Shlichus in Bolivia is one long drama, and Coronavirus just makes things crazier. Read here the story of how Rabbi Itzik Kupchik coped on Shlichus during the Covid-19 pandemic in a third world country, part three.
Read part two here
We move forward with the most extreme ideas.
Maybe we could get to Paraguay?
We have a plane ready to go, I call the pilot and work out a new flight plan and a price.
A new problem blows up in our face: The Paraguay side is not prepared to give up on the fact that they have a mandatory 2-week quarantine even if we only land and never even leave the plane.
On the Bolivian side they also will not make any allowances for when we come back in and that would be another 2-weeks of quarantine.
Both Paraguay and Bolivia demand that this quarantine will happen in a government-mandated hotel.
There is no way either of them will allow kosher food in the hotel. A father, mother and new-born baby quarantined for a month in a government facility with no kosher food and without our other six little boys is somehow not relevant.
Maybe we could have the Mohel flying from Paraguay to another city in Bolivia, that isn’t at such a high altitude, and his plane would have the mechanical capacity to fly there?
How would we get to this far off Bolivian city?
Maybe we would hire another private plane for us?
Again, Rabbi Blumenfeld. Another phone call to the Consul. We call the head of our Jewish community.
Another couple of days go by: No permission to land in Santa Cruz under any circumstances.
There are less than a million people living in Santa Cruz, and there are already 10,000 Covid 19 cases. The hospitals there are collapsing under the load and people are starting to die in their own homes.
No one is prepared to either land there or to take off from there.
I won’t tell you about our attempts to talk to Brazil and Argentina… You must be getting tired of this…
So, if there is no choice and we cannot bring a Mohel here, we need to get to a Mohel. We need to get out of Bolivia.
We didn’t want to leave on the first rescue flight because it was right before Pesach and we were responsible for the Matzos and other things that the Kehilla needed for Pesach.
Then there was another rescue flight but we had no paperwork for the new baby at the time. All the government offices were closed.
We were very lucky that after 3 months of lock-down, the Bolivian government decided to loosen up and allow the government offices to open.
Now there was a chance to get a passport for the baby.
This too was no simple matter. Immediately that Sunday, we made our way into the bureaucratic maze that we have here.
On Sunday we went to the first office. This was to get a birth certificate.
In most countries this is an automatic process and the communication takes place between the hospitals and the government offices.
Here, in this third-world country, we have to come to the government offices with the papers from the hospital, and two witnesses. These witnesses have to have some connection to us but not to each other. (Just like a Chupa, Lehavdil.)
Just understand how the process has “advanced”.
When we came to register our son, who was born before this one, they had just come to the end of the book in which they write down all the new citizens born, by hand! It is an actual physical pen and paper writing down of the details of birth.
We had to come back 2 weeks later to finish the process and this time, thank G-d it went quickly.
They said we didn’t need the witnesses because of the Corona Virus lockdown.
Within half an hour there was an official stamped birth certificate.
Stage 1 was complete.
What’s next? To get a local ID document.
We go together to the offices in the Southern part of the city. This is in a wealthy area and hopefully the service will be better and more efficient.
We see from afar a long line of dozens of people, hundreds of them.
This is the backlog from three months of lockdown where all the offices were closed.
Everyone has masks. Some are fully suited up. Everyone standing well apart and waiting their turn under the burning sun.
Only a few people are allowed into the offices at a time.
“What difference does it make if we wait inside or outside,” I thought to myself. “The government officials inside work at the same rate wherever I am.
After a few minutes in the sun I regret this thought. Because of the extremely high altitude, the sun’s radiance is intense. In the shade, its cold, but in the sun, its burning hot…
I go to the beginning of the line and explain to the official that we have a two-week-old baby with us. That every moment outside and exposed is dangerous.
The official understands and lets Chaya and the baby go in, and I have to stay outside.
Last time they said we don’t need witnesses. Now they don’t need fathers either?
An hour later Chaya comes back out. We can’t get the ID document here.
Because we are foreigners here, we have to go to the offices at the other end of the city.
Another hour drive. Oh dear.
Today, it’s too late already.
The next day we go in the opposite direction.
Another long line.
This official does not let us in. Children are not allowed out of the house.
No documents are being issued for children.
It’s very hard in general to have any sort of conversation with them.
They are all wearing special air-tight masks and completely suited up in orange over suits, complete with special shoe covers.
We feel for a moment like we’re in prison.
All our pleas and explanations fall on deaf ears. The official is determined not to let us in but we are also determined not to move away from the door.
The official in charge came out of a side door and told us to come in to his office. “I’m in charge of a different department but sit here and I will make a few phone calls.”
He puts in a call to the officer in charge of ID documents.
“There is a Jewish couple here …”(Jewish couple? interesting.) “and they have to leave the country as soon as possible.
“They can’t leave without a passport. And for this they need to have an ID document.
“Yes. Yes. They have all the right papers (this was before he had even checked) you have to help them…”
And so, the conversation continued.
On the other end of the phone they didn’t really want to have anything to do with the problem. But he was adamant.
At the end of the conversation he led us inside and explained the situation to the officer at the intake desk.
From there we continued on to the official who was to take care of our documents.
They both explain to us:
“If anyone asks you, tell them that you didn’t get anything. Go out by the back elevator and don’t go near the offices. If they know you got documents, they’ll have our heads! It’s completely against the law right now!”
A total miracle.
We thought finally we would be going out the door with ID documents but then it turned out that our parental documents were no good either. We hadn’t even known about it.
So now what?
“Come back next week. Maybe they will help you. Maybe not. It’s the Corona virus lockdown….” he explains.
We come back to our friendly official. “Is that so?… Come with me…”
He takes us back in to another office. They photograph us. They take our fingerprints. They fill in some electronic forms. We have no idea what on earth they are doing…
At the end he gives us his private number.
You don’t have to come here again specially just to find out that the papers aren’t ready yet. Phone me on Monday. I hope everything will be in order by then. You could even try on Friday.”
Hashem sent us Eliyahu HaNovi in the disguise of a Bolivian official.