Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Big ups to the family

About six weeks ago, I gave up on the visa interviewing bit. Or rather, I rotated into the American Citizen Services section. "What the hell does that mean?" I can hear you asking. Mostly it means that instead of doing interviews to see if Guatemalans qualify for visas, I do interviews to see if purported Americans qualify for passports. This breaks into three types of interviews:

1. Obvious gringos who got pickpocketed or robbed while on vacation, and need a new passport to get home. These interviews are easy and boring.
2. Ex-pats who may look like gringos or may be of mostly Guatemalan blood in for routine renewals. These interviews are easy and boring.
3. Kids ranging from age two to age eighteen claiming that they were born in the US when their parents were there illegally, and then they were sent off to live with Grandma in Guatemala when they were a few months old and now they want a US passport for the first time. These interviews are nearly impossible.

The other part of the job is being on call at all hours in case any American is arrested, hospitalized, victimized, or killed. The two big cases I've had to work on so far have been gentlemen with various forms of mental illness who have been living on the streets of Guatemala for an unknown period of time, and now need help getting back to the US.

(Little known fact for US Citizen readers: if you are destitute in a foreign country, your government will pay to send you home. Until doing the training for consular work, it never would have occurred to me if I completely ran out of money to go to the Embassy and ask for a ticket home. A lot of folks apparently have no such mental barriers, and come in asking for money until they realize that we're going to call their mommy first, then loan them money and cancel their passport for further adventures.)

These gentlemen were true hard-luck cases, and the worst part was that they had nobody in the world who would help them. We contacted each of their parents, none of whom were willing to provide any assistance in bringing their kids home. I guess I was hoping for a somewhat higher level of diplomacy then trying to get mom and son to patch things up when I signed up for this gig. Anyway, a big thanks to all the folks back home who would spot me airfare to get home if I fell and hit my head on the sidewalk in Guatemala, which is sadly not something everyone can count on.