Pepper and I arrived in Rochester, NY late on Sunday. We took the cats to my parent’s home and crashed. Over the next few days we did some relaxing, introduced the cats to their extended feline family, took care of some cat transport issues, helped my dad set up some workshop tools, and started to celebrate our anniversary. Started. Then suddenly I had to fly to San Francisco. We hadn’t even been in Fairport for three full days.
We were becoming increasingly concerned about our lack of a visa for India. Pepper sent a note about it to the personnel director of our school and she told us to immediately go to San Francisco to deal with it in person – they would pay. Three hours later I was on a flight from Rochester to San Francisco. We bought a one way ticket – not knowing how long I might be there. I brought clothes for three days.
While on the ground in DC for my connection to San Francisco, I made a few calls using Skype to track down a hotel. This sudden trip was going to be expensive. The cab to the hotel was almost $50. I hunkered down at the hotel – arriving pretty late – and mapped out my walk to the visa processing office.
I need to back up.
We tried to apply for our visas in Mongolia. The Indian embassy in Ulaanbaatar was nice, there was no line, we got in to see someone right away. But he said he couldn’t help us because we hadn’t lived in Mongolia for at least two full years. We were a few months short. So we had our documents ready to mail out as soon as we arrived in the US. The Indian consulate contracts out for all visa pre-screening. Because of the US requiring that a US-owned company be contracted to do a similar service in India, the Indian government required an Indian-owned company to do their processing. And the shift happened just as we arrived in the US. So our applications were among the first to arrive at the new company. It arrived in San Francisco on July 1st. We had tried the phone lines for contacting the company for days and the few times we got through we were told that our case would be elevated and that we would be contacted in 24-48 hours. In short, there was a new company processing visas before they went to the embassy and they had call centers in India that had no idea what was going on.
So 50 minutes before the BLS office in San Francisco opened on that Thursday, I was standing in a line with 9 other people with similar woes. None had appointments. (You could make appointments for in-person applications but the first available time was a week and a half away.) People traded stories about the problems they had. One woman in front of me had been there 8 days earlier and still wasn’t sure if she was going to get her visa.
By the time they opened their doors, we had over 20 people ready to find out what was going on. One of the first people in had been there the previous day and kept us organized. She had us line up in the chairs in the waiting room in order so we could be served in the order we arrived. BLS threw a wrench in that orderly approach when one guy announced that “absolutely no walk-ins would be seen. Appointments only.” Chaos slowly erupted as people realized that they might not be seen. People with appointments got numbers which were called. Others tried everything possible to get numbers. A few people skipped the number system and just went up to the counters. That ended up being the best option for people like me with different needs. I got to the front of that line and gave them my tracking number and the arrival date. A half hour later someone pulled our envelope and went through it. She said we needed a letter from the school for Jordan’s application and his application also needed our signatures on it along with copies of our passports with our signatures on those pages. So I popped into a cafe, grabbed a breakfast and sent a message to the school that we needed an acceptance letter for Jordan. Then I trompsed up five blocks and finally got a SIM card for my phone… there were other staff that also were having hangups with their visas and I offered to act on their behalf in San Francisco. There was a FedEx store just another block away from AT&T so I printed out the passport copies and the letter for Jordan (our school can move really quickly!)
I got the papers together, found a place to work on the signatures and got everything ready to resubmit. I went back to BLS to submit the new materials and after a while had someone else flip through my application. She found a few other problems – primarily that I listed my parent’s address in NY as our current address and not our Alaska address (which was listed as our permanent address). I explained to her that we were currently in NY visiting family but she said the Indian consulate in San Francisco wouldn’t process our applications with an address listed that was out of their jurisdiction. She said if I had the materials in to them by 2 PM that they could get them in by first thing in the morning. that was only 40 minutes away. I ran the six blocks uphill to the FedEx place and had to enter entirely new visa applications for all three of us with the correct address (and details about the countries we had visited in the last 5 years, contacts in the US and India, employment/school information and our passport numbers, birthdays and other information). I sprinted back down the hill, pausing every now and then to sign our applications. I made it with just minutes to spare.
They looked over my application and noted that our money order was for too much money – by a few dollars. I told them it didn’t matter. Then they told me that the expedited processing system at the embassy was down. I asked if it might be up by the next day and they said if I checked by 10 that I could pay for the faster service. I asked about a couple of the other applications that were held up. But they closed before I was able to find out what was going on with them.
I went back the next day. Nope. Just regular “3-5 business day” processing. I was recognized about the other applications and one was brought to the top of the pile. The other they couldn’t find. That wasn’t a fun call to make to my future co-worker. I told her I would try again on Monday.
I spent the rest of that afternoon down in the dock area at the Instructables headquarters and checking out the Exploratorium. I ate out. I drank beer. I walked all over San Francisco. I then imposed on my cousin and her husband. I hadn’t seen Rachel in 8 or 9 years. I hadn’t ever met her husband, Brian. I had to try and relax over the weekend. There wasn’t anything I could do about the applications but wait and hope we were on the 3 day and not 5 day end of the timeline.
Monday came and I went to the BLS office. I was able to check on my coworker’s progress. Another employee had popped up with a snag. I did what I could. I wandered San Francisco more. I went to Betabrand. Days seemed to crawl by with me compulsively stopping by the office and checking the website for updates on our applications. The school rebooked our flights from Newark to India. Finally the site said mine was available. I rushed there and picked up mine. Pepper’s was ready too. Jordan’s had a problem. They needed his biological dad’s signature on his application – not mine.
I rushed up to FedEx again and printed out the divorce documents showing Pepper having custody. They accepted them but said they needed a court order. I got it back the next day – the divorce documents were not good enough. Jordan’s dad got a notarized letter to us granting permission for Jordan to leave. I resubmitted. another weekend went by. I went to movies. I went to thrift stores. I shopped at Betabrand. I walked part of the Golden Gate Bridge. Monday came and the application was rejected again – this time we were informed via a phone call directly to me from the embassy. Pepper’s signature on Jordan’s application wasn’t good enough. Pepper emailed a document to the embassy within 30 minutes of us being contacted. I picked up Jordan’s passport the next afternoon. I went straight to the airport, bought a ticket there and headed back to Rochester.
Dad, Mom, Pepper, Jordan and the cats picked me up at the airport where we immediately drove the 5 hours to Newark. It saved us, and in turn the school, money but more importantly I had five more hours with my parents. I missed out on a planned trip to Pennsylvania. I missed a week with my parents. We missed all of the new teacher orientation. We missed a lot.
But we made it.
When we arrived in Newark we checked in, paid for the cats, got through security and then made it to the gate with about 20 minutes to spare for our six plus hour flight to Frankfurt where we connected to our more than 9 hour flight to Chennai.
It all worked out. Not the way we wanted, but it worked.