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Serious vibes outside US Embassy

Published:Sunday | April 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer

THE FIRST appointment is at 7 a.m., and The Sunday Gleaner strolls down Hope Road, St Andrew, towards the United States (US) of America Embassy at 6:30 a.m. last Thursday. Many early birds are out clutching well-packaged documents. Obtaining a US visa is no guarantee, but fears of refusal are heightened as news continues to surface about unexplained visa revocations.

Still, there are 10 people clustered by the barrier at the very front of the line and many lined up behind them, not yet feeling the morning heat, but looking generally grim nonetheless.

Not many people are smiling, not even members of groups, such as the Holmwood Technical High School contingent, a sprinkling of track gear indicating that they are there for track meet purposes. A few minutes later, St Jago High School students also join the line of visa hopefuls - one young woman with silver medal glinting against the green of her tunic.

The parking touts are out, one set urging a customer to go in the wrong direction on the very short one-way that facilitates going in the opposite direction, up Hope Road, at the very end of the embassy complex.

"Come round, Mummy," one says. As 'Mummy' complies, one tout asks another: "A whey u tell har mek she a look pon yu so?"

No Dressing up

Dressing up for a US visa appointment does not seem to be a priority. A man wearing a grey jacket over a polo shirt, along with jeans, joins the line late. He's the only one gone even slightly formal. It is jeans and shirts of various kinds for men and women, the ladies wearing dresses, not going for the 'office look'. Nobody is looking shabby, though.

And not many people want to speak with The Sunday Gleaner about their chances of getting a US visa in this time of dons, extradition requests and visa cancellations. One man, who appears to be in his late 20s, dismisses The Sunday Gleaner then hisses his teeth and mutters, "Afta me nuh know no Dudus," while a young woman in about her late teens smiles as she says, "Well, I'm qualified, so I don't see why I should be turned down."

But it is Norma, who is trying for the second time, who gets a few people within earshot to smile as she announces: "Don or no don, cancel or no cancel, me is a likkle somebody so me have to try. An me nah stop try."

There is a flurry of activity as the embassy door opens and a woman in snug brown pants stalks out in the authoritative gait of a minion with the full weight of the world's superpower at her high heels. The tone matches the stalk; she instructs people with 7 a.m. appointments to have certain documents - including their confirmation receipt - out to be checked. She also reminds them all of the items which cannot be taken into the US Embassy. It is a long list.

The Sunday Gleaner is standing on a concrete island across the road from the line with Angella, who is waiting for her sister. She had accompanied her sister and daughter the day before. "A the firs' me see the line so short," she says. And she speculates, "A mussi hard times hard, or di people dem a fret."

The record counts

Derron is not in the line, but has extensive experience with the visa-application system. He says that the new "supplication" system is having a severe impact on people. He said while many people are concerned about extradition matters and the impact it will have on their chances of getting a US visa, "If you don't have a reason for going to America, the people not going to let you into dem place. Who dem tamper with is people who dem feel have a connection with him."

There is no need to say who "him" is.

Derron says that people still dress up for their US visa appointment, but opines that it is the record that counts more than presentation at the moment of decision.

"A lot of people don't pay taxes and America is serious about paying taxes," he says. "America is about building dem country. Why dem going to let in somebody who going to mash up the country? It not going to work."

The Sunday Gleaner returns to the 'Embassy of dreams, realised and dashed', close to 2 p.m., when those persons who had 1 p.m. appointments are coming out. There is a cluster of people outside and still many a grim face. Two downcast young men in jeans and plaid short-sleeved shirts walk past The Sunday Gleaner and one, as he digs a key from his pocket, mouths a silent expletive.

A bus is passing and the conductor announces "Cross Roads, Town!" Then he shouts to someone in the clump near the crowd barrier, "Get through?" The reply is unclear.

A few minutes later, an ecstatic woman exits the embassy and joins the group at the barrier. "You leave me alone!" she says, displaying a piece of paper to those who gather around her.

Evidently, she 'got through'.

Name changed.