Friday, October 28, 2011

Home Front

The day I stepped into a puddle of water in the hallway coming from the toilet was the day I decided to move home. Two days later I moved my stuff out and was on my way back to Ma'ale Adumim. I find it very depressing to live with my parents at the ripe old age of 24 but at least their running water is not all over the floor. And anyway, there's no way I'll be able to afford an apartment while I'm in school. I haven't yet been able to enter the Israeli mindset of “I'll move out maybe when I'm 30. Or married. But definitely by the time I have grandchildren.” To me it seems unnatural. Children go away to college at the age of 18, move back afterward for a few months until they find a job and then they leave the nest. They either fall out or fly out but anyone who stays is a loser who sleeps in his parents' basement and smokes pot all day. It's hard to change one's perspective on such matters even if they are no longer applicable.
Moving back home is however, not even in the same ball field of frustration as trying to get money out of the government. As a new immigrant, I am lucky enough to get my higher education paid for. If the student authority can get it together enough to actually give it to me.
The first time I went was fairly simple. I opened up a file with them, gave them my documents (except the inevitable one I was missing), they gave me a password for their website so I could fill out an online form and sent me on my way. All I had to do was bring them the missing document and go to their website. Easy right? Never! I realized that I didn't have that document in my apartment (it was in Ma'ale Adumim and I wasn't yet) and that was the day my internet crashed. Ok. I took my computer to a coffee shop in the mall to at least fill out the form and then realized that I had to scan and upload all the forms that I had already copied and brought in to the student authority. The documents which I of course hadn't brought with me to the mall. So I filled out the rest of the questionnaire, and sent it in intending to go back and send them the other documents afterward.
As for the missing document, I just figured I'd wait until I went back for Shabbat, root around my room, and bring it back with me. I promptly forgot to do this and returned to Jerusalem without it. I then sent my father to root around my room and scan it. Unfortunately, it seems that our scanner is no longer connected to our operating system ever since we switched to Linux. I then gave my mother the task of meeting me in Jerusalem with the document which she succeeded in doing. I then took it to the student authority and asked them what else I needed to do. They asked me if I had a letter of commitment and I just looked at them blankly and went, “whaaa?” I honestly still don't know what they were talking about. But they told me I had to go to the bank to get them to set up a payment system where the university would take money out of my account every month. Then the student authority could put money in beforehand so that there would actually be something in there to go out. Plus I still had to upload the documents to their website.
I went to the bank and they signed the forms I needed to take back to the university. The next day I went to the gym on the Har Hatzofim campus and then took a bus to the Givat Ram campus (the one where I'll be studying) to hand them my forms. I wandered around a bit (I always get lost there) looking for the office of student finances. I finally found someone to ask and he told me I was on the wrong campus and that the student finance office was on Har Hatzofim. Well I felt like an idiot but I certainly wasn't going back there. I had to go to work in a few hours and traveling around Jerusalem is like trying to get through the Mexican border with suspicious looking suitcases in your beat-up van. It cannot be done in a time efficient manner. So I went home instead and tried to upload the documents. This was problematic for two reasons- one, it turns out my scanner is also not hooked up correctly, and two- the website wouldn't let me log back in citing that there was already a form filled out by someone of my name and ID number. Yes, me.
The next day I went back to Har Hatzofim. I got up early to take the 9:00 bus so that I hopefully wouldn't have to wait too long and so I'd have enough time just in case it didn't go smoothly. The woman at security asked me where I was going and when I told her, she looked at her watch and said, “they open in another hour and twenty minutes.” I was like, “what?! What kind of office opens at 11:00 in the morning?! This is madness!” So I went into the campus (the office of student finances is outside the campus), read a newspaper, got some coffee, and checked my watch every few minutes until I'd wasted enough to time to go back there. By the time I got there, there was already a line of people waiting for them to open. Luckily it didn't take too long for me to give them the bank forms and then be told that the security fee (No, not security deposit, the fee. Israel may be the only place where you have to pay an additional fee for security.) that I'd been trying to pay for two weeks had to be paid at the post office. Yes, the post office. Another Israeli quirk is that you pay your bills at the post office. Which is also incidentally a bank. And a place where you can change money. All this time I could have just walked into any post office, paid, and been done with it. So I figure the closest post office is on campus, so I go back through security, walk back up the hill, walk into the post office and try to pay. Foiled again! Apparently they only take cash or checks. Not credit cards. Well, I didn't happen to have 417 shekels in my wallet that day. If I have more than 20 shekels in my wallet it's a good day. And I certainly don't walk around with a check book. So I went home to regroup. I then took the dog for a walk down the street to the post office with a wad of cash in my back pocket and successfully closed the matter of the security fee.
With that done, the only thing left to do was drag myself back to the student authority and try to get some answers and possibly some money. I still hadn't paid the first payment of 3,800 shekels which was supposed to have been paid by September 12. The student authority expected me to pay this money and would pay me back afterwards. Well if I had 4,000 shekels, I wouldn't need their assistance now would I.
So I came in at about 10:00 or so and sat down to wait. There were only two people ahead of me and one person already inside. What I didn't realize is that there was only one worker taking care of everyone and each person took about half an hour. It seems they're having “manpower problems” which explains why my phone calls were never answered and why I still haven't received an answer to my first email which I sent over a month ago. I'm tempted to volunteer to work for them just because it's actually physically painful for me to see such a state of inefficiency. It makes Bituach Leumi (national insurance which your employer usually pays for you or you yourself pay if you're unemployed) look like a walk in the park. Sure they kept sending me letters that I owed them 700 shekels or 400 shekels or whatever amount they pulled out of a hat, but all I had to do was go to the center of town, wait a few minutes to get through security, take a number, and sit in a room with another hundred people. But everyone was sorted according to what they needed and if there were a lot of people waiting, they opened up more stations and the whole thing took no more than half an hour. Sure, after I proved to them that my employer had in fact paid and they realized that it was all in their computers anyway, I still got more letters but I've been ignoring them in the hopes that they'll go away by themselves.
So I waited, and waited. I met a bunch of people from the mechina who were all equally as frustrated. It was like a party, the kind where everyone is miserable and wants to go home. Basically like me at every party I've ever been to. I finally got them to upload my documents from their computer to whatever system it was that they keep all the uploaded documents, begging the question- why couldn't they just do that in the first place? It only took about a minute and considering the amount of grief they put me through to do what they could have done in 60 seconds, I was pretty aggravated. They also told me I had to bring them proof that the university had my bank information which I could do by printing it out from the university's website. So basically, I still wasn't done and they still hadn't given me the money for the first payment. By the time I got out of there, there was a line of people down the hallway who were probably going to end up camping out overnight since the place was supposed to close in an hour. And I was ready for a vodka tonic. I don't even know what tonic is, but it doesn't really matter as long as it comes with vodka. I always thought tonic was a medicine so I'm not sure vodka tonic is such a good idea since you're not supposed to mix most medications with alcohol especially if you're using heavy machinery. And who doesn't use heavy machinery in their everyday life? Your car is heavy machinery. The washing machine is heavy machinery. Pianos are heavy even if they're not really machinery. But all this is beside the point. The point is that I needed a drink. Although I'm rethinking the vodka tonic.
They called me during Sukkot to tell me that I had to bring in the statement from the university that they had my bank information but didn't pick up the phone when I tried to call them back to see if they were even open. So I had to wait until after Sukkot even though I knew it was going to be even more of a madhouse than usual since everyone else was getting as frantic as I was.
I went back Sunday and found a hallway full of people twitching and randomly seizing on the floor. Just kidding, most people seemed to be resigned to their fates and were probably counting the money they were going to get to keep from slowly losing their minds. All I wanted to do was give them the paper they'd asked for and like a real Israeli I had no intention of waiting hours to leave a piece of paper on the desk. So I ambushed someone coming out of her office and asked her if I could please just give it to her. The person who was next in line (and incidentally the person who had moved into my apartment on French Hill when I moved out) graciously let me go in. The woman disappeared for a while and when she came back, asked me if I had signed the letter of commitment. I still don't know what that is or even if I've signed it considering the amount of paperwork whipping past my head, so I just looked at her blankly. She told me that she couldn't find this elusive letter and perhaps it was wherever it is they send these things but that it would somehow come back and I could sign it then, whenever “then” is. Or I could wait (probably for the next four hours) and somehow something would happen (I don't know what since they supposedly didn't have the letter and obviously couldn't just print out a new one). I chose to go home since I wasn't going to wait for the next few hours if I didn't even know what I was waiting for. What, I was going to sit down when they finally admitted me and when they asked me what I needed I was going to say, “Oh, I have no idea?” Noooo. So now I guess I wait for them to call me again and in the meantime, resist the urge to repeatedly bash my own head into the wall.

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