For some unremembered reason, I was enamored with France, so we determined to marry in that country, and the descent into the hell of the workings of the mind of the French bureaucrat began. We will ignore the inheritance laws that have many Anglos who retire to France rushing back home and we will ignore the issue of marriage contracts, for neither touches on the identity story here.
In order for the civil marriage to be possible, I was told that I would have to produce a current photo identification document, such as my passport, a copy of something that would prove I had a residence, such as an electricity bill, and a copy of my birth certificate. I thought this excessive, but was blinded by the emotions that usually go along with such an event. These documents had to be provided a month in advance. I got them all together and sent them to the mairie where we planned to marry.
They wrote back to say that I had sent the documents of two different people, for the name on the birth certificate was not that on the others. I blithely responded: "Oh yes, I changed my name."
"Indeed?" they answered. "People do not change their names. We must have certainty about the birth certificate." I asked why and was told that it was so they could produce a French birth certificate for me. Foolishly, I laughed.
"Why on earth would you do that? I was not born in France."
In France, documentation of an individual is based upon the birth registration. Every life event is noted in the margins: marriage, separation, divorce and death. Thus, to keep track of a person who has the potential to become French (by marriage in my case) a French birth registration is created. They do this in Nantes, (where I had come to believe my nemesis resides, until a new one recently reared its matronly head). The pressure was on. The month deadline before the civil marriage was creeping closer.
At that time, I was working in Uganda. It was not long after Museveni had taken control of the country and the ravages of the Idi Amin years and the civil wars were still everywhere. Ankole cattle roamed the streets, eating refuse and producing worse. A sixteen-floor building where I worked had been the site of a battle, one army inside and the other without. Bombs had been dropped down the elevator shafts. None of the plumbing worked. There was no money for repairs; people scraped away as much of the debris as they could and tried to start up working again in the reeking, blown-out shell. In those early weeks, I was surprised and a little horrified at myself for how quickly and easily I adjusted to and shrugged off the nightly gunfire and the next morning's body count from the golf course where, for some reason all bodies were dumped. The government kept five or more roadblocks on the highway between Kampala and Entebbe. At each roadblock soldiers, some of them ten-year-old children and all of them with large, frightening guns, checked documents. A forty-five minute drive could take hours.
The Frenchman and I were on the phone constantly, trying to figure out how to acquire non-existent documents to prove to the bureaucrats that, though Anne Morddel had no birth certificate, she existed. As a last resort, I went to the United States embassy in Kampala. There, it was nervous Marines who checked my passport. After many questions, I learned that the person to whom I needed to speak was a very young and delicate-looking woman on her first overseas assignment. I told her my story, from the beginning. The United States government had accepted my name change, the British and Ugandan governments had accepted my identity. The stressed-out Marines accepted it. Only the French refused to accept my legitimate documentation. She shook her head, disbelieving. I thought she was commiserating.
"You should never have been able to do that," she said. Oh, Lord, her disbelief was on the wrong side! "There should never be a change like that without a paper trail." She began to look at me with suspicion, which I felt was unjustified.
"You are the first person to say so," I said, miffed. "I simply asked for new documents with my new name and officials gave them to me. I certainly never lied or committed any crime."
After much discussion, we decided that the best hope was to get the Department of State to provide copies of all of my passports back to those in my earlier name. She made some telephone calls and spoke to someone in the Department of State, who agreed to help. Before she finished, I added:
"The French like lots of seals and stamps. Do you think he could put some on?" She asked the man. I could hear him laughing. She gave me his response:
"We've got plenty. I'll put some red ribbons on it as well. That should please them." I was optimistic, though in the back of my mind I recalled an old beau from Texas who had drawled at me ad nauseum:
"There's only one word that fits you, girl: nai-yeeve, nai-yeeve, nai-yeeve."
©2010 Anne Morddel
We are very grateful that the first installment of this series has been selected Kathryn Doyle to be one of the "Editor's Picks" in the September 2010 issue of the E-NEWS, produced by the California Genealogical Society and Library. Thank you!