Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Through The Looking Glass

I knew what I was in for when I stepped through those doors. Oh ... I ... KNEW. But DH didn't. So it was partially amusing to see his eyes bug out and his lips purse in that expression of frustration and semi-disbelief that was prevalent in that place. Y'see, this day we were forced to visit the hell-hole that is the Pakistan Consulate in Manhattan.

It seemed only appropriate that it was cold and raining the entire time we were there, making everything just that much more difficult and depressing. A simple procedure that should've taken only about 15 mins or so, ended up taking an hour and a half, and gave poor DH a LOT of grief!

The building is quite fancy on the outside, and is in a posh locale on the Upper East Side (UES) if Manhattan. But you enter and your entire being recoils in disbelief because it looks like you're back in some shitty government office in Pakistan, but your brain rebels, telling you "this can't be!". There is a little room on the side where all passport/visa/ID card supplicants (not applicants, because we are at their mercy) are herded together. There are signs on the door that say "take a ticket and come to the counter when you are called". However, the ticket dispensing machine is empty, and looks like it's been that way for ages. There's a photo booth for passport photos that doesn't work. And two photocopy machines; one that doesn't work and another that you have to pay 25 cents per copy for. Plus, the people in line are constantly scheming about how they can cut out the person in front of them so that they can get ahead faster.

Should you be so lucky as to actually know someone at the consulate, well then all you have to do is yell "Suniye, Mr. So-and-So hain? Jee main unka so-and-so hoon" ... and lo and behold! It's like the doors to heaven open up for you, and your application is taken care of tout de suite (at once)! And it shames me to say this, but some pakistani women take unfair advantage of their sex and try to ignore the line completely. Usually if the poor sap is a man, he'd let her get away with it too. Shame on you both!

I had the pleasure of encountering once such auntie at the Consulate myself this time. There we were, DH and I, already frustrated enough. We finally get to the front of the line, and are waiting for the guy behind the counter to acknowledge us, when Mrs. Auntie-in-a-hurry appears at our side and shoves her application in front of ours! First I give her "the look", which she completely ignores. Then with DH's encouragement I do speak up and say "Excuse me, but we were here first", to which she replies "oh, I was here earlier, but I had to go get blahblahblah, and now I'm back" ... to which I could only laugh and tell her "we had the same thing, but we stood in line like the rest of the people here, so you should too". All I got in response was this look of fake innocence and the words "Oh I didn't know we had to stand in line again!". I ask you my friends, do you think this auntie would've done tried this same tactic if she were anywhere else other than the Pakistan Consulate?

We are guilty of forgetting, I think. She may have been guilty of forgetting her manners the minute she walked in to a pakistani environment, but perhaps I too am guilty. Guilty of expecting our people to behave as they would anywhere else in the US - with respect for rules and your fellow man/woman!

My other beef is this: who doesn't accept credit card payments these days?! I thought that was a rhetorical question, but apparently the Pakistan Consulate still works on something called "money orders". Not accepting cash is somewhat understandable (ahem ahem), but what's the harm with accepting good 'ol credit?! So when DH asks, "where can I get a money order now", they point you to some place "down the stairs". Let me tell you something: these steep, slippery and narrow stairs were outside the main doors, taking you below pavement level to this dank, cramped corridor where a bored desi auntie sits by herself, chewing on paan. Uh, that's the lady who's going to get me my money order?! Look, as far as the work goes, our good people at the Consulate do it fine. They do it fairly quickly, and they MAY even help a brother/sister out should they be in a good mood. BUT, there's something to say for presentation too y'know! If someone out there knows the Consul General who sits in that office, can you please tell him to spruce up the place? And make the people working there look a tad (ok a LOT) more presentable? And more organized while you're at it? No more taking our applications and shoving them into an unseen drawer, yes?! Dude ... come ON .. this is your JOB!

Ok. That felt good. Getting that off my chest. If you have had any such "pleasant" experiences at the Pakistan Consulate (or the Indian Consulate for that matter, I hear it's no different!), do share your pain. As my favorite TV psychologist, Fraser Crane, used to say "I'm listening".

And for those of you who have avoided ever visiting either the Pakistan or Indian Consulate, what're you waiting for? It's an adventure! Go now! What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger!
To make myself feel better, I walked around the neighborhood afterwards, gawking at all the wonderful designer goodies. Drooled over some Valentino and Jimmy Choo, roamed around Hermes to see if there was anything there that I actually could afford (alas, no), and felt much better looking at the cheerful window art at Barney's. Apparently it's the 50th anniversary of the peace sign, and Barney's is going all out on their hippie, peace & love theme. Fun.

I was definitely able to salvage the day by window shopping and having lunch at a wonderful spot in the UES, which I promise to review in detail in my next post.


Doppelganger said...

I sympathize completely! The first time my hubby took me to the Pakistani consulate in Los Angeles, I was shocked by the dichotomy between the grand exterior and the shabby interior. And the lackadaisical demeanour of the people who worked there just made me want to shake them! Thankfully though, this time around when we went in November for our visa renewals, the situation was partially improved; the people behind the counters were friendly and yes, quite efficient, the place was clean with a lot more chairs for people who needed to wait.

There was still a photo booth which I'm not sure whether it wasn't working, or the people there just didn't want to work it. :P I know, I'm cynical. They kept telling people to go down the street to CVS and get their pictures taken there. And I don't know what the deal was...but even though this consulate office is in a very upscale building (just like your Manhattan branch!) they kept telling anyone who asked (and a lot of people did while we were there!) that restrooms were on the 2nd floor! and the consulate offices were on the 10th floor. It was just hard to believe that the only restrooms were available on one floor in the entire building.

And as for the money order...yes, it is wierd! my hubby actually got one made at the post office. I remember my Mom used to have to get money orders of our school fees made. :D We're still living in the 80s! I laughed out loud when my hubby told me we had to get money orders. :)

Muneeba said...

The money order is pretty laughable .. especially the way they say it .. "munney aardar". And the CVS thing that happened with your hubby is exactly what happened with mine! I think the guy working at that CVS was some relative to the guy at the consulate. *sigh* ... gotta luv our peeps.

Anonymous said...

I know exactlly how you felt Muneeba..... i've been through it and you know what? after experienccing it several times.... i finally had decided that that i would use 'vasta' and get my work done.

i dont know if you had ever gone to the consulate hre in dubai... but i can tell you atleast the one in NEwyork was good to look at from the outside!!
here,as soon as you come about 200 metres from the place you see this sea of desi... unironed non amir adnan shalwar kameez clad pathans by the 100s, who, eventhough you're in your car seem to just rape you with their eyes!
somehow, if you manage to find a parking space in this entire pathan jungle and walk towards the gates... firstly u're hit by the stench, yes i say stench coz smell wud just be an understatement!!

the moment you walk into the gates you're back in pakiland. dirty walls, paan chewing punjabi speaking men.... with no consideration for the fact that you're a lady and no tameez whatsoever.
the waiting room is even worse. palstic chairs that i wouldnt really want to put my behind on! doors that dont shut and you can hear the so called 'officers' laughing ad making fun of some poor dude who probably didnt even know how to sign hhis own name!

yes.. its pretty sad state.

and as someone had commented about toilets.... well first of all i didnt even ask for one here... but believe me... even if they had one, i wouldnt use it even if my life depended on it... coz after i wud use it... i wudnt have lived!!

Muneeba said...

wow Nissa ... you seem pretty traumatized from your experience at the embassy .. we should get a therapy group going for people like us! I never did have to go to the consulate in Dubai (my good 'ol dad sheltered me from it!), but I can picture what you described extremely clearly!