Saturday, December 18, 2010

Residency Permits

Now that it has been a few weeks, we can laugh about this. Because we are staying in Istanbul for nine months, and because the primary reason we are here is research, we needed to get a longer term visa and an ikamet, or residency permit. We have met people here trying to go through this process on their own, which, in hindsight, seems a most daunting task. Lucky for us, we had the Fulbright office holding our hands, literally, and speaking on our behalf.

First, we needed to make the application at the large, central police station. Our friend, Ulku, who works at the Istanbul Fulbright office, made an appointment for us. The soonest appointment was more than a month away, well past the date by which we were required to have our permit. Which means, no leaving the country in the interim without big fines and problems. But, we were assured, because it was the government's fault for having such a backlog, it would not be a problem for us. As long as everything went well at the appointment.

Ulku met us outside of the imposing Fatih police station on the morning of our appointments. We went through security, registration, across an empty concrete courtyard and up several flights of stairs. We were clutching precious documents: appointment slips with our numbers. We each needed to go separately, we each needed Ulku to do the talking, and our numbers were very close together. Which meant that she spoke quickly with the first one, listening for the next number, than literally ran to the second window to do the talking there. By chance, the two windows we happened to get were at opposite ends of the building, so Ulku ran back and forth between us until all was settled. One interesting thing about signing official documents in Turkey is that you are always required to provide your parents first names, which we suppose is the ubiquitous “secret question” for identity, but we felt strangely displaced and uneasy the first time we were asked.

After we had stood smiling and nodding in our dress clothes, and Ulku had settled everything, we had to go downstairs to pay, a total well over a thousand liras for the both of us. We went back to our windows with the receipts, signed forms, and several passport-sized headshots. We were given appointments for the end of the week to pick up our residency permits.

The first appointment was over and successful. Other Fulbrighters we know weren’t so lucky, needing to go back multiple times, sometimes waiting many hours for a chance to make their case. Our second round of appointments turned out to be much more trying. We went on our own this time on a Friday afternoon to the side waiting room Ulku had pointed out to us. It was packed with people from all over the world, all crowding toward a little open doorway. There was no discernable line. Again we held appointment slips, but this time there were no numbers. Figuring this mass of people was forming some sort of queue, we stood at the back of it and began trying to shuffle forward with everyone else. You can imagine that this practice quickly makes for an extremely compact group of humans. A policewoman pushed her way into the middle and began handing back appointment slips to people who needed to come back another day. Their ikamets weren’t ready yet. But at least now we had a clue: we needed to hand our appointment slips in. We pushed our way to the little door at the end of the room and were fortunate to hand in our slips to the right person, which is not always the case. Observation over the course of the day never unlocked the secret to when appointment slips could be received. Sometimes people in our mass would all start to hand their slips forward to the person closest to the door, only to have the whole pile be rejected back out into our room. Redistributing the slips without a common language was a nightmare, and the slips are precious, the only link to the ikamet.

We did eventually understand the system though, such as it was. Through the little door sat one police officer with a pile of ikamets clipped to paperwork and appointment slips. When appointment slips were handed in, another police officer would go to the archives and try to find the matching ikamet. If the search was successful, the ikamet was clipped to the slip. If not, the slip went into the pile of disappointed hopes. The officer-behind-the-doorway would call out his best guess at each name. The Turkish pronunciation of all these foreign names was often a great source of confusion. There is no loud speaker, so that is why everyone is so tightly packed toward the doorway: they are trying to hear what they think might be their name. It is actually hard to keep your balance in the crush, and it goes on for hours. One of us was called after a mere hour-and-a-half (it felt as if it had to have been longer,) almost crying tears of joy when the officer relinquished the newly minted ikamet. The other waited over three-and-a-half hours, only receiving the ikamet when going through the doorway to check if that last strange sounding name may have been correct, and seeing the photo on the paperwork sticking out in the middle of the tall pile. “Lutfen?” (Please?) and a little helpless pointing resulted in success at last, just before the office was closed for the day. We emerged into the evening exhausted. It had been a real cultural experience, one that is probably similar for many people living and working in any foreign country.

Our friend and fellow Fulbrighter, Aimee Genell, had it much worse than us. She needed two initial appointments. Then, over the course of several weeks, she stood in that crazy, packed-out room for hours before being repeatedly sent away without a permit. We think she may have gone four times before she was successful. We decided to throw her an ikamet party. We went to the Wednesday Market to supply the feast, and built a tower of food to our ikamets - Aimee’s on top, with our friend Jordan’s and our own at the base. We cooked a big feast together and then, as often happens with this crowd, we found ourselves doing hours of karaoke off of youtube. 

We weren’t permitted to bring cameras into the police station, so the few pictures below are from the ikamet celebration, and of the precious documents themselves.

Aimee receiving her ikamet from heaven

The the guest of honor with the tower of food and ikamets.

The dinner featured many pickled vegetable appetizers, Sarah's famous spinach risotto, our spicy pan-fried chicken thighs, and the best solution to bad Turkish wine: sangria. 

Our Residency Permits 

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