Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The delights of official chores

Hey there my People of the Journal! How’s life treating you these days? I am sure you’re on a roller coaster, but that’s alright! As long as you survive it, it can only mean you’re having fun hehe.

Ok, I’m not gonna make this a long one. Just a quick look into my US visa application process. You think this can in no way, be fun. Well, the application in itself no, and obviously I have taken it very seriously. I do have the visa already but had to change it from my married name to my maiden name so my new passport matches with the visa. So yes, this comes as a warning note for those of you out there who have either divorced or married or changed status in any way: if you already have a visa don’t count on the fact that you can travel with both passports and show the justification document that proves the change in your status (be them translated and notarized) because you run a huge risk of being put on the next plane home and never enter US. The embassy’s strong recommendation is to re-apply for your visa (you fall into the Visa Renewal category for these situations) and be safe. So that’s my case now.

So as you know – those who have applied – I did the online application, paid the fee, made an appointment. Took a horrifying “professional” photo that would have banished me from the beautiful gene pool for sure! So on the last minute I asked my colleague to take a photo of me lined up against the wall. My IPhone works wonders I tell you! So that was money well spent for a photo I never used, tore and burnt afterwards! Haha Anyway. I made the appointment for Monday morning. All good. I get there; we queue in line outside the embassy gate when an officer comes in with this little thingy looking like a small bandage and swaps our files and hands then goes back in. I am always very intrigued by these secretive military/cop like procedures. I want to know what they mean. Are they testing me for drugs? Gun powder residue on my hands in case I have loaded a gun back home? Hmmm. I want to know!!! Of course, they don’t tell me anything. We get in, only four people at a time even though there are plenty waiting outside and it’s pretty early in the morning.

Inside, it’s like checking in to the airport. I put my watch in, my phone that I turned off prior to entering the office, I put my files and everything else in the small tray, they get scanned, I get scanned, all good. They keep my phone and I get this little numbered tag to recover it on the way out. I get to keep my files, my sunglasses and my watch of course. I pass through the yard and into a second building. Another officer behind a small desk checks my fee receipt and passport and gives me a queuing number. 94. Damn! 94 looks very close to a 100 which means there are 100 people there already and sure enough the room is full.

Imagine this very long hall with rows of chairs facing each other in pairs of 4 and 4, lined up against the windows all the way to the end of it, a small space to walk in between them and the booths where the interviews take place. That’s how it looks now in the new embassy headquarters unlike back in 2011 when I first applied in the old HQ.

People are silent, minding their own business and I’m thinking, when did everyone come in if I arrived a little before nine and they are so many already. I find a place almost at the end of the hallway and take a seat. There’s a younger guy at my left, number 52 (very annoyed with waiting! Man you’ve got 52! I’m about 40 something people away from you! How come you’re annoyed!). Another elderly lady after, number 72 and two more guys. In front of me, two more guys and a couple all holding tickets from 79 up. I quickly realize that the people in front and one guy on my side form a group, all going to the same thing. They were either Baptists or something else and were attending a conference in the States. I could tell from their invitations. Wonder how I got to remember so many details? Well I spent 2 hours waiting so yeah, plenty of time to notice the small things.

A number is being shown on a little electronic board. Ticket number and booth where you’re supposed to go. I figure there are four different sets of numbers being displayed. And I am a bit confused. One set are numbers above 100 that are never called at the booths up front, only at those in the bank and I figured maybe those are the immigrant visas because there were fewer in numbers.

Because the booths are so close to us we can actually hear parts of the conversations applicants have with the consuls. Especially that sometimes one of them forgets the mic on and we can plainly hear at least the first part of the conversation clearly. I finally get called in, rather fast and I’m happy thinking this is it. I go in, it’s a Romanian girl who only checks my papers and then asks me to take a seat. I am confused again. Eventually I realize that the different sets of numbers mean: one for the booth where they check your papers, two – as I later found out – for fingerprinting booth and third it’s the actual interview for which you wait the most.

So as I’m sitting there I am observing all these people coming there for interviews. From very young babies to elderly people going to the US to visit their kids and family. So this guy comes in. His English is not the best, very mild and fearful attitude. I am not sure what the consul asks but eventually he blurts “Sir I am not going there to do bad things.” I hear the consul laugh. “Sir I would know if you do anything illegal.” He gets his visa. Then this older lady. She surely suffers from Parkinson disease and the stress of the interview is intensifying her uncontrolled shaking so much that her dress is literally shaking with her entire body. The group in front of me finds it funny. I am reserved. I feel bad for her. It’s hard for older people to understand such official procedures. All they know is they want to go visit their children, that they are honest people and just want to convince you of that. The consul quickly dismisses her with a smile and a visa approval. She smiles shyly and leaves. A thing I loved about the consul is that he would speak Romanian to those he did not speak English, and despite the strong accent he was doing it very well. The only thing he couldn’t get properly was the word “ghiseu” (booth). So it would always come out as “chisu” (I cannot translate that haha sounds a little like a Romanian dish, but it was sweetly funny.

So I pass the fingerprinting too and then I’m left to wait for the interview which meant about an hour or so of the entire time I spent there. A young couple shows up with a baby not even a year old. They get priority because of the little one. They stand at the booth and the consul (referred to as C in what follows) asks the guy (referred to as G):
C: Good morning sir. Where are you going?
G: Las Vegas (everyone goes to friggin Las Vegas! I didn’t know Romanians are so rich!)
C: What for?
G: Vacation.
C: For how long?
G: Two weeks.
C: (pause – I can’t see him, just hear him): Are you taking the baby along for good luck?
G: (chuckles): Yes.
C: Well the baby can go. You can go. I am not sure about your wife.

In fact he explains that she is in a similar situation with mine having married and holding a different name. As they are leaving in two days the consul offers to wait for them to return the next day to fix her problem as well. A really really swell guy in many cases this consul.

Next, this other guy comes in:
C: Good morning sir. Where are you going?
G: Las Vegas.
C: Alright. Why and for how long?
G: Vacation.
The conversation ends pretty quickly and his visa approved. The guy goes…
G: Yesssss! (he literally almost kneeled and swished his fist in the air. Leaves grinning).
On his way out the consul opens the mic and says out loud from his booth:
C: Don’t spend it all on the black jack!
Everyone starts laughing and the guy salutes then disappears out the door.

A woman is next and she explains she’s visiting relatives in Chicago. He asks her what she does for a living and she is trying to tell him she’s a professor assistant. But she’s saying it all wrong and he can’t understand exactly whether she is teaching or is an assistant or what’s going on. The conversation goes on for a few minutes with them discussing English lessons on job titles. Eventually they figure it out. She’s a go as well.

Then this prep guy, all suited and fancy steps in.
C: Good morning sir. Where are you going?
G: Miami.
C: What for?
G: A conference.
C: What conference?
The guy explains but from what I can tell the consul wants more. The guy will be staying for 5 days. The consul is still not convinced. I can somehow tell he’s checking the guy out. You know Miami is famous for its night clubs of the rich and famous and that many rich wanna-bes go there to get hooked up and stay for good in the US. Eventually the guy proves he’s married with kids and properties and all and he is also a go.

Then one of the funniest moments of the day. A young couple, boyfriend and girlfriend are called at the interview at the same time. There are two consuls, a woman and a man. The woman speaks very softly I can never tell anything of her conversations. The man is obviously a totally different story. So they are separated by this small wall but I can only hear the men’s conversation.
C: Good morning sir. Where are you going?
G: Las Vegas. Vacation. Two weeks.
C: Ok. Who’s paying for the trip?
G: My girlfriend
The consul pauses. I guess he did not expect that haha
C: Have you been to the States before?
The guy explains that he has been and actually worked as a waiter and they engage in this small talk about tips and stuff. Then…
C: So what do you do now for a living?
G: I am a manager (of course he is! This is Romania. Everyone’s a manager here!)
C: Manager of what? (now that is the tricky part hahah!)
G: The manager of a quarry (adica cariera: ex cariera de piatra etc)
C: (pauses again. This guy is obviously the novelty of the day): You’re the manager of a quarry in Bucharest?
I am not sure what the guy said about the location of the quarry but he did confirm he is the manager of one. Consul pauses again.
C: Who owns the quarry?
G: My girlfriend.

By this point, there’s a general smile in the room. The consul himself is a little struck and I could tell he is trying to put two and two together and make sense of things. He pauses some more trying to formulate a decent question but then it all comes down to…
C: Sir, are you dating an older woman?
HA HA HA (that was it for everyone pretty much). Even the guy laughs.
G: No. She’s 20. (and she’s sitting right next to him around that wall!)
C: Then how did she get a quarry?!
The guy basically explains it was inherited from her father and whatnot. Eventually fun is over and they both get the visa.

Mela’s turn and I end up with the same consul.
C: Good morning Miss. Where are you going?
Me: New York.
C: What for?
Me: A wedding.
C: Who’s wedding?
Me: My boss’s son.
C: (looks at me): How did you get invited there?
Now that I did not expect as a question.
Me: I don’t know. I guess I’m a great assistant (hahahaha!!!!!)
A series of more questions follow then he asks me where I’m staying in New York and he is pleased to know I’m staying in Upper Manhattan. He says it’s the best way to get around the city. Brooklyn not so good haha. He wishes me to have fun and retains my passport for the visa to be issued. Success!!! I leave and retrieve my stuff from the security officers then get a cab back to work. My passport is coming in today. One thing down, now vacation planning to go!

I have a few more weeks before mom and I hit Rome!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I had initially planned a two weeks vacation in the States for myself. A week is truly not enough with the many places I want to visit and spending time with my friends and all. But after much thought and torment I realized there is no way in hell I can go have fun without giving mom her share. It has taken me a bit over a decade to convince her to come along and I do not regret a moment of this continuous struggle I put up with her. Even when we visited places I’ve seen before, seeing them again through her excited, many times innocent and shy eyes, has made my heart grow and reminds me how wonderful it is to finally have the wheel spin her way for once. So yeah. We have the tickets, we have the hotel. Now planning what to visit and getting the tickets for the Vatican. I understand it’s tricky getting in there if you don’t have the tickets ahead of  time. So we’re pretty much set! God knows I can hardly wait!

So I’m out for now. You guys take care and have a nice week and a great weekend in a few days!
MUAH
As usual, yours truly,
Mela

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