Friday, May 9, 2014

Get my passport

You know you're Polish, when you have to ride for 4 and 1/2 hours from Gainesville  to renew your passport. The bureaucracy required me to show up in person and I should feel lucky- if it wasn't for the fact that the Consul has set up shop for a few days at the Polish Catholic Mission church in Pompano Beach I would have had to fly to the embassy in Washington DC. At the same time, my Irish friends were able to apply for their new passports simply by mailing their documents to New York. You would think that in the age of computers they would be able to set up measures to at least help people with disabilities who can't get around easily. I don't drive and I'm in a wheelchair. I had to pay a friend to drive me there, nine hours on the road minimum, which was still cheaper than having to figure out flights, taxis and a hotels in DC, because I don't think I would have been able to get back that same dame. And for what? To fill out a form, a return mail envelope, a petition to have the passport mailed- you need to list special circumstances that prevent you from picking up  the document -once again- in person at the DC embassy- and to give them your pictures. Granted, they did try to take my fingerprints, but as soon as my spastic right hand proved problematic and wouldn't read properly they just gave up making an annotation in  the system that the prints couldn't be captured. American Immigration had in contrast rolled my fingers back and forth over and over until they got it right. The building itself was incredibly wheelchair unfriendly. Not something that you see in America that often. Thresholds, steps, narrow hallways and not one wheelchair accessible bathroom- and after many hours on the road let me just say I was eager to find one. Thankfully, we were able to  grab dinner at the local pancake restaurant after and of course there was no problem there. I just wish that the Polish government paid closer attention to their more vulnerable citizens. Is it that much to ask of an official state operation to be able to accommodate someone with a disability and pick a building that they can easily get to? But that's the thing- the administration rarely thinks of individuals in wheelchairs as being active, being out there and like me needing a passport. At first they even thought I was there accompanying someone else. What can I say. They were simply not ready for me- and it was to me a good a reminder and illustration of how little my home country cares about me. For a few days I've been stressing about getting the right picture. Cropping, photoshopping, erasing backgrounds. I've heard stories about people getting turned around for having a photograph that was too light, too dark, too pale, too high contrast, too low contrast and don't even get me started about how controversial glasses seem to be. A person accepting them seems to have a lot of discretion as to who they send back, so I brought three different options that took me a week to get ready. At the same time Americans just get their passports and pictures at the post office. A Polish one is quite an investment- $144  and  half of that if you have a disability, add $17 for mailing, add $40 for faster processing add what I believe was $20 for a temporary passport. I guess I can have a roadtrip across the state once every ten years- having to renew this document now just reminds that it's been almost ten years since my American adventure started. I'm different, but my country feels to have changed much

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