We handed over to the immigration control officers what identification documents we had easily accessible. We weren’t entirely sure, frankly, that they were in fact officers. They didn’t volunteer their own ID readily.
Our lack of enthusiasm combined with our insufficient ID inspired the two officers to morph into four as they led us deeper into the terminal.
“Where are your passports?”
“Where are you from?”
“What are you doing here?”
“Why are you in Bolivia?”
I answered their questions. I asked to be able to look for my father, who was somewhere in the bus terminal looking for us. This was ignored, beyond:
“Who is your father?”
“Why is he here?”
I rattled off the names and identification numbers of both my parents, as well as our address. Nothing. I told them repeatedly, “I LIVE in Cochabamba. This is my home. My address is…!” They ignored me.
Two or three other officers walked up behind us. Katherine and I were surrounded.
They handed me a paper to sign.
“What is this?”
“It says that we have your documents.”
“What happens if I sign it?”
“You can walk normally [‘caminar normal’] until Monday morning when you show us your other documents. Then you can have these back.”
We stalled, trying to get more answers from them. Nothing. Just old questions.
“How long have you been in Bolivia?”
Answering their questions had thus far done nothing, so I tried, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand much Spanish.”
The lead officer snorted. He told the others, “They have no papers. They’re Illegal.”
“What do you think I’m going to do?”
“Nothing. Sign the paper.”
Katherine pointed out that all they’d be getting was her photocopy and my driver’s license if we signed.
I asked again, “What happens if we sign this?”
“You may go and walk away normally and we keep your documents until Monday.”
“Fine!” I scribbled a signature angrily and tore off the top copy – my copy – and reached out to hand them back their copy and pen. “You may have them!”
“YOU cannot tear it! You cannot have it!” A woman ripped all copies and the pen from my hands. The man added, “You are going to the office.” They began to lead us away.
“You told me that if I signed that then I could walk away.”
“I did not yell. I am tired. You told me that if I signed then I could walk normally.”
“You are going to the immigration office.”
“Where is the office?”
“The office is here? Where here?”
We were, by then, at a back door to the outside of the terminal. Police were waiting.
“You said it was here. Why are we outside?”
The military police took control of us. A female police officer was pushing my right shoulder, leading me towards an unmarked SUV. Katherine was behind us, also being led forward.
“What is this car?”
“Get in,” she said.
“Where are we going?”
“To the office.”
“They told me we could go if I signed a paper. I signed the paper. Then they told me I had to go to the office and that the office is here. Now we are leaving? To where?”
“The office. Get in the car.”
Katherine saw Dad’s car in the parking lot and pointed it out to me. I tried to get the police to talk to him.
“Look! That is my father’s car. He is inside and he will be worried. Please let’s find him inside and ask him about this.”
“You can call him at the office. GET IN THE CAR.”
As I got into the car I responded firmly, “This is not safe.”
We were pushed, albeit gently, into the back of the unmarked SUV. They drove us to the office located on El Prado. During the drive, one of the men in the front made a phone call, in which he said, “We have them. Six gringas from Chile.” Katherine and I were the only two gringas in the car. We were led inside and quizzed again. They called my mother at home and allowed me to talk to her. I filled her in and told her that we’d need legal help.
After a bit, one of the immigration officers stood in front of us, leaned back against the wall, and asked, “Are you more tranquil now?”
“I was tranquil, and I am still tranquil. I was and am confused. They said if I signed the paper I could walk normally. They said the office was there. These things did not happen.”
He chuckled and shrugged, “Sometimes they miscommunicate the full process.”
I asked him what would next happen. He stated that, “You will show us your documents. Or, we can hold you for eight hours. Then you will go to jail.”
He was standing below a poster which portrayed notable victims of racism in Bolivian history. My white skin could sympathize with the darker tones of the photographed victims of Bolivia’s past.
Katherine and I waited in the hall of the office until someone arrived. A dear friend of the family, who happens to be – without exaggeration – the world’s leading expert on Bolivian law, entered the building. He walked straight into the office and conversed with the inspector. He apparently had us released into his parole custody, and he then delivered us back to my home.
This is where we stand:
Katherine and I must be at the immigration office at 8:30 Monday morning. Katherine will show her passport, establishing herself as a legal tourist, and will be absolutely fine. For her this is a mere formality and her parole will be lifted. No problems, no records, absolutely no worries!
My situation is more complicated.
I have no passport to show, because Rita the Travel Agent has it. Dad and I went to Rita’s office on Saturday. She has promised to be available at her office at 8:00 in order to be picked up by us to go with us to immigration at 8:30. She absolutely must be there. If she skips out then a plan is in place to solve the situation. Our legal adviser, bless him, is positive that he can transfer my parole custody over to my father and can prevent me from going to jail. What happens Monday hinges largely on whatever Rita does – whether she appears, whether she still has my documentation after lying to me for nearly two years… and whether she has been behaving legally.
The questions for Monday are how much money I will have to pay the government of Bolivia – for her failure to procure me a legal visa – and whether I can stay in Bolivia at all.
The primary goal, of course, is to stay out of jail and, as Katherine puts it, refrain from becoming someone’s buttmonkey.
But I’d really like to stay in Bolivia, too, thank you.
Side note: all of this drama has been murder on my work – on which I WAS ahead of schedule! I’m madly trying to get everything finished and submitted on time with class deadlines. There will likely be a delay before I get to update the results of Monday morning, and delays will not mean that I’m a jail-stuck buttmonkey. Schoolwork is the priority, writing-wise.