La Visa Loca

I finally got my US Visa yesterday—multiple-entry pass for 10 years.

The unexpected turn of events the past few weeks since my boss came back from the US has totally turned my life upside-down. It wasn’t just too long ago (about a month, I think) when my LA-based dear dear friend Jeff has just come home after almost 10 years abroad when he reiterated his invite to come visit and stay with him for some R&R. A couple of weeks later, I was online making an appointment to see Uncle Sam himself.

It was fairly easy to apply for that elusive appointment from online booking, to paying the fees at BPI, to filling-out the form, processing papers at the embassy and all the way to waiting for your interview. I was originally set for a June 23 appointment but I needed an earlier one as my expected flight was July 6. Plus the deadline for the IDEA Convention refund was June 10. I managed to secure a May 23 appointment—enough lead time to refund my $ 489 convention fee and plan my life, my post-Visa life.

V-Week. May 23 was a Friday and the run-up to it was almost crazy. Everyone was saying I was sure to get one, after all I was going to the US for the Gold’s Gym International Convention courtesy of the company and I had the papers to back me. Sure I did. I prepared a binder with all my ACE certifications, the convention registration, company certification, and even some media articles on me. Heck, I even printed the home page of my website.

V-Day. I was at the embassy by 11.30 am. There wasn’t any line at all and there wasn’t much of a crowd at the pavilion where you submit all your papers. I had 2 sandwiches and some chips at the office as I was prepared to sweat-out an enormous crowd. It was smooth sailing except for the stupid girl who was so much in a hurry she mistakenly put the wrong barcoded sticker on my form. Apparently, there was a Reynaldo Jimenez and she probably looked at the list down-up. I had to line-up all over again to have it changed.

The man with no fingerprints. Someone called our numbers and we were made to line-up like school children out on a field-trip. We were escorted to a waiting room with a counter for finger-printing. A cranky old lady was manning it, you know the kind of wrinkly old ladies who usually spend their golden years as mall guards. I started to get scared as she was barking order on how to put your hands on the finger scanner. “Itaas mo pa! Idiin mo! Bakit ba naka-angat ang mga daliri mo?” She told a little old lady, not much older than her. A good 10 minutes was spent on a middle-aged man who apparently the machine was unable to scan. He and cranky old lady did everything. He placed his fingers where they should be. She gave him some tissue to wipe the scanner. Wifey behind him gave him moral support. I was craning to see how the scanner looks. The last time I practiced placing my hands on my lap and setting my fingers to position was for a piano exam in the conservatory. Finally, the machine read the man with no fingerprints. He was now in the official database of the embassy’s probable list of unwanteds. I came off without a hitch.

The wait. An hour to go before my 1 pm appointment and the waiting room was being filled already. The counters were mute and dark and their shades drawn. There was an unusually large number of elderly people, some families, and a few professionals. I was sleepy and was slumped on the wall. A large family with a cute dad (who looked like he was gay) and a pretty mom with nice-looking kids sat behind me while the son sat beside me. Quietly, the mom told her teen-age F4-looking son to take off his earring. “Just put it back on in the car.” He obliged. But it wasn’t over yet. After the fashion tip, it was time for some coaching. ” Tell the consul your going to visit your cousins. Memorize their address.” I started getting scared for the second time.  I detached my certifications, the convention invitation and registration for easy presentation should it be asked.  To confound my scaredness, I looked at my passport (the documents were returned after finger-scanning) and saw that the barcode on my passport hadn’t been changed—it was still Reynaldo Jimenez.  I swear, I almost turned terrorist.  I wanted to strangle that stupid counter girl with the wrong barcodes.  Like a mantra, I started practicing my answers.  All around me, people were either praying or practicing. That explains the miracle. Here was a room-full of Pinoys and it was unbelievably QUIET!

Then the counters lit-up and the shades drawn up.  The electronic board started flashing numbers.  In one wave-like movement, everyone craned their bodies to the counters listening-in on the interviews.  The first set were sent away with blue sheets of paper, a sign of being rejected.  We were briefed earlier that success means having your passport withheld and you going back to the pavilion to pay the courier.  A blue slip means you’re staying home.

So why do you want to go the US? “To attend the Gold’s Gym Convention in Vegas.”  Why do you need to attend that?  What\s you position?  How much is your salary?   How long have you been working for Gold’s?  Why are they sending you only now?  You’ve never been to the US?  Who is Arthur Jimenez? It was one question to another.  At one point, I really thought I was going to be denied.  “Sorry, but I don’t believe you. You’re probably never going to come back.”  The consul kept typing on his keyboard.  I had worn a brand-new Gold’s Gym uniform with the logo clearly embroidered on the left chest for maximum I’m-a-Gold’s-Gym-employee look.  He turned to me and said “Your visa has been approved.”  The sun broke-out on my face. “Tell the girl at the counter about your passport and make sure they look for it.”  I couldn’t help but be wide-smiled all over.  I passed!

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