Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Becoming an Ecuadorian Citizen (in an afternoon)

My daughter Julia became an Ecuadorian citizen. She was not born in Ecuador, she was born in London, so the process was slightly more complicated (but not much). She has an Ecuadorian mother and an English father - that would be me.

At four months old Julia crossed the Atlantic for the first time and visited Ecuador. She had a whale of a time but entered the country on her British passport as a tourist - so it was high-time we resolved this and made her officially Ecuadorian.

Julia at Hacienda Guachala in Cayambe, on the line of the equator
Back in London we attended the Ecuadorian consulate, a crummy building near Kings Cross station. We had imagined the process might be lengthy and formal so my dad volunteered to come along with us, in case Julia needed a minder while we were being interviewed. Instead the process was relatively short and informal but it was nice to have him along for the ride all the same. I bought him a gourmet burger to say thank you but I'm not sure he enjoyed it very much because it was served bloody (he is fussier than a little lord).

The consulate was quiet, it was just our little party and a family of economic migrants from near Otavalo who were living in Milton Keynes - from the slopes of Imbaburra to the slopes of the Milton Keynes Snow Dome. They were returning to Ecuador after seven years of graft in England. Julia garbled garrulously to their two-year-old son; he turned to his mum, concern in his eyes: "What's up with that baby's mouth, why can't it talk?"

Waiting room literature was a selection of newspapers printed for London's large Latin community. The pages were filled with adverts - mostly for immigration lawyers - but dad enjoyed reading an article on David Cameron and another on Jorge Lorenzo. It's good Spanish practice.

A political propaganda film was playing on a loop on a TV in the middle of the room. President Rafael Correa was banging on about mining - I can't remember if he was for or against the mine, but by the end of the programme I was left in no mind his side was right, whatever side that was.

The citizenship process was like all Ecuadorian bureaucracy - baffling with long periods of inactivity punctuated by fleeting bouts of frenzied signing and rubber stamping. Embarrassingly the citizenship had a price of £4.20 and nobody had thought to bring change. I had a £20 note but they wouldn't break it and bank cards were out of the question. Between the three of us we upturned every pocket and scraped the paltry sum together with five pences and coppers - the bureaucrat oversaw the debacle with remarkable patience.

I'm not sure what Ecuadorian citizenship meant to Julia, frankly she looked rather nonplussed by it all. It will no doubt come in very handy at some point in her life but I'm sure her British passport will be the more useful travel companion. I can imagine plenty of instances where pretending not to be English might be diplomatic, after all Britain has been at war with just about every country on the geo-politcal map and has racked up plenty of animosity. By contrast, Ecuador has only ever been to war with Peru, and this was a short-lived and amicable dispute settled when the Ecuadorian army got in a muddle and sent 500 crates of unripe bananas to the front-line instead of the rifles.

As the latest Ecuadorian citizen, we got a souvenir photo of Julia taken next to the giant Ecuadorian flag and the signed poster of the President.

Julia's first moments as an Ecuadorian
Not every country permits dual nationality but Britain and Ecuador do. My favourite part of the episode is the declaration by the Home Office that if you take on a second nationality then don't come crying to Britain if you get conscripted in some foreign legion, the Queen can't get you a discharge. Julia, you're on your own.

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