Continued from Part 1
So we were through the gates, past the barbed wire fences and wandering around the side of the huge, ugly building to climb the concrete steps up to the 70s style smoked-glass doored entrance. With all these hurdles, queues and stairs, not to mention the scrum that was the Victoria Line at 8.45 on a Monday morning, we were starting to feel very glad we’d decided against bringing Evie along for an adventure – she’s very sweet-natured, but by no means a saint; it would have been hell!
Once through the entrance, we showed our paperwork (again), were handed a print-out with our number on it – N174 – and directed up another flight of stairs to what can only be described as a massive waiting room. Just inside the doors was (yet another) queue of people, waiting to pay for the courier which would send their passports back to them (hopefully with Visa enclosed). The rest of the room was filled with row upon row of hard plastic chairs, seating hundreds of people of all ages and nationalities, facing a huge flat screen monitor. Sadly it wasn’t showing the latest episode of Dexter, but instead displayed the numbers currently being called, and which booth to go to, while a loudspeaker declared the same information. Just like a Post Office queue, but on a much grander scale (because, after all, this is the US Embassy, y’all!). On the right hand side of the room was a line of booths, numbered 1 – 11, and a corridor leading to Booths 12 – 24 (and, God bless you America, the ladies loos – now whose bright idea was that bucket of skinny cappuccino this morning?! Ahem.).
We dashed to the loo, excited that the number on the screen was currently at N142 – not long to wait at all then, with 11 booths in action – then rushed back to take a seat and stare at the screen, willing the numbers to move faster. But hang on….gah! What’s this? Now they’re calling N36. N36? What the…? No, no, no, no, no, that’s not in order. And I93. What’s with the Is? What does this mean?
It took a while (yes, OK, fine, well done for all you smartie pants who are one step ahead, but we’d been up and on the fly since 5.30, OK?) to work out that the N numbers were applying for Non-Immigrant Visas, and the Is were for permanent immigrants. And the lucky N36 ticket holder was being called to the 2nd round, “The Interview”, whereas we were still waiting to be processed. To be fair, we were lucky and only had to wait around half an hour to be called. We then skipped up to Booth 2 and presented ourselves in as friendly and “we love America and mean you no harm” manner as possible. Not that this guy cared. He was just there to check the paperwork and take our fingerprints. Bish bash bosh, job done, now take a seat and wait for your number. Again.
While we sat there, munching crisps (which, I suppose, I must now learn to call chips) and killing time by talking about all the things we should have brought with us (like a deck of cards – there’s a tip for you!), we noticed that a guy in a suit kept coming out and calling out numbers, 4 or 5 at a time, and leading these small groups away. What was that about? Where was he taking them? Was this the rejection pile? And then, ohmygod he’s calling N174, that’s us!!! This was good because it had started to look like we were going to be there a looooong time (N129 and ever-so-slowly counting), but bad because we had no idea who this guy was and what this meant. Was there something wrong with our paperwork? Was it too suspicious that I’d renewed my passport (and finally got around to changing it to my married name) just 4 days previously? Was Evie’s passport photo too cute to be taken seriously? Gah!!
It turned out that this was a quick approval line! We were asked to join a line of about 5 people in front of Booth 19, and to tell anyone that came and tried to join the queue behind us that they were in the wrong place. Finally (finally!), here it was – the interview!! The all important decision time – were we good to go? We were all prepared with copies of CVs, University degree certificates, duplicate photos…let’s do this!
And the very nice Asian-American guy looked up and smiled.
Nice guy (let’s call him “Chuck”): “Hi! So….we have…..Damyan, Kerstin and Genevieve. Who’s the primary?”.
Damo: “Er, that’s me”
Chuck: “And what is your position going to be?”
Damo: “I’m a programmer at Microsoft.”
Chuck: “Okay then. And Genevieve….is how old?”
Me: “17 months” (and then quickly counting up from March in my head to make sure I hadn’t just made a hugely suspicious balls up. I mean, what mother doesn’t know how old her child is? I definitely know she’s somewhere between 1 and 2…)
Chuck: “And how long have you been married?”
Me and Damo (aww, in chorus, how twee): “Just over two years”.
He looked at his computer screen, looked up at us again and said “Okay then. Well, your visa is approved. Just see the courier desk on your way out, and you should get your passport in a few days.”.
WHAT? We waited two freakin’ hours for that? I mean, I know I shouldn’t complain – some people have waited for 4 hours outside in the pouring rain, after all. But…I think that was the biggest anticlimax of the year – maybe even the decade!
Still, we turned on our heels with big silly grins on our faces, headed to the courier to pay an extortionate fee, and then left that big ol’ ugly building behind us.
That was Monday. And on Friday, this arrived (plus a couple of other considerably less web-worthy ones):