Every year I make the dreaded trek to the Department of Immigration to renew my maid’s annual visa – all for the pure joy for her of cleaning my tandas, washing my dishes, and doing my laundry. Gerlie, who is my daughter’s age of 31, has been my devoted, loyal and loving maid cum friend for over ten years. Why is the trip so dreaded? For several reasons, most of which now seem to have vanished.
Last year, we were dropped off at the back of the building, not realising it was the back of the building and I had to pay some poor immigrant man to carry my heavy forearm walker up steep flights of stairs. This did not sit well with me as this was an almostnew government building and not to have at least basic provisions for the disabled seemed a step backwards (excuse the pun). Other new buildings had ramps, lifts, kindly porter types, etc. When Mr Kong, my taxi driver, dropped us off this year, he found the front of the building where there were lovely, functioning lifts. The building itself is beautiful inside, very modern and clean.
The main reason I would dread the trip was because I was born with a guilty conscience. Going to Catholic schools for 18 years only reinforced my guilt. What I took away from Catholic pre-Vatican doctrine was that if something felt good, or I was happy or things were going super, then surely it was a sin, an aberration I had caused by my joy-seeking ways. It took two “unusual children” and decades before I was free of this garble-barble. But the hard wiring of my brain, I now accept, will always have some guilt, so I work around it.
I would frantically check all my own documents, work permit papers, and IDs and make sure all was in order first. Then I would check all of Gerlie’s. My guilt-and-fear aura would transfer to her, and she would then shakingly check mine and recheck hers. By the time we arrived inside the designated room, we were a perspiring wreck.
Another reason I dreaded the visit was upon pulling up to the back or the front of the building, we would see unusual type lorries with bars for windows where Mr Kong announced they hauled all the bad illegal people away to a prison-type place, an internment camp of sorts, and then deport them. These lorries had real people crowded into them, and it would strike the depths of my sympathetic heart to see them. Obviously they had not my Catholic guilt or they would have checked their papers better. Also, it was very hard for me to believe that all the women and teenagers we saw were “bad.” To reinforce the utter non-humour of the situation were the men (and I saw a lady this time) guarding them. Wearing khaki camouflage uniforms with pants tucked up under their knees to allow dark khaki socks and thick boots, perhaps to further shock and awe guilty-feeling people like me. Honestly, I have rarely seen any people who look as fearsome or give off such fierce vibes as these officials.
Thanking the Almighty for my pale white skin and blond hair – and from long experience I also felt a tad grateful for my physical disabilities – I felt a bit safer inside. We took the lift and, because there are no signs in English anywhere and our Bahasa was extremely limited, after going into several rooms that did not cater to maid visas, we found our room.
Gerlie bounced in, perky as always, while I let myself slump against my walker. My physiotherapist would have been horrified. I put on my best strained and pained expression and Gerlie went up to the (as we soon found out) extremely nice man, interrupted the person whose turn it really was, and asked if there was a queue for the disabled. They saw my pathetic self, and told Gerlie they would take us right away. I always hesitated to look at hordes of people in the room, some of whom must have been waiting there for hours because once again my guilt was rearing its ugly head. Yes, sometimes my guilt is justified.
But people, I felt compelled to use what I had been blessed with, and that was the forearm walker and my ability to make anxious and pained expressions. The air-con was set so high, I would melt in ten minutes if not taken right away, not to mention the cigarette smoke was making me nauseous at that point and I knew the longer I sat there waiting, the more nervous and guilty I would feel. Thank god, I am not a criminal by trade. I would give my bad deeds away just by someone looking at me.
What I want to convey to all my fellow expats is the genuine kindness of every single immigration official we spoke to, even the scary-looking ones. They were all smiling, they held doors open for not just us but everyone, and no one growled at anyone, something common in the past 15 years. The staff seemed actually happy and there was even laughing. Was this my Immigration Department?
The one sign we could read said Immigration so we know we really were in this lovely new place!
Source: The Expat October 2013
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