The Consulate

Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie’s Op-Ed for the New York Times is a sobering description of what people in non-Western countries have to go through to obtain a U.S. visa. (Use bugmenot to get a free login if you do not already subscribe to the Times.)

There is a steady hum of talking around the room, but it dies down when a white woman comes in, with short hair that sticks up on her head like brush bristles. She is the director of the visa section, the philosophy professor tells me. She holds a loudspeaker to her mouth: “Raise your hands if you are here to renew a student or a work visa! Raise your hands high! I can’t see! High!”

Her tone makes me feel like I am in primary school again.

“Keep the hands up! O.K., down!” She is wearing a multicolored caftan with jagged edges – the sort of thing a foreigner will wear to look African but an African will never wear. A child has walked up to her and is holding onto the caftan, looking up at her and smiling. He wants to play.

“Get this kid off me! Get this kid off me!” she says. She gestures wildly and for a moment I am afraid she will hit the child with the loudspeaker. The little boy is laughing now; he thinks it’s some sort of game. There is the rumble of laughter through the room. “Oh children,” someone says.

But the woman is not amused. “Who has this child?” She shakes her caftan as if to shake the child off until his mother goes and picks him up. “He just likes you,” she tells the woman. The woman glares at us. “You think it’s funny? O.K., I won’t tell you what I wanted to tell you about the interview process. Go ahead and figure it out for yourselves.”

The piece reminded me of a similar experience a few years ago, when I had gone to renew a visa in Rabat. I wish I could say that treating people rudely at a consular office was restricted to that one time, but I have seen it repeatedly, including here in the States, anytime I had any kind of dealings with INS (now Homeland Security.)

Link via the Old Hag.