Sunday, September 27, 2020

Karta Pobytu

Imagine the DMV: lines, chaos, maybe some tears, a general feeling of droll and dread. Add in a foreign language and that's about what it's like to visit the Ursząd Wojewódzki

In order to stay in Poland beyond November (when our current visas expires) we are applying for a three-year temporary residency permit, a karta pobytu. There is a 13-page applications (that needs to be filled out in Polish, of course) which is accompanied by about eight appendices. My final printed application package sat about three centimeters thick. After printing everything in triplicate I needed a large grocery bag to lug it to my Tuesday appointment.

I had little say in the appointment date. I send an appointment-request email with all of my key information and waited. If any information is missing you don't get a response, but if your email is properly constructed then within a few days they will respond back with your appointment date. Cameron was lucky- he was granted a day last week when we were on holiday but I have to take a few hours off of work on Tuesday morning. 

I was nervous going in. I wasn't just walking into the unknown, but I was walking in without one of the keys documents. I requested it from my employer about a week in advance, but despite express mail it didn't arrive in time. For safety reasons, they have everyone wait outside the building. It was a little chaotic. Although they had sections cordoned off for lines most people were just massed in a clump. After observing the situation for about ten minutes I attempted to explain to the security guard that I had an 8:40 appointment. He shuttled me inside, asked me to disinfect my hands, took my temperature, and then I sat in another room. 

From what I could tell, there wasn't much order inside that room either. There were three of us sitting in the waiting area and as one employee finished up with a customer they would shout out to us asking what we were there for and what time our appointment was. I was thankful that the man I was assigned to spoke English. He moved very quickly and seemed intimately familiar with the plethora of stamps in front of him. His hands were a wizz flipping through application pages and applying stamps and signatures to each. Every few pages he would look up at me and ask to see the original ink-signature versions of each document included in my application. 

He seemed unfazed when I said I did not have my Appendix 1; I would be able to turn it in later. I asked about taking fingerprints but since the machine was down it didn't need to happen. He handed me a slip of paper, which I assumed was confirmation of my application submission, and sent me on my way. Only after I left did I realize I forgot to ask for a stamp in my passport, which essentially is the pivotal part of this process and proves I'm legally able to stay in Poland while my application is processed. 

Two hours after I got home my missing document got delivered- cholera! After working with HR and sending emails to the Ursząd Wojewódzki I learned I could come by appointment-free between 16-19 on a weekday and then on Saturday there was an open house that might offer appointments for getting a stamp. I did not get one of those appointments because, as I learned when I went in for the second time on Thursday, my application did not have a case number assigned to it yet. 

Thursday was a much more nerve-wracking situation. When I arrived at 16:10 there was over 100 people waiting outside; some were in lines and some were clumped up, presumably waiting for an appointment. When I found the right line I think I was probably #50 so I sat down on the curb and worked while I waited. Every half hour or so it seemed like the security team handed out tickets to the first ten people in line and then fifteen minutes later those people were brought inside and the rest of us would lurch forward to fill in their place. 

I waited for over two hours until I was near the front of the line. Maybe if I understood Polish better I would have been able to get inside sooner since periodically they called out fo particular situations. Once I finally made it in it was similar to the first time. There was another little holding zone but I was called over to one of the desks after about five minutes. I handed over my missing document and the confirmation paper I got the first time, but the man behind the counter didn't seem to know what to do with them. He was just as surprised as I was that I didn't have a case number and he wasn't able to take my fingerprints or give me a stamp either. 

In an attempt to make me feel better, he told me that if I were pulled over by the cops and my legal status were to come into question I wouldn't actually need the passport stamp; that's just a formality that makes people feel better. I am one of those people who wants to feel better! He also said that probably I would get something sent to me in the mail with next steps but if not I could call in 10-14 days to see if a case number had been assigned yet. Basically, I left feeling pretty pessimistic that my missing appendix would find its way to the rest of my application. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

This mega building is filled with the paperwork and bureaucracy. 

Sitting on the curb waiting for 49 other people to filter inside before me. 

Finally at the front of the line. The security guards are very serious looking with miliatry-style outfits. 

This is what I found inside- mega DMV vibes!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Drinking with the Locals

It's probably no surprise to you to hear that Polish people like to drink. Wódka is the national drink, but from what I've seen beer and wine are still the common daily drinks. One of my favorite things to see is people setting out for an adventurous day (hiking or kayaking) and enjoying a beer at 9:30 in the morning. 

That being said, drinking is done socially. I had five friends over Friday night for a wine night and quickly learned that it is bad luck to pour refill your own glass. Of course that led to jokes about the disadvantages of living alone and lots of people making it very obvious when their glass was empty. Looking back, I think this is also why no one accepted my offers of drink and food until the full group arrived. 

This was marketed as a wine party, but I still was surprised when everyone brought a bottle of wine, plus I already had two. Seven bottles of wine for six people seemed excessive, but over the course of seven hours we got through six and a half of them– o boże! Only one of the seven bottles was a dry wine, everyone else brought sweet or semi-sweet. Of the seven, five of them were red. Despite this, I was asked to put all of the bottles in the fridge. Maybe it's just my lack of wine education but for now I shall think of chilled sweet red wine as a Polish thing. 

As we drank, we also ate, and sang, and cheered– "na zdrowie!" We cycled through party music from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia as we drank Georgian, Modovan, and German wine. Food wise, I made spanakopita (which my friends kept referring to as spinach baskets) and Cameron had baked cream puffs, which were of course a big hit. He only got to enjoy a few though since he had been banished to a bedroom during this time, but that didn't stop him from periodically texting me for things or to remind me to keep quiet. It wasn't a problem for us, but I actually have since learned that there is a noise curfew at 10pm; luckily we didn't hear any complaints from neighbors!

Overall, I feel very pleased of myself. I'm now officially in my late twenties but there was no hangover for me; I think that might be a sign that I am officially welcomed by Poland. 

Never pour your own wine!

Singing and dancing to some well-known Polish party song that I've never heard of. My favorite new song of the night was My Słowanie 

A game of fishbowl always makes its way to my parties. 

The reason there are clothes all over the couch is because we also had a clothes exchange. I'm going to another swap meet today because I've realized I have way too many things. Hopefully I leave with less than I walk in with. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Aisha after Dentist

I was too busy to write last week. I have been very busy: we moved flats, I've had some big demands at work, I'm putting to gather my temporary residency permit application, and yesterday was my birthday. With all of that going on, naturally I'm going to talk about the dentist. 

To put it out there, I almost always have cavities when I go to the dentist despite having pretty good oral care. I'm typically in the habit of having a dental check up every six months, but this year with the move and Coronavirus I've fallen off of my routine. That's not to say I wasn't trying! I called Lux Med (the medical provider) in May and was told they were not doing non-emergency appointments. I called again in early July and then again in mid-August before I got an appointment for 10 September. 

Lux Med manages all sorts of medical care coordination and there are about 15 locations throughout the city. When you make an appointment, you can specify if you need an English-speaker provider and if there is a particular doctor you want to see. If you don't have a preference you get booked at whichever facility has the next available appointment. When I called for a dentist appointment, they asked me "what type of dentist appointment?" I didn't really know how to answer that question so I said a check up and a cleaning, and was informed that those are two separate visits. Since all of the hygienist were fully booked, I only made the checkup appointment.  

The Lux Med facility I was booked at was about 40 minutes away by bus and located in a big office complex. After checking in at the receptionist desk, they send me to wait outside room 27 to wait. I was early so in the 20 minutes I was sitting there someone else got called into the room and was sent back out. Before I got called in they had me fill out a page-long medical questionnaire with the basics: do you take any medicine, what are you allergic to, are you pregnant, etc. 

When I was asked into the room, there was nothing unique about it. It had a set of cabinets, the dental chair, and a small desk with a computer. It looked like the base of every dentist office I had ever been in. Both the dentist and her assistant were fully masked up, but what I could see of her eyes and hair my guess is she was about my age. She started by going through a list of Coronavirus questions before sitting me in the dentist chair. 

It was very quick. They gave me a cup of pink liquid to rinse out my mouth with, and then the dentist quickly surveyed each tooth and called out numbers to her assistant. She then gave me a mirror and pointed out the dark spots on my teeth, which was kind of neat. I asked her about a sensitive tooth and she took an extra look at it and was able to tell me I was probably brushing too hard and in the wrong direction. Before swapping me out for the next patient, the doctor sat me down at the computer again and looked to see if my insurance covered an x-ray and fillings for all three of my cavities. Since it did, she signed off on a paper prescription for the x-ray and sent me on my way. The whole ordeal was less than 15 minutes, and I was a little miffed that I had bused 40 minutes for this.

I also didn't know what to do with my x-ray prescription. Was I supposed to call and make another appointment 3 weeks later? I went back up to the receptionist desk and I was pleased when they sent me to another room in the facility. As I waited another person came by and asked me what time my appointment was, and I truly didn't know; I was worried I maybe misunderstood when and where I was supposed to be. That guy got called in, and then about five minutes later he left and I was called in as his replacement.

The x-ray machine was awesome! As I stood with my chin resting on a little plastic bench the machine's arm swooshed around my body. It was way quicker and more comfortable than the other x-ray experiences I had in the past. This was definatley the highlight of Polish medical care! The radiologist informed me that if my doctor was within Lux Med then they would have access to my x-rays tomorrow, and if not I could come by next week to pick up my x-rays. 

She sent me on my way, and I once again was left not knowing exactly what to do next. I stopped by the receptionist again to set up my next appointment for the cavities. There wasn't anything available next week (which I have taken off of work) but she had an appointment available the next day. 

Friday I returned and was directed to the neighboring door to where I was at on Thursday. I was surprised to see that the receptions were different from the day before, and from what I could tell the assistant for dentist #1 also was different. When I was welcomed into the room, I surprised the dentist and assistant by announcing I only spoke English. The assistant was shocked but the dentist nodded and said "it's ok."

I didn't have to go through the Coronavirus questionnaire and although the same cup of pink liquid was sitting next to me I was not asked to use it. The dentist started off by asking me which cavity I wanted to fill in. I was not expecting that question, and I immediately responded "can you do all of them." That shocked her and she looked down at her watch and said "oh no, I don't think we have time for that. Just one." 

Not sure how to respond, I told her to fix the worst one–it's not like I have a favorite cavity. She took another look and said that since they were all surface-level cavities if I didn't need anesthetics then she might be able to do all three. That's fine with me! I really didn't want to have to come back for two more appointments. 

Leading up to the point where she started drilling holes in my teeth, there were some things that made me nervous. For one, this dentist looked to be nearing her retirement. Then, when she was checking her tools she could not get one to spray a consistent stream of water, it seemed to only mist. Her assistant couldn't figure it out either so she left the room to find a replacement. During that time, the dentist accidentally started raising my chair and could not figure out how to get it back down again for a solid minute. The assistant returned and the new tool head didn't fix the water problem, so she left again to grab a different woman who promptly showed that my dentist simply was pressing the wrong button.

Finally, once all of the equipment was set up the dentist set up my chair. She pulled the head rest back in a strange position and then kept the chair in the upright position. It wasn't wholly uncomfortable until the dentist started pressing down on my tongue which clogged up my breathing. The rest of the procedure was pretty standard to what I've known before. She drilled all three holes and then directed me to rinse with the pink liquid. It was strange being able to explore the holes with my tongue, but then putting down the filling putty and drying it out with a UV light was the same. The clean up was also normal, but there's a little bit of residual filling on the side of my teeth. 

Overall it was not the best dental experience I've had, but it also wasn't the worst. When I was retelling this story to some friends back home someone argued that this is an example of why the United Sates will never move to universal health care. Yes, it was a little odd and impersonal, but it was fully covered by my health insurance and it got the job done. In Poland, many people do choose to still go to a private provider if they want a more intimate experience, but I don't feel any need to pay for something that I can get for free.

The outside of the dentists' doors- day 1 and day 2. There are probably about 50 rooms at the Lux Med facility I was at and they all look pretty much the same. 

They had me fill this out at my first visit. Aft fist they gave me a Polish version but when they saw me using Google Translate to interpret what I was signing they found an English version for me.

There weren't very many other people in the hallways while I waited. I wasn't sure if that was because it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, if the dentist wing is just typically infrequently attended, or if people are choosing to avoid non-emergency medical care right now. 

Also, we move! This view is accessible about a block away from our house. 

Of course a move mandates a stope at IKEA. We probably spent 2-3 hours in the store and these kiełbasi were very appetizing afterwards. IKEA even had a vege version. 

Also it was my birthday, and of course Cameron's baking skills were put to the test. He made a layered meringue with coffee, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors. 

To celebrate we had a picnic at the botanical gardens with about ten friends.