THE FOLLOWING IS A REAL TRUE STORY from my SUPER COOL NEW BOOK, East meets West meets You and Me. You can order this book here for fifteen wholesome American dollars, just follow the paypal link at the bottom. Wow.
Nathan asked me for help with his residency paperwork. I speak pretty good Turkish, and he’d arrived last spring sometime and was not adept at navigating the system yet, and so thought having a translator on hand would help out.
Doing your residence, your ikamet, is complicated in the best of circumstances. The basic process doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but what you have to do is make an appointment, show up with a bunch of papers, and then wait for it in the mail. But the required documents you need change every year, the place you apply at changes every year, and the cops are informed about these changes only half the time. Working papers are difficult to get, so most of us pretend to be “tourists” for years at a time.
One time I bribed a change office to write me a import slip saying that I’d changed $6,000 into lira and could provide for my own needs. Jari once forged himself into Orkun’s rent contract but before while trying to get it notarized, the notary public said his (fake!) contract was due 500 lira back tax. He and Orkun tried another notary, and they said it was 400 in back tax. So they spent a few hours wandering to different notary offices, shopping for the lowest imaginary tax price for his imaginary lease. Anna had a story about meeting a guy in a parking garage for some documents and then waiting in some müdür’s office all day while he processed a combination of forgeries and favors. I’ve turned in an application which lacked crucial documents but the cop liked me and so said I didn’t need them, and conversely, I’ve lacked a photocopy of my passport and got sent away until another day because they refused to let me use the copy machine right behind them. It is a struggle of the little man trapped in a bureaucracy that Kafka would have wet dreams about, a test of wits and charisma, of stupidity and luck. My friend Valentin observed: “the process of getting legal residence in Turkey is proof that you can actually live in Turkey. It’s a pretty good test.”
The government at that time was in the midst of some bureaucratic reshuffle, creating a new department to handle residents and migration, the Göç Müdürlüğü. Poor Nathan had applied for an appointment under the old system, and then while he waited for the date (three months later), the system changed, and his appointment vanished. So when he arrived at the police station, they had no record he existed, and told him to reapply under the new system. Which he did, and got another date, another three months later. So now he’d overstayed his visa by about six months.
We caught a cab not to the central police station, but to the new Göç Müdürlüğü building in residential Beşiktaş. It was a strange complex with three different buildings labeled A, B, and C. We tried A and the cops sent us to B. We went to B and the cops sent us to C to get fingerprinted. We went to C and the cops said Nathan didn’t actually need to get fingerprinted for his residency because he wasn’t a refugee, just a potential resident, and sent us back to A. The cops in A told us we were in the wrong building. We googled the address to the Göç Müdürlüğü and it was building A. We were stumped.
We texted our friend Brian to ask where the building was, as he’d just done his residency the previous week, and he sent us an address a few kilometers away. We got into another cab.
Now we were half an hour late for the noon appointment. We found the Göç Müdürlüğü sign outside a building, walked up two flights of stairs past completely empty and unlabeled offices, and found ourselves in an office lobby where a few other foreigners were waiting. It was also empty. A wire hung down from the ceiling, a few floor tiles were broken to bits. There were no signs to indicate this was the right place, just a piece paper taped to each of the three closed doors in the lobby, all labeled A, B, and C.
We knocked on A. We were ignored. We knocked again. A cop opened the door and said it was lunch break and everyone would be back in half an hour. We knocked on B. Another cop opened the door to say the same thing, and we explained that we had an appointment for 11. They told us to wait. We didn’t bother knocking on C.
When A, B, and C all opened their doors in an hour, all the foreigners got up and crowded around them in masses. We elbowed our way to the front of one of them, and got in by showing how much time had passed since Nathan’s appointment was. Inside the room (A) there were three desks, labeled 1, 2, and 3. Each with a migrant and a cop processing their paperwork. We sat down at 1 and the woman looked over Nathan’s paperwork and started stapling and checking everything was in order.
“It looks like you’ll be fine,” I said. “I might take off.”
“Yeah that’s alright,” Nathan said.
Just as I was about to leave, she stopped and asked when Nathan had entered the country. I relayed the question to him, and he threw out a date some nine months earlier. She looked at it the application and said, “well then this is invalid,” and crossed out the entire front page and wrote a huge İPTAL – cancelled.
“Whoa slow down!” I said. “He got an appointment under the old system but—”
“He applied for residency after he’d overstayed his three-month visa. This application is invalid.”
“But he did apply, except your system lost his application.”
“Then he needs to re-apply,” she said, giving him back some documents, and throwing the rest of the application away. “He needs to leave the country, get a new passport stamp on entry when he comes back, and reapply within three months.” She waved us away, and called someone else over to Desk 1.
“But when he leaves, he could be fined, or worse, banned,” I said, standing up. “Can you maybe write a thing saying that he’s just doing this because he has to get around the bureaucracy?”
“Olmaz,” she said. It can’t be done. I looked at Nathan.
“I take it whatever you just talked about isn’t good,” he said.
“Think of it this way,” I said. “You’re going on vacation.”