It is 6am on rainy day in the Ile de France with time to kill before the 9am opening of the Sous-Prefecture of Palaiseau (A prefecture is a regional administration unit of France.) It’s time already to renew my titre de séjour which will enable me to stay another year in this country. When I arrived in front of the gate I was greeted by the smiling faces of a group of African men, my fellow immigrants. As I take my “ticket”, a simple scrap of paper with a number hand written on it, I note that I am already number 22 in the queue.
I am offered an equally simple exercise book in which I write my name alongside my number. Outside the Prefecture my fellow immigrants are organised, orderly. « La personne qui est la première dans la file d’attente est venue à quelle heure, messieurs ? » I asked. (What time did the first person in the queue arrive ?) They point to a hooded, young man. “Minuit!” he said (Midnight).
After the usual pleasantries and a chorus of shared horror stories of the French Administration system I take my little ticket and head off to a quiet spot. I am hoping like crazy that this process is going to go more smoothly than last year (or the year before) because winter is fast approaching and I don’t fancy waiting in the snow.
So much of my life in France has been swallowed up by the French administration processes in a seemingly never ending cycle.
Yesterday, I made a trip into Paris to visit the organisation responsible for my state health insurance. I need to back track a little here so that this will make sense. The French embassy in New Zealand gave me a visa “in principle” but this is required to be validated by the local authority once you arrive. To obtain the full visa I was required to register my business immediately. I then had the pleasure of starting to pay the French social charges (cotisations) regardless of whether or not I have earned any money.
I presented myself at the l’Urssaf offices in September 2008 to register the business to be told by a rather stern receptionist that I couldn’t do this without a social security number. Politely I asked where I did this and I was directed to the building across the road. Bear with me now, OK! In this building, the receptionist informed me that I was in the wrong place and drew me a map to my next building, some distance away. As I arrived at this new building I noticed a large crowd spilling onto the path outside. “Oh oh” I thought. Once again, I took the obligatory ticket and read in consternation, “Il y a 88 personnes devant vous” (there are 88 people ahead of you.) In my head I kept repeating to myself for the 4 hours I waited for my turn, “Please, please let this be the right place!” Once again, I nervously asked the receptionist about my social security number.”Ce n’est pas ici Madame” (It is not here, Madame). Aargh!! Smiling between gritted teeth I asked where to next for which the reply was a shoulder shrug and “Sais pas!” (I don’t know). Dead end!
By this time my politeness was definitely wearing thin and I realised my precarious situation: no social security number, no business; no business, no visa; no visa and end of journey. No Way!!!
I made my way back to the l’Urssaf at the beginning of the cycle and while maintaining composure I used my best authoritarian voice in my faltering French to say to the stern receptionist, “You WILL register my business NOW, WITHOUT my social security number.” LOL, she looked startled, didn’t say a word and registered me. I felt a litte exultant to be able to leave with the precious piece of paper in my hand evidencing my business.
After 22 months in France I was finally granted my own social security number after having paid quarterly cotisations (LOL the bills for the cotisations always came on time to the right address ;)), after they had lost 5 copies of my birth certificate and after numerous trips to their offices. I still have not received the final product-the carte vitale-after 2 years.
Why am I writing all this? It is a long-winded way of saying I have learned a whole new lesson in this journey. During my first 29 yrs in the church whenever the Lord wanted me to move cities the doors were speedily opened to enable me to do this, often in miraculous ways. This request from the Lord to come to France seemed so immense that I just expected the doors to be wide open. But that has just not been the case. At every turn I have been confronted with barriers and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. At times this has made me, and certainly some of those close to me, question my decision to come here.
I have constantly been on my knees in prayer, my question always the same, “Am I am in the right place, at the right time doing the right things?” and although I don’t get it right every day the big picture is clear-I am where I am supposed to be.
I will eventually share some of my experiences which have confirmed this but I wanted to share just one here (LOL if you are still reading). About 9 months after I arrived, my Bishop here had an interview with me. Throughout our time he suggested that perhaps I had been mistaken in coming and perhaps I should go home to New Zealand. At the end of our time he suggested giving me a priesthood blessing in which he said things that he could not possibly have known, things said to me before many times over the years by different means. I knew then that he may have been the mouthpiece but that the Lord was speaking. He went on to say that I had been sent to this part of the world for a reason but that He was NOT going to give me the reason just yet. He promised to take care of me financially and that I was not to worry about that aspect.
Although it is not necessarily getting any easier I believe that this journey is my proving ground. How much was I willing to give? How much faith do I really have? How much trust do I have in the Lord’s plan for me even when logic and I go our separate ways?
I can only tell you that I am still sitting outside the Sous-Prefecture at Palaiseau this morning, waiting for the doors to open.