Getting the American VISA
Interesting experience though.
The interview appointment letter clearly states "not to appear for your VISA interview more than 15 minutes prior to the appointment time". If I had listened though, I may not have gotten my VISA today. Fortunately, I'm not a very good listener.
I was called at 11:30 am. I arrived at ten. I was interviewed at one-thirty pm.
Dad's IAS batchmate's son, Tushar (IIT Guwahati, going to Minnesota), had his visa- appointment today at eleven. Apparently he had warned my dad that the embassy is unable to abide by the interview timings so if you appear at the time stated, those before you would still be waiting and you would have to stand in line anyway. So I went early.
The first thing that hits you when you appear at the embassy gate is the long line. (Guess bureaucracy transcends boundaries) You have to wait outside in a line for pre-screening. Though Mili had warned me earlier to wear cotton (thanks anyway Mili), fortunately today morning it had rained and the was no sun.
Next to the line was a 14" TV attached to a pole where they were showing still images of airplanes and "Enjoy your visit to the USA" type messages scrolling in dumb word-art. Meanwhile, a small speaker sang, 'America, America god shed thy grace on thee....And crown thy hood with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea' in the most terrible tune I've ever heard.
To get an idea of what it sounded like, picture this: a forty-year-old man, who has just realized that he is about to be run over by a forty-wheel-truck is screeching 'America, America' when somewhere in the background a lady goes 'Oh Yeah America!'. Yup, that would be an accurate representation of what it sounded like. This song was interspersed with bulletins on how to properly have your fingerprint taken and the important forms you must have. During the bulletin the speaker attached to the TV spoke in English while a separate speaker gave the Hindi translation simultaneously. The result? If you are standing between the speaker and the TV, you comprehend neither.
Behind me was this guy who was going for some work. He asked me which university I was going to. I replied Duke, wondering if he had heard about it (Duke famous though it is in America, is not too heard of internationally). He replied, "Congrats, great university! Oh and unfortunately, one of their sports teams is currently caught in some rape case". Yup, he knew Duke, a bit too well for my liking.
So at the end of the line were four counters (mind you, I am still outside the building). I reach a counter where I show all my paperwork and they staple my DS forms and I-20 to the back cover of my passport! Why couldn't they just clip it instead of making a pin mark on my brand new passport? :(
Once you are inside they pass you through a metal detector, then scan you with a hand held metal detector (why?) and then frisk you (jeez!). And by the way, this was the second time: I had to pass through a similar security check before I stood in the first line outside. Then I got to stand in another line (lucky me!) to have my fingerprinting done. Basically, you're just supposed to place your two index fingers one by one on a glass scanner and presto! However, the machine kept failing to read my fingers (dumb machine or smart fingers, I do not know) and I had to repeat the procedure thrice.
Then I got to stand in another line (yippee). This was the line which took you to the interviewers (consuls as they called them). I had expected there to be proper cubicles for the interviews, but nope, why waste room and furniture when you can just have plain counters? There were three lines, one for priority (I don't know what makes you eligible for that), one for the non-English, Hindi or Punjabi speakers, and one general very long line. I got to choose the very long line.
There were six counters operating then and things moved pretty quickly for an hour or so. But at twelve o'clock three counters closed (closed as in blinds fell) and their consuls went off for lunch. That's when things became slow...real slow. One of the open counters started catering to the priority line and one to the non-English line leaving only one measly counter for the long line. And at one o'clock, with the return of the lunching consuls, it was meal-time for the other three consuls. Again, just one counter for the line I was in. Not that I was complaining...I was happy that the first counter was only handling priority; the old lady there was really cranky. She once picked up somebody's application, pointed to a box with a frail, trembling finger and screamed something like 'why isn't this filled?' In fact, I was happy to see that the lady handling my line was the same woman who had held the VISA-info session at USEFI a few days back, for she had seemed to be good-natured then.
I finally reached her and handed over my forms and passport. She gave one look at my I-20, and said, 'Oh Duke, Why Duke?' While I answered, she crossed some things on my DS forms, entered my name on the computer and then suddenly made a face that appeared too confused for my taste. Fortunately, it turned out that was because she had just realized that I had previously stayed in the USA. I explained to her that I was a dependent while my father completed his PhD from Yale and she returned to her previous smile saying, 'Your visa has been granted, your passport shall be mailed to you'.
So I had to wait till one-thirty for my 30-second appointment at eleven-thirty. But then, who's complaining?
And thanks to Tushar, for if he hadn't warned me to come early and I had actually reached at 11:30, perhaps I would not have been able to arrive at the interview counter by four pm and then the embassy would have postponed my interview for the next day.
Dad, Mom and I ate at McDonald's in Connaught Place after that where I waited in another long line at the counter and wondered if we really spend a big chunk of our life waiting in line?!!