping an application”, but rather in the sense that a document – any document – to which a rubber stamp has been applied assumes a much higher order of authenticity and authority. For that reason I have a backpack, one large section of which is crammed with rubber stamps I have had made. These seem to add authority and authenticity to documents I am forced to create in an attempt to slake the bureaucratic thirst for otherwise impossible to acquire documentation.
This time, however, we have managed to secure the one document that gives this farcical paper chase a sense of finiteness; we actually have an official written list of the requirements for the court order we seek.
Until now (that is, for the last two and a half years) the game that was played by the various civil servants we encountered in our Kafkaesque quest for a simple order of adoption was to move the goalposts every time we came within kicking distance. We were repeatedly refused any definitive published statement, statute, or regulation that laid out the requirements for our request; each individual civil servant made up his or her own rules and imposed his or her own regulations. At each step our success or failure was determined entirely by the caprice of an individual bureaucrat, not one of whom was accountable to anyone or any published or even printed regulatory guideline, and each one of whom was free to charge whatever he or she could get away with extorting. Now, however, we have a document signed by a minister that lays out exactly what we need to do to finalise this adoption. This we can and have waved in the face of recalcitrant civil servants; I still pay the bribes, but I take names and record amounts for future criminal charges. There is light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, none of this is to say that the requirements make any sense or are even possible to fulfill; but at least they exist in some form other than the fertile and mendacious imagination of rapacious officials. By way of example, the appropriate authorities – that is, the Yayasan Sayap Ibu and the Social Department – are fully aware that it is our intention to bring JJ to Canada the instant we have the legal right to do so; this is what they want, even demand, as they are ever so focussed on the best interests of the child. Nevertheless, they are entirely uninterested in where or under what conditions he will be living when he moves with us to Parksville.
We have provided them with reams of documents (as per our list) describing the arrangements we have for his life overseas. We have an appraisal of the house, Google maps of the neighbourhood, a list of schools, hospitals and community services in Parksville, photographs of the bedroom we have prepared for him, statements from neighbours that they don’t object to our proposed adoption, copies of our home’s fire insurance policy, etc. etc. They showed not the slightest interest in these documents that they had insisted we acquire, have notarised and then “legalised” (for a cost) at the Indonesian consulate in Vancouver. They show scant interest in any aspect of those required documents (except of course in the rubber stamps I had assiduously applied thereto).They are however deeply interested in the requirement for two home visits to our temporary home in Manado…a home JJ will only occupy until they release him from Indonesia.
They assure us that a home visit will take only about twenty minutes. Nevertheless they are delighted to have us pay for: the return business class flights for three Jakarta civil servants to North Sulawesi, five star hotel accommodations for three days for same, meal money for same, per diem “pocket money” for same, and oleh oleh for same. This little first class vacation will occur at their whim, and then will be repeated several months later at their further whim. These, lest we forget, are visits to a home they are completely aware we will abandon as soon as they let us.
So I have set up a second house, this one in Indonesia, and completely furnished it for no reason other than to provide an excuse for an expense-paid five star holiday for three civil servants on two occasions. While waiting for these dedicated public servants who are ever so focused on the best interests of the child and want nothing more than to ensure that my son is well cared for, I simply put in time. I feel like the refugees in Casablanca…waiting and waiting and waiting for those elusive letters of transit…only there is no Rick’s Cafe in which to spend evenings playing roulette and drinking champagne cocktails.
Sporadic Internet access, nearly impossible to get Jakarta or overseas newspapers delivered, I’m passing the time by having the local welder turn some scrap metal and an oil drum into a pig-roasting barbeque (at least pork is easily found and widely enjoyed here in Manado). I measure my days by the calls to prayer emanating from the local mosques and I play with my son and neighbourhood children in a kid’s swimming pool on the patio, I read e-books, I write, and I wait…and I wait…
…enditem…

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