Where to begin?
Today was our big day. The lawyers called and informed us that our visas were ready. We needed to get to the immigration office and meet the lawyer to pick up our paperwork and secure our visas. Because I need the visa to get out of here, I was determined to be early. The boy needed to appear as well, and so he had to miss a day of school. To that end, it was critical for me to get there on time and make sure our execution was flawless.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
I hopped in the cab, gave the driver my iPhone so he could see where we needed to go, and we arrived at the American Embassy an hour and a half early. The boy and I decided to go to Starbucks and get bagels.
Sitting in Starbucks in Mexico City is like sitting VIP in an American nightclub. We sat on lovely sofas, sipped our beverages, and waited for the barista to deliver our breakfast. Beautiful people in posh, expensive clothes sipped beverages around us. We had a window seat, and so we could see Paseo de la Reforma, one of the main arteries of Mexico City and beautiful palm trees outside. All was well.
We decided to cut our breakfast short and head over to the American Embassy.
This is where the fun began.
We were supposed to meet someone and the person was going to walk us through the door and help us at the counter. I asked the security guard to let me in (in Spanish). He said, “no“. I said, “Well, I am an American and I need to secure my visa, please.” He said, “This door is only for Americans.” Without a pause, I looked at him and said, “Sir, I am an American. Here is my passport (flash passport), and besides, I am wearing this jean jacket today. On purpose. Only Americans wear jean jackets.” For whatever reason, this actually seemed like a legitimate argument to him. He took my iPhone and tried to call my contact. No answer. He tried again. No answer. He then told me he could not/would not let me in the door but that I had to go around the corner and sit on these cold, metal green benches.
Off we went.
We went to the side and asked the guy on the side of the building to let us in. He said, “no“. He took my iPhone and tried to call our contact. He told us to sit on the benches. He tried to call again and then gave my iPhone back. Then he told me to put my iPhone away and this time, I said, “no“. Ballsy, because he had an automatic weapon. But, the boy and I were sitting on these awful green metal benches with a bunch of very annoyed people. And, in a country where the caste system is alive and thriving, it was uncomfortable, embarrassing and scary. We looked out of place and I actually think we were making the other people uncomfortable by sitting there. On the upside, in my rush to get out of the house, I had accidentally left my wallet–so I actually didn’t have a lot of cash on me, but I was a little uncomfortable sitting outside like a refugee with my passport and child. And, I was also totally pissed off that as an American citizen I was being treated like shit.
While we were sitting there, I saw one of the women from the Newcomer’s club. I walked over to her and greeted her. Her husband works inside and she was on her way to Spanish lessons. She wished us luck and went off to Spanish. I wasn’t really expecting any sympathy or assistance from her, which was great because we got neither.
The boy was getting edgy. We were obviously not in the right place. We were the only Americans and our presence was completely annoying the people around us,as well as the very grouchy security guard.
The guard was getting more and more annoyed, because I had now turned my cell phone on and started emailing our relocation company. I told them that we were sitting on green metal benches and were facing the Sheraton. Could they please call our contact because I was very anxious to meet her–and very scared to try to make a phone call with the guards glaring at me.
The relocation company responded immediately. A minor miracle because this is a country where there is no sense of urgency. The response: “Kim, I don’t know where you are, but there is no Sheraton nearby. You should be across the street from Antara (the mall).”
A second email came through. “Kim, please get out of there and hurry to your appointment. I will try to send someone over to make sure you still get your visa today.”
Not getting my visa would be really bad.
It would mean I would have to start the process over again, be trapped here longer–or maybe have to leave. God knows. It also meant I had my poor, sweet child sitting outside of the Embassy like a lost refugee for no reason at all.
I realized that when I handed my iPhone to the cab driver, I never looked at the address myself–why would I–and never entered my mind that the cab driver would take us to the wrong address.
I’m fairly certain that neither Hillary Clinton, Ambassador Wayne nor President Obama are actively reading my blog. And, it’s probably not smart to be too bitchy towards the American Embassy. But, I do think it is worth saying, I left the Embassy totally pissed off.
There was exactly one person who spoke English. There was exactly not one person who was helpful or friendly. As an American, I expect assistance. Friendly assistance and at least one person willing to either assist or speak English. My child was there Ambassador Wayne. Secretary Clinton–what if I were Chelsea standing there with your grandchild? I’ve asked my child to move to a third world country with me and promised him that we will be safe. Given the sheer lack of willingness to help, if there were to be an emergency in this country, I have exactly zero confidence that the security guards at the Embassy would or could assist. They wouldn’t even try to find an English-speaking person to assist me or tell me what to do in Spanish. I was pissed. In my mind, I was thinking, I need to vote. I need to make sure that process is at least flawless.
I have never been happier to learn I was in the wrong place in my life.
We ditched the benches and hailed a cab.
The cab driver totally over-charged us as we raced to the immigration office and I knew it. And I really didn’t care. I was so glad to be the hell out of there, and get my child as far from the Embassy as possible, I did not know what to do.
As a family, we had planned to do an emergency “how-to-get-to-the-Embassy” walk one weekend, but honestly, what a waste of time. If an emergency arises, we’ll just have to put our fate in God’s hands. In the interim, I am going to buddy up to the Canadians in the boy’s classroom (parents work at the Embassy) and confirm that there’s reciprocity. Their Embassy is closer to my house and it would probably be a more productive use of my time. Additionally, I might make an effort to become friends with some of the employees at the Embassy, as knowing who to call on the inside might have been more productive.
Did I mention how totally pissed off I am that my own Embassy could not and would not help me and my child?? It’s an election year for God’s sake! Work a little harder between now and November!
When we arrived at the Immigration office, it was a mob scene. We were two hours late for our appointment and everyone and their mother’s brother was there. I did not care. I emailed the relocation company and told them that we were there and we were ready. The boy was in a Letterman sweater and I was in a jean jacket. We looked American. Our contact should be able to locate us easily. She did.
Our contact at immigration was a pregnant woman. She explained that she was going to stand in line, process the necessary paperwork and then come get us when it was time for us to appear, sign our documents and retrieve them. I felt a little ashamed having a pregnant woman (not that I am discriminating) stand in line for us, so I offered to stand with her.
Pregnant or not, this woman could see I was totally useless to her. She directed me to a sofa and told me she’d come get me when she needed me.
I felt guilty for approximately three seconds. Then I sat down and started updating my Pintrest boards. I could think of nothing I’d rather be doing. The sofa was comfortable, and the boy was sitting next to me playing Gameboy. And best of all, no one around us was toting a gun, mad that I was on the internet, or uncomfortable that we were sitting nearby. It was awesome.
Less than two hours later, the woman re-appeared. She summoned us to a line where we experienced a short wait. She kept apologizing. I laughed and told her in the States, the Department of Motor Vehicles is exactly the same: lots of people, long lines, etc. no need to apologize.
When our turn came, a very friendly man explained what we were going to do: provide signatures, allow him to fingerprint our left and right thumbs in blue ink, display our passports, wait for him to laminate our IDs, and then come back to renew them in about a year. Simple. I was thrilled that the people at the immigration office were kind, competent and thorough. They did a great job explaining the process and also answering any questions. It was a much more positive experience than I had earlier in the day with my own country!
As we were leaving, our helper told us that she would need to Xerox our ids and paperwork. I assumed that we were going to walk one block down the street to the Office Depot where I had purchased some of our school supplies.
You should never assume anything in Mexico.
We walked 500 feet–to the corner of the building, and visited a magazine stand. There, the vendor–who sold magazines, gum, candy, mints and water had cleverly rigged up a Xerox machine. He supplemented his magazine stand income by photocopying sensitive government documents at his magazine shack. Wow. I watched (in horror) as the magazine vendor Xeroxed my documents for our helper and then handed them back to me. It was like we were in a public service announcement for identify theft. I expected McGruff the Crime Dog to come barking over. But alas, no McGruff. Just cheap photo copies!
Alls well that ends well, as they say.
Despite the crappy experience at the Embassy, I was thrilled that I was able to secure my visa. Every set back here has been a set up for something better. I’m glad that I’ve been able to maintain my sense of humor and optimism throughout the uncertain moments. It’s making me a more optimistic person–and it’s setting the tone for a really positive adventure.