Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The children

We were taking a walk the other day on our way back to our hotel.  We changed hotels again.  Now we're in Bandra West, which is a part of the city a little north of South Mumbai.  It is connected by the "sea-link", a connector built over the ocean, kind of like a bridge, but it really serves just to avoid the traffic in the city.  It costs a lot.  About $1 each way, so the traffic is light.  We like it here a lot.  There is a lot more green and the area feels a little more contemporary than where we were staying.  Malabar Hill felt very "old money" traditional, where Bandra feels commercial, modern and like I'm in LA.  At least for a minute.  There is still the filth and the India-ness of it all, but there are a few restaurants and bars which could be in LA.

Anyway, we heard some music and a microphone, kind of reminiscent of Karaoke.  We peeked behind the bushes and saw a child's birthday party happening in the yard of her apartment building.  The kids were holding hands in a circle, playing a game to the music.  There was a DJ.  There were the mandatory "birthday goodie bags" with Angry Birds logos on them.  Wow, culture clash.  This could be San Francisco.

But then, we turn the corner and there is a little boy, maybe three, filthy, wearing torn clothes and no shoes.  He is begging for some money.   There are two girls, about 4 and 6 cleaning the floor of their house with big openings where there might be windows and doors.  They are squatting on the ground sweeping and scrubbing.  They are really little to be cleaning the house.  Stella clears the table and likes to help clean, but I think it's just because she likes to spray the soap.  Later that night, on the busiest corner I've ever been on in my life (including Times Square), I see a little girl laying on the ground sleeping next to her mother.  She is young, sleeping on the filthy pavement, as thousands of people pass her by.  They're all just kids, some luckier than others.   I feel powerless. 

The Bureaucracy

It's always painful.  I am usually not daunted by paperwork or complex processes.  We had a full nine months, or more to plan for this trip and the impending paperwork.  I arrived in Mumbai with copies of all we needed, or so I thought.  Silly me.  We needed to demonstrate Matteo's physical presence in the US for five years.  He's been there for seventeen, first New Hampshire for grad school, then NYC for four years and now San Francisco for 11.  I like to remind him that soon, he will be in America for longer than he was in Italy.  A citizen of both, he probably truly feels like he belongs in neither.

At our first appointment two weeks ago, the officer of the consulate congratulated us on the birth of our twins and told us that the DNA would take some time, but the "proof of presence" component would be straight-forward.  I was uber-prepared, he only wished everyone showed up as prepared as us.   A few days later, on Friday, we met the pathologist at the consulate to take the babies DNA sample.  The kits had arrived the prior Saturday via FEDEX, but we were delayed with holidays and national strikes.  Finally we were testing.  We stopped by American Citizens Services after our DNA test to complete the "proof of presence" component.  We hoped to show them our documentation and be on our way back to Anand.  Mumbai is nice, but we've been here for almost two weeks and it's costing quite a bit to stay in a hotel here vs. Anand.

We met with a different consulate officer who told us that the information we were presenting, although it is listed on their website as acceptable, is not enough.  We couldn't understand how last week, we were all set and this week, we were nowhere.  We were told we needed transcripts, ATM receipts, positive proof that Matteo was physically in the US for five years.  I blew up.  Beyond annoying.  All of this is super-easy to pull off my computer at home, but here in mumbai, we don't have access.  I brought Matteo's MAC with me because it was lighter...regretful decision.  We spent the last 36 hours pulling every document we could find on the internet, every credit card statement, auto insurance policies, notarized documents from Matteo's business.  We called every doctor Matteo had seen and asked for records of visits.  We called airlines to ask for flight records.  We called insurance companies for proof of health insurance and homeowner's insurance.  Don't forget, we are 12 1/2 hours ahead of PST or 9 12/ hours ahead of EST.  We were calling over the internet, so there is no number where people could call us back and we were constantly disconnected after holding for 20 minutes.

We fought with the consulate over email asking if we could provide this documentation via email as the director had confirmed, he balked, but relented.  We emailed him 50megs of documentation.  He fought back, the burden of proof is on us, he wouldn't review so much documentation.  Help me understand.  We provide some documentation listed as acceptable proof, but it's not enough.  When asked for more, now it's too much.  My calm husband reminded me.  These were our kids.  We needed to do whatever it took to get them what they want.  Fighting the Consulate is not helpful.  We spent the last 24 hours creating a spreadsheet that detailed everything we collected.  It was over 1000 rows detailing by day, where he was..and offering proof.  It was painful for both of us.  We bickered about the best way to do it.  I'm not sure why I disagreed...Matteo is so much better than I am in Excel.

There were a few bright spots in this process.  Reviewing the credit card charges from 2005 to present, we remembered the special restaurant celebrations.  Remembered dinner for my birthday at the Lark Creek Inn, in Larkspur.  A magical place, where we celebrated the secret news just discovered...Stella was coming in 9 months.  Remembered the first time we took Stella grocery shopping at the Berkeley Bowl, she was six days old.  Remembered the last trip to France before Stella where we meandered through Strasbourg, Dijon, Bordeaux and Lyon.  Remembered the trip to South Africa when Stella was just 5 months old for a job interview.  Remembered the painting the we bought in the wine country outside of Johannesburg that never arrived (So happy to have used American Express!).  Remembered the decision to buy a house in the mountains and the weekend we found it.  It went on like this for quite a long time...recording hundreds of gas purchases, with a few highlights in between.  I have never been so thankful that Matteo buys his lunch every day on his credit card....so many lunches at Whole Foods and Dos Pinos.  I also can't understand how we buy gas so often.  And I really need to make sure I'm paying these bills on time, lots of unnecessary late charges and over-the-limit charges.    

This afternoon we finished our documentation, printed about 300 pages of docs and headed over to the consulate.  A mere hour later, we were off with approval.  Matteo put his hand up and swore that he was attesting to the truth.  The officer reviewed our cover page, but didn't even let us pass our 300 pages under the glass partition.  Why is it that in the uber-secure ACS part of the American Consulate, where only those fortunate enough to carry the blue passport can go, they insist on speaking to us through the glass partition?  I understand security risk, but the approach is so demeaning.  Why do we need to be made feel like criminals by those whose paychecks are funded by our taxes?

The other interesting thing about the Consulate is the American propaganda.  There is a TV showing an hour-long video of American dream.  We've seen it in it's entirety at least three times.  One can glean insights into how America is perceived abroad.  There is a long part about race and religious freedoms.  We see Muslims celebrating their heritage in communities throughout the US.  No talk about Koran burnings by crazy Florida preachers here.  Then we move into the education piece.  Lots of college campuses, not so much Ivy League....wondering if Clemson paid for that advertisement...now, that would be truly American:)  I mean really, how did Clemson make the cut, but no Princeton, Harvard, NYU or University of Michigan?  Finally, the National Parks system.  This is something uniquely American and truly spectacular that differentiates the US from all the other countries in the world.  Our nature rocks.  Specifically the nature in the West....Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite...all awe-inspiring.  I feel so lucky to live out West, where there is so much to experience.  Then a quick flash to New York City, how could we forget that?  But I wonder how Las Vegas could have been omitted?  Lots of fabulosity there.  So, that's what the US stands for:  our universities, our national parks and cultural/religious freedom.  There you have it.  What about our public education system for elementary and high school?  What about gay rights?  What about the opportunity in our cutting edge science and technology fields?  There is still a lot of work to do.  I hope we're moving in the right direction, but fear we are not fast enough.  This country is growing so fast.  Over the next 100 years, I wonder if people will still want to come to the US like they have in the past.

At any rate, we made progress.  Now, we just wait here in Mumbai for hopefully two more days until our passports are ready to be picked up.  Then back to Anand for exit Visas and home!