Thursday, 1 September 2011

The song remains the same

I had a lovely rendezvous with a part of my past. For the first time in 11 months I spoke with an ex-colleague and ex-employee of the defunct Waitakere City Council, Auckland. Michelle was the person who kept on top of group admin and activities for the head of EcoWater, a business unit of the council and one which I enjoyed working in along with other tasks.

She and her husband Ian were on a European Holiday and took time out to motor down on a motorbike, from Normandy, to visit me in Cafeolait. I felt very humbled by this. I also had a thoroughly delightful time. Such a relief to speak to a fellow New Zealander who spoke native English. Someone who could understand me, our shared past experiences. As we walked around the park and shared a meal we explored the past, identified the present and wondered where on earth we were all going in the future. One thing seemed certain, we’d all be facing changes.

Ian commented that there seemed to be so many of us in mid to later middle life who were facing major decisions, major change and major discomfort; not knowing what to do about it, how best to survive and thrive. Some of us get strong urges to do something specific and scary, such as my need to dismantle my entire life and start over with nothing in a strange country on the other side of the world, alone. Very, very risky.

I’ve been really stressed for the past few months. Extremely. Three months ago I visited the prefecture to collect documents to renew my Titre de Sejour which would allow me to stay in France and work for another year. I queued early, knowing that the queuing is a nightmare for most. Hundreds of hopeful immigrants queue each day. Some sell their place in the queue to the desperate. Often there is a quota of only 30 per day taken for interviews or attention. It’s highly competitive. There were 200 people ahead of me that day and I was the only ‘white’ person. I hung in there and I struck it lucky. I inched through the doors hoping they wouldn’t close them before I found my way through. Then there was more queuing as I tried to decipher which line I should be in as everything is in French.
When I reached the desk I tried to explain why I was there and was given a number and another line to queue in. It took all morning. Finally I reached another desk and struck it lucky again. The staff person was unusually nice and thoroughly intrigued by my NZ passport. Well, it is pretty with its silver fern down the side and the artistic drawings inside. Also it’s one of the new digital chip passports. A few staff gathered around to look at it. I smiled warmly while my heart beat fast. I was given a document and an appointment mid September when I must appear with all documentation before my card ran out and I had to leave the country.

Seems simple? I waited for a new contract for three months really hoping the paperwork would get done before my appointment date. Otherwise I would then have one week to get out of France or I would never be allowed back in. Only a few days ago, two weeks before my appointment did I receive an email indicating the University would employ me for another year and I’m hoping this will be enough for the Prefecture.

I also need to exchange my NZ Driver License for a French one. This requires red tape, paperwork and running the admin gauntlet. I must do this before my Titre de Sejour expires this month or I will have no license. I can’t do this with an expiring ID. Everything is holding its breath and I’m starting to asphyxiate in the efforts to obtain a new Titre de Sejour. I will need to do this each year my boss wants to employ me, sigh!

And so it was a temporary ‘pick-me-up’ to have Michelle and Ian spend some time with me in Cafeolait, over a meal outside in not quite mild temperatures, swapping stories, news and ideas. They are positive and intelligent people and I want to see fresh and exciting, positive developments happening for them. And me too.


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