Thursday, March 12, 2009

Visiting the U.S. Consulate

I'm doing a lot better energy-wise, compared to one week ago. I am pretty much sleeping through the night now. After today I will need to start using my alarm clock.

In the beginning, I could only handle about 1 activity a day, and now I can do 2 or 3.

I went to the U.S. Consulate the other day to see about renewing my passport. It was really quite easy.

First, I had to get passport photos. They require two for the application. I came out of the metro where the Consulate is located and looked for a sign saying "photos." There was one relatively nearby. However, it looked to be under construction. I wondered why they had advertisements up if they were closed. So I hesitated a few times, then decided to venture forth into the questionable building.

The stairwell was populated by construction workers, yet there were still signs pointing to various document services, and a sign excusing the mess. So I took that to mean that they were open. I wondered if they were losing business because of the mess or if everyone just dismissed it as a part of life.

I followed the arrows to photo services, and entered a room where there were several desks set up for notarizing documents, a cashier, and a photo station in the far corner. I needed someone to give me instructions, but no one looked up. I wandered over to the photo corner where there was no action, just a young man sitting at a computer wearing headphones. I hovered until he looked up.

"Should I go there first?" I asked, gesturing towards the cashier. He reluctantly pulled the headphones off one ear. "What?" I repeated my question. "What did you want exactly?" he asked. I explained that I needed photos for a U.S. passport. I showed him my current passport so he could get an idea of the size. The recommendations in the application form were in inches, and I wasn't sure how to translate.

"Get ready," he said. I went over to the little corner where there was a mirror and "got ready." After he snapped my photo, there were again no instructions, so I began to put my coat back on. Meanwhile, the zipper broke.

Another customer had entered the room, looking just as hesitant. The photographer told me that I could pay while I waited, so I went over to the cashier and paid, returning with my receipt. After a few minutes, the photos were printed.

I struggled with my coat zipper for another 5 minutes and then headed out the door. The photographer was heading out at the same time, on a cigarette break. Apparently, he needed to rest after serving two such demanding customers.

When I saw the American flag, I felt a rush for some reason. I think it's because of watching the movie "The Saint" several years ago. There is a scene where the heroine runs towards the American Embassy in Moscow screaming "I'm an American citizen!" and it saves her from being captured by the Russians.

There was a line at the Consulate, but it was Russians doing visa interviews. I got to go ahead. There were Russian guards working that day, and when they asked me what language, I said "English" for some reason. It just popped out of my mouth.

It took some time to sort out that I didn't have any weapons on me, since I had a lot of winter clothing on, including a coat that didn't want to unzip, and was carrying several bags. They took my cell phone and house keys, but let me keep everything else, which was a big strange since I had at least one other set of keys in my purse. Perhaps they just wanted to keep something as a deposit.

In the room for American Citizen Services, there was one other person waiting. I handed over my passport photos and the application form, which I had downloaded from the Consulate's website and completed at home. The staff member handed me a price list and told me to go to the cashier and pay for the new passport. When I got to the window, I was asked again which language I preferred, and I said "po-angliskiy," which must have sounded funny. I paid using my debit card since I didn't have any dollars with me.

When I returned to Citizen Services with my receipt, they told me that my application looked fine and that they would be notifying me by email in 7-10 days when the new passport was ready. At that time I can tell them that I prefer to keep my old passport as well, and they won't cancel it. Compare this with waiting 4 weeks in the U.S. for a new passport, and it's not a bad deal at all!