Sunday, June 1, 2008

Brief as Photos - 6: The Good Consul

He was the type of diplomat people here admired; he was always charming, a great host, a good memory for names and faces, and was never off timing during karaoke time. He was also probably the most even tempered person I’ve ever known in all the time I’ve worked at the Consulate. The first week I was there, he told me that I should not hesitate to call him if I ever get unreasonable demands or a difficult customer at the window. I have never seen him lost his temper except once which I remember vividly.

An American citizen came in one day to apply for a Legal Capacity, a required document for foreigners marrying locally. It was a simple document where the applicant would state name and address, indicate freedom to marry, pay the notarial fee and swear before the U.S. consular official that the statement was true and correct. Post was kind of a backwater for everything else, but the marriage business was booming.

Mr. John Q. Public who was in his 50’s hailed from South Dakota and came in to marry the love of his life, Elena, all of 14 years old. The man was well-dressed and seemed polite enough but he did smell like a walking brewery. We all thought “ew” but there were no grounds to deny the notarial request. Young Elena was present with both parents, armed with a notarized parental consent for marriage. This was a country where the laws did not specify the minimum marital age. Therefore, anyone, including minors could legally marry as long as the parents provided their consent.

The Consul did not show any indication that he disapproved but I could tell that he was similarly bothered. He had me translate while he interviewed the girl; we had never interviewed any of the prospective brides in the past.

Do you understand what you are doing here?” the Consul asked gently in English, while I translated.

Yes, I am going to marry Mr. John Q. Public,” Elena replied in a small voice. It was a strange response because she actually used her prospective groom’s full name including the “Mister.”

“Do you realize that he may take you away from here; take you all the way to America after you are married?” he asked again.

“Yes, he will take me to South Dakota, but my parents said that he would take care of me,” the girl responded.

The Consul asked a few more questions but the girl appeared to understand what she was doing. Perhaps it was true love; either that or she was coached very well. Finally, we called Mr. John Q. Public, who raised his hand and swore before the U.S. Consul that the statement he gave us was true and correct.

I did not think I would see Mr. John Q. Public again but he showed up a couple of weeks later with a woman who was applying for a tourist visa. I recognized him right away but did not see his young bride anywhere. He did not come up to the counter until after his woman companion was refused a visa. Then he marched up to the counter and demanded to see the U.S. ambassador. I explained that this was a Consulate and that the U.S. Ambassador only occupies office at the Embassy, in the capital city. So then Mr. John Q. Public demanded to see the U.S. consul immediately. Just in case I did not understand the urgency of his demand, he slapped the counter hard with both palms of his hands, and repeated in a loud voice, “I want to see the U.S. Consul now!”

Before I could turn to get the Consul, the man was already striding towards the counter, and appeared to know that there was brewing trouble.

“How can I help you, sir?” the Consul asked politely.

“I demand that you issue this woman a visa!” replied Mr. John Q.

“I have already talked to this woman and she is not qualified,” the Consul responded.

Perhaps aghast at the thought of being husband and caregiver at the same time, there was a strain of panic in the man's voice. “But you don’t understand, sir; this is my wife’s nanny. She has to have a visa!” cried Mr. John Q.

Pulling up to his full height of 6 feet and 4 inches, the U.S. Consul whose ears have turned raspberry red by now, leaned forward on the counter, stared hard at the taxpayer and said coldly, “You came in earlier to marry a young girl of 14 and now you come back to get a visa for your wife’s nanny. Mr. John Q. Public, sir - you better get out of here before I kick your ass out of my office.”

Strangely enough, Mr. John Q. Public scuttled out of there pretty quickly like a mouse.

Brief as Photos Disclaimer

1 comment:

Consul-At-Arms said...

Great story!

I've linked back to you here: