The year was 2018, and I was burning rubber southwards down the Peruvian coastline with a deadline for Santiago, Chile. My van - a Chevy Astro 2008 coined Babo Conquista - was my home and my world as I travelled, with a bed in the back, gas-hungry engine up front, and the heady musk of habitance all around. I was at the end of my journey, financially and emotionally exhausted, ready to lay my head down on a more permanent pillow after 10 or so months of vagrancy. On my way to sell the van in Santiago, I reached the northern Peru-Chile border. It was here that I encountered one of the more stressful experiences of bureaucracy in my life.
When you enter Peru in a vehicle, you are given a Temporary Import Permit (TIP) that gives you a certain amount of time to have the car in the country. When I entered Peru via Brasil, it turns out that the customs officer misread my paperwork for the van. Where the customs officer was meant to print my name, they instead printed the name of the previous owner which was also on the deed. In my haste, it was not until I had been in the country for a week or so and was far away from the border that I recognised this mistake. But, I thought, surely the inconvenience will be minor. All the permanent paperwork indicated that I was the owner, and the mistake in the TIP was fairly obvious when pointed out. So, when I hit the border and saw those SUNAT offices, I thought it would be an easy time. I was very incorrect.
The Aduana (customs officer) rejected me, and said I would not be able to leave the country because the name on the TIP was not mine. They referred me to a town an hour away which had a larger governmental office, so I went there the next day only to be told that I had to solve this at the border - only to once again be sent to the town. Back and forth, and at each step of the way I was confronted by individuals within this system that knew this was a mistake, where we acknowledged the obvious nature of the mistake, but where each individual was powerless to actually help me.
It took over a week, where I sat in offices for at least 20 hours in total, talked to at least a dozen bureaucrats, commuted back and forth between the border at least 4 times, photocopied documents and filled out form after form before I managed to find a very grumpy man hidden in a cramped corner office, who begrudgingly wrote me an official looking letter. Finally, I made it through. All it took, after all that time, was just the official looking words of the man to make the border officer finally let me through, and even then they were uncertain.
I found myself deeply frustrated with this process. It is not the first time I have been chewed slowly through the bowels of a machine that I do not understand, or detained against my will when I wish to go somewhere else on some frivolous technicality. It is the powerlessness of these moments that remind me of our true relationship to whichever state overlooks us at any moment. The way in which each member of that bureaucracy could acknowledge the correct action, but all of them were powerless to execute it just epitomized my issues with hierarchical institutions.