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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Civil registry blues

There’s about a dozen women sitting behind a glass partition with sections for passports, civil registration and the like. Although new and improved, the room was not designed to comfortably accommodate the human cattle that herd in and cut in front of each other to get their bureaucratic papers straightened out. My mission was to obtain my daughter’s birth certificate; simple enough in theory, but this is the civil registry in Georgia, where if things were easy, it would mean something was terribly wrong.

Our problem begins with not having surnames that end in “shvili” or “adze.” Every Georgian document with my name written on it is an interpretation, lost in translation. My name is Paul, pronounced Pol, and written both ways, depending on who translated it. My last name is Rimple, Rimpel, Rimpli and Rimpe, and with different P's. There is P as in "puh" and P as in "pe". It could be worse. My name could be Justyna Mielnikiewicz.

Having the marriage certificate, translated passports and hospital birth registration jell was no easy task and took several trips to the registry to accomplish. Because Justyna was nursing little Nestan, Big Nestan, her de facto Godmother, was the cultural bridge and guided me through the rigorous process of getting a single piece of green paper with a rubber stamp.

Just when we thought we got the names straightened on a common template, the brutal window woman threw the papers at me and said “ara,” – no – the hospital misspelled my name and put some numbers where there shouldn’t be numbers. Moreover, the knucklehead notary wrote I was born in October instead of September.

Nestan and I went back to the hospital to deal with Nanuli, the Mafioso head nurse we “tipped” with German coffee and Polish chocolate two weeks earlier, when Little Nestan was born. She remembered me of course, as I caused a bit of fuss the day of delivery, but that friends, is another story. Big Nestan batted her eyes, charmed her with sugar coated words and we got a new piece of paper.

Back at the civil registry, the sour puss was gone, replaced by Tea, who checked that everything was in order and typed out a draft of the certificate for us to check. The names matched up except for a little detail. Nestan’s surname was Mielnikiewicz-Rimple. Justyna and I had discussed this. I spent my entire life spelling my surname out to everybody. Why put Nestan through added torture? Mielnikiewicz would be her middle name, like blueblood Americans John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Richard Milhous Nixon. This, however, was not acceptable at the civil registry office.

“That’s a surname, we can’t put it there,” Tea said.

“It’s a name. I could name her “potato,” what does it matter?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Haven’t you heard of John Fitzgerald Kennedy?”

Tea got her boss, who told us such a policy had not been written in the legislation. So there was nothing legally preventing us either, but in these cases, civil sector employees always say “no” because it makes things easier. I was getting ready to give in to the hyphen and let little Nestan suffer with a long name all her life, but Big Nestan pressed with JFK again.

“What’s the difference if her name is Nestan Mielnikiewicz or Anna Maria?” she added, at an increasing volume. In Georgia, you press if you want to achieve anything, from standing in line, to driving, to getting a birth certificate. I got into it and pressed as I always do – artlessly and with expletives. Meanwhile, the line behind us grew and pressed. People were irritated, but because Tea and her boss represented authority, they were on our side. “Why can’t you give them the name they want?”

“Georgians don’t do this,” the boss said.

“But they aren’t Georgian,” Nestan insisted.

“But this is Georgia.”

Then Nestan shouted, “Fine, we are journalists and will write how Georgia refuses to allow people to name their children what they want and the whole world will know what stupid people you are!”

That did it. They consented. They made Big Nestan sign a paper stating she understood what I was asking her to translate, to cover their butts. And then Tea, with an ironic smile (who would give a surname as a first name to a child?), typed out the birth certificate as we requested. Then we went upstairs to get the birth certificate translated. I just hope they spell the names right.