Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Bijeli Karton

Hmmm, I'm not sure what to write about today. I have a few things in mind. Why, for example, haven't i been to the protests. The joy of registering, or trying to register, oneself as a foreigner at the local police station. The fun I had translating, or rather interpreting, Laka's eurovision song. The snow storm that has nipped us in the butt. So hard to choose. I usually have a 'need' to write about something...but today is different for some reason.

Let's try my day(s) at the police station. Here it goes.

As a foreigner here in BiH, we are obliged to 'register' ourselves at the police station. Of course,at no point or time does anyone ever inform you of this. You have to figure this out all on your own. So when you cross the border or fly into Sarajevo, there is no mention of this 'legal' obligation to register yourself and get this coveted white card.

After figuring out which police station i had to visit I made my first of many attempts to 'register' myself. When I entered the station across from Tito's Barracks in Sarajevo there was a big sign on the reception door that insisted 'you must check in here before going further.' I, logically, did so. The cop looked at me like i had six heads...shrugged his soldiers and curtly asked me 'so why are you asking me, that's in room 4!.' Well, i thought, at least i got the information i needed. Room 4!

Off to room 4. I pass several no smoking signs screwed into the wall, barely noticeable from - you guessed it - the smoke filling the hallway from every single policeman that i encountered. So much for law and order huh. But the real treat was soon to come. Room 4. Just opening the door sent smoke bellowing out into the hall. A lone woman, chain smoking, handed me an uplatnica and a sort of guarantee letter that my 'host' had to fill out for me. So basically i had to get a notarized guarantee letter that I would be staying with my fiance and pay 5 KM into their account. What efficiency. So off I went.

So because the flat is registered to my punac and not my draga, i had to ask him to get the guarantee letter signed and ovjeri-ed in the municipality. Fairly painless. Got it done by the next day. Returned to the smoky station. This time, however, i went directly to room 4 like i was told last time. Out comes the same guy from reception, yelling at me for not checking in with him. Confused, i apologized, try to explain and figured it would be better to shut up and just get to room 4 as soon as possible.

This time the boss was there. The woman, still chain smoking, sat in the other chair....not doing much of anything. I handed in my paperwork, just like a school kid who had finished an assignment on time. He looked at me bewildered. "What is this?' he asked. "the papers you require for me to register myself' I replied. He shakes his head. Pulls out a list. Hands me a carton and a checklist of papers i need. "when you have all this, then come back.' I looked at the woman. No reaction. I told the gentleman that i was there yesterday and this was what the woman gave me. No further instructions. No checklist. No bijeli karton.

She flat out lied and told him she told me everything I needed the day before and went back to making love to her cigarette. I was given the bijeli karton, a form that was proof that my host was actually the owner of the property where i was staying - which, of course, had to be ovjeri-ed at the opstina. I needed a copy of my passport and a copy of the page with the stamp signifying which date i last entered BiH (if one did at all receive a stamp upon entering).

Hmmm. More than I thought. The Croats have a simple and effective system. Why are we so complicated. Then i chuckled at myself. We love to make things difficult for ourselves. We employ half the country with our difficultness.

So off i went back to my punac. To the copy kiosk. I went back for a third time a few days later. Two ovjera's, two photo copies of my passport and my stamp, one bijeli karton. All done. I was told to come back in a few days to get my stamped bijeli karton. We love stamps here. Nothing is real without them.

I thought I would be able to run in, grab my stamped bijeli karton, and get on with my day. The line was out the door and down the smoky hall. Several people cut in line and just went in ahead of all the people queuing. I knew that all i had to do was go in, take it and leave. I struggled to bring myself to just go ahead of everyone and do it. I started and stopped. Started and stopped. I couldn't do it. Damn America. They programmed me so i can't even skip the queue for christ sake.

So i waited. And waited. Observed the smoking policemen upholding the laws of the land. When i got close to the door i noticed two things. First, there was a complaint box - one that not only had never been opened but that had complaint box (for foreigners) written in Bosnian and cyrillic. That helps, huh. The second thing i noticed is that this department for the registration of foreigners had ALL the instructions, ALL the documents, EVERYTHING written only in Bosnian. What the hell, i thought?! What about all the Turks, Chinese, Germans, Americans, French? How the hell could they figure out anything? The simple answer is, they couldn't. You're screwed.

But if we get pulled over whilst driving by a lollypop holding drot, we have to produce a bijeli karton. And most foreigners ask 'But what bijeli karton?' And then the policeman snidely remarks ' you know you have to have a bijeli karton to be here!" So even though we don't need a visa to be here...we sort of do. And to be quite truthful, its almost more difficult to figure out how to get a bijeli karton than to process a visa.

So I listened to foreigners from close and afar complain about this 'system' and how it didn't make any sense. But dzabah...we all had to stand there nonetheless. My turn came. I entered to see the chain smoking woman - guess what - chain smoking. She wasn't doing anything, again or perhaps still. The friendly man handed me my bijeli karton with a smile.

I left the police station, smiling and smelling like a ash tray. It was as if i sat in a podrumski kafana for six hours. But i had my bijeli karton. Next stop - biro za zaplosavanje. I can hardly wait. Wish me luck.



Catherine said...

Croatian system 'simple and effective'? Hmm...

So what does Laka think he's doing?

Ali da Hodza said...

and I should bother to put myself through this ... why? ... exactly?

I was amazed when I found out about this registration "process" recently. I have never done it, nor been asked for it in all these years.

what nonsense!

tim clancy said...

simple and terms of if you come as, say, a tourist for a month. You have a hotel or apartment...the hosts take down your info, make a little white card, hand it to the police and you are registered. It serves many purposes: registering foreigners, statistical analysis, tax accounting...., well...being laka. It wouldnt' be possible any other way.

Foreign Dude said...

Timi, opet ja. I'm officially stalking you. Again, good luck at the bureau za zaposljavanje!

tim clancy said...

bujrum foreign dude. bujrum!!

metabalcanico said...

Very funny story Tim!:)...

I did that once in Zepce and I remember almost the same woman sitting behind a desk and pretending to work (young, in her early thirties but looking tired and lifeless), chain smoking, same idiot cops smoking and yelling swear words, smoke filled rooms, people entering and jumping the queues, blank faces of the employees when you politely ask a question and their half hearted responses and total lack of helpfullness..sometimes even amazement and bewilderment if I didn't know a certain legal requirements..:)..