Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The U.S. Consulate:

Downtown PAP looks so attractive, with its wide boulevards, park-like plazas containing large statues of Haitian horse-riding, French-dressing heroes from the war for independence, like Jean-Jacques Dessalines and Henri Christophe. There is a history and art museum and of course, the National Palace, a castle-like building that’s so white it makes the surrounding area seem cleaner.

The U.S. Consulate doesn’t add to the architectural ambiance. It’s a sterile, utilitarian office building, made foreboding by the fortress-like wall that surrounds it. Unfortunately, this is a dangerous part of town, which is why we haven’t spent much time here. The peril from bandits also explains the wall and the two U.N soldiers—blue helmets—stationed directly across from the entrance to the consulate.

This morning John and I get out of the car and walk over to Gate 1, the entrance for Services for American Citizens. Nine Haitians stand around the metal door. John says he’s never seen so many people waiting at this gate. When the guard slides the little window open, they press their papers forward, hoping to gain admittance. One woman has her papers handed back, the guard telling her she needs to return on January 8, the date of her appointment.

John stands at the back of the group and holds up his U.S. passport, the magic ticket. The guard notices him and nods. I wonder if the Haitians think, “Once again, the whites move to the front of the line. They are always the privileged ones.” If it were not for Jackson, I would feel even guiltier.

A couple minutes later the guard motions us through the door into the closest thing to the U.S. most Haitians will ever get to. “We have an appointment with Ingrid,” John tells the guard. One guard writes down info from our passports and calls Ingrid, while another waves a wand over us and checks our pockets. As we finish, the cheerful, attractive Ingrid arrives, and escorts us to the waiting room.

“I thought it was you I was talking to on the phone,” said John. He has been bringing kids and young adults to the States for surgery for more than a decade. John used to handle the visa work himself, but after September 11, it’s become increasingly onerous work. We’ve been lucky to find people in PAP who can handle the paperwork and dealing with consulate officials.

The last time John John obtained visas, I was with him. In November 2004, we applied for visas for Caleb, Suze and Katia. My posts are already too long for me to be able to describe how unpleasant the process was. Suffice it to say, that it was after these experiences that John decided he could no longer be responsible for getting the visas. I fully concurred. Now, we contract out this step in the process.

So today, those memories make the experience tense, though Ingrid is a soothing presence. She gathers Jackson’s passport, visa application, picture, medical letter from John, and $100 cash fee, and goes to input the information. The visa is actually an elaborate multi-color copy, covering two passport pages, which contains Jackson’s picture, identifying info, type of visa, sponsoring organization, and place of treatment.

She returns in about 20 minutes to tell us that Jackson must come in to be fingerprinted and interviewed. John and Ingrid walk out of the waiting room, and John returns carrying Jackson as Ingrid holds the door. They go through the waiting room, make a left into a hallway and then enter an office.

James McDonald, the consulate official, prints each of Jackson’s index fingers. Because of the special circumstances, the interview is perfunctory: how old are you? Have you ever been to the United States? Where will you be staying? These are all questions that could be answered by reading the visa application, though in fairness to the official, Jackson didn’t complete the application himself.

In five minutes John and Jackson are back in the waiting room, , , where we wait for another half an hour, and Ingrid smilingly brings us the visa and wishes Jackson well. John carries Jackson back to the car with many Haitians watching. I can feel their approval in the air: Look at the good blanc carrying the sick Haitian. It’s not a sight they’ve likely seen before. Pierre drives us back to the hotel. We arrive before 10 am, with three hours to spare before we have to leave for the airport.

Thank you Senator DeWine. It’s never been so easy.

1 comment:

answer-man said...

ps I'm having a little trouble sending comments so if I do it twice please excuse me and I apologize.