Thursday, March 06, 2008

America, Here We Come!

Hey, what do you know, two posts in one week! Is IsraeliMom coming out of her winter hibernation period? Only time will tell ;)

All is well here, working away on projects and taking care of family matters. My father went through a heart procedure yesterday and had 3 arteries unblocked by the doctors. They said he was very close to a heart attack. We are so grateful for our wonderful public health system. He was treated by the best professor in the country, his appointment was scheduled withing days of the initial checkup, and it was all for free and covered by the national health insurance program!

The other latest exciting news is that we have ourselves a VISA to the US! We've been in touch with an American company for the past several weeks over some business matters. Since the option of us traveling was raised, we figured it was time to get a VISA. Getting a traveler's VISA to the US isn't that easy anymore. We started the process two months ago and paid a total of over $200 per person for it. Here's what our morning looked like yesterday -

We arrived in Tel Aviv early in the morning, since we had an appointment scheduled in the embassy for an interview at 10 am. We had to get ID picture ready first. That is not as simple as you may think, since the US embassy requires 5cm by 5cm pictures that are not the standard size here in Israel. There are other rules to the pictures too. The white background, I can see why. The fact that they want you to have your ears showing in the picture was a bit baffling, but the most surprising thing for me was that you're not allowed to smile for the picture... I guess they like serious people only in America?

With pictures in hand, receipts for the money we paid and pre-filled forms, we arrived at the embassy on time. The forms are fascinating in their own right. They actually ask you directly if you happen to be a terrorist and intend to carry our terror activities in the US. Well, fortunately, we're not terrorist and don't intend to blow up America, so that part was easy enough.

So, at the embassy we arrived, awaiting our interview with the consul, imagining some nice fancy office where we would be seated promptly, perhaps offered some refreshments even, and chat with the consul about our lives. As per the recommendations on the embassy's website, we brought papers and documents about our lives and our business. It sounded like the USA was taking a genuine interest in us, which I guess can be considered flattering.

Well, welcome to the real world. On the pavement, outside the embassy's walls, we meet the first representative, a nice Israeli security guy, telling us that you're not allowed to bring anything inside. Not even your cell phone or a pen. There's a service where you can deposit your belongings (yes, another small fee goes into the American treasury - I am pretty sure I paid any outstanding debts Israel has to America yesterday). Once ready, forms in hand, we were told to stand on a queue. Outside, in the sun, no shade, on the pavement. At least it wasn't raining! You stand there waiting, and when you finally reach the head of the line, you are asked to move forward, in groups of five, to the next queue, where something weird happens - a different security guy wants to see your palms and then touches them with some piece of paper. No explanations given, and it is a rather weird procedure. I can only guess they're checking for traces of explosives? Well, anything to make the waiting time more interesting!

Finally, it's time for us to enter the gates of the embassy! We walk inside and are asked to take off any metal objects, belts, jewelry, anything and go through the metal detector. From there, no line in the middle, we move on to another room where our belongings now go through their own routine of detectors and we receive them on the other end of the machine. Finally, we're all done and go into the next gate, hoping this is finally where we get to see the consul. Wrong. We're not even within the building yet and we just moved on into another queue! A longer queue this time, and finally we're in the shade.

20 minutes later, after being entertained by yet another embassy guy explaining more about the forms and checking to see that we all have the right ones, we finally walk into the building.... right into the mega-queue... A much longer one this one, and less ordered, since people stop on the way to fix things with their forms and attach their pictures to them, but at least we're indoors and it's air conditioned.

After another half an hour or so, it's finally our turn and we go to booth number 7, where a rather impatient and rude man takes our fingerprints. He wasn't very happy with mine, for some reason or other, and I had to follow his instructions carefully and have some substance sprayed on my hands to get the fingerprints right. Well, finally, that small torture is over and, yup, we're back on another queue! A shorter one now, which brings us to a nice American lady who is there to verify that the finger prints that had been taken minutes before are really ours. No idea why this extra step, but I guess those fingerprints are very important.

Finally, we're on the last queue, this one for the much awaited interview with the consul! So much for fancy chairs and refreshments lol. The interview is held with us standing in front of yet another booth. Apparently there are several consuls and they just chain-interview applicants. Our consul lady was very nice and friendly, and our application was approved within minutes and finally, after paying yet one more small fee, we were out of there!

If you haven't fallen asleep by now, reading my lengthy description, I admire you. It was long to go through and made us think of what the Palestinians have to go through daily in their dealings with the Israeli soldiers at various bureaucratic intersections, or just making their way from one roadblock to another. Obviously, what they go through is 100 times worse. No air condition and no kind American consuls at any point. Instead, they have to face some bored and often scared kid in uniform, who hates being there, and couldn't care less about showing any manners. Honestly, if I had to go through the same, I would start an Intifada myself quickly enough. Nothing is more annoying to me than standing in lines and being treated rudely by some jerk on the other side. I can't imagine what it's like being treated like the Palestinians are, in such rough conditions and on a daily basis too. Sigh. The word humiliating only begins to describe what it must feel like.

Ok, I am straying into politics again and this post is getting way way too long as it is. Time to wrap things up and get back to work!


Cakes said...

What a mess! Glad you got through it.

Email me if you head into the Midwest.

IsraeliMom said...

Thank you! How very nice of you - will definitely do that, although it's still in the distant future at this point.

Lirun said...

so grateful i dont require that wretched visa..

Anonymous said...

I would guess that the baffling ear visibility requirement is probably directed to women who cover their hair :)