When toddlers attack

Monday, June 11, 2012

The embassy

The Great Seal of the United States always makes me think of the 1960's somehow -- moonshots, the Missile Crisis, Kennedy, bouffant hairstyles, mod sunglasses.  Or maybe it just makes me think of "I Dream of Jeannie," since they always seemed to show something similar when they wanted an establishing shot of Major Nelson going to work.  Then Jeannie would magically materialize, transport herself, Major Nelson, and a bug-eyed Dr. Bellows to India where they'd pick up two babies, and hilarity would ensue.

Jeannie, I wanted a pastrami sandwich... I said "let's go to the DELI..."
Of course, it wouldn't take Jeannie more than an hour to get a preemie to take 60 ml of formula.  She'd just bob her arms accompanied by a loud "BOIIIING," a large Vlach peasant wetnurse would appear, problem solved.  No Vlach peasant women are in sight here at Svelte, but feeding a baby is strangely engrossing.  You know how I know?  Because we were so engrossed we almost missed our appointment at the US Embassy.

I wish we could blame it on our driver that day, and the fact he never called to tell us he was waiting downstairs in front of the hotel.  But no, all our fault, I'm afraid.  We realized after finally coaxing Clara to drink one milliliter more that we were due downstairs in three minutes, due at the embassy in 45, and that we didn't stand an icicle's chance in Rajasthan of being there on time. Ever poke a hill of ants with a stick to see them rush around in a panic?  That was us, gathering up extra diapers, wipes, a bottle for each filled with water, dosing out powdered formula for each.  We hurried downstairs, jumped in the car and headed out.

The trip to Shantipath, the green, manicured boulevard where the major embassies are located, didn't take us all that long, but thanks to our own mistake, we were a half-hour late anyway.  Most of the embassies seem to follow the same pattern -- in fact, they all look sort of 1960s, not unlike somewhere Major Nelson would go to work.  The major exception is the Pakistani Embassy, built like an Arabian Nights fantasia of a mosque, complete with a dome and minarets -- each, I think, representing a giant middle-finger directed at India.

 And where's the American Embassy?  Just look for the one surrounded by the small bunkers of paramilitary troops.  The complex is enormous, covering, from what I could tell, at least three city blocks (and thanks to Doug and Chad, who live there and had invited us over for drinks a few evenings prior, we'd already had an inside look).  Consular Services, where you have to go for anything relating to visas, passports or registering the birth of a US citizen abroad, is located at a far corner of the main part of the embassy.  Mornings find a long line of Indian citizens going through the unpleasant process of applying for a visa to visit the States, but U.S. citizens (and their resident alien ignored-by-DOMA spouses) use a separate line/entrance with no wait time.  We left our mobile phone at the main entrance, passed through a security checkpoint where they made us pass the girls and their Cocoons through an x-ray machine -- KIDDING!  -- just the Cocoons, though Adrián dreamt the previous night that we were at the airport and forgot to take the girls out before sending them down the conveyor belt.  Me being me, I thought that was hysterically funny.  There was surprisingly little hassle, and, miracle of miracles, everyone was pleasant and helpful.

But when we arrived in the waiting room, fluorescent-lit and as glamourous, comfortable and interesting as a visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles, we discovered I'd made another mistake.  "We're here for a DNA appointment," I confidently announced to the woman at one of about five windows.  She looked confused and told me to wait a moment.  No, actually we weren't there for a DNA appointment at all. Somehow, despite having read the website over and over again, I'd missed the part about the need to schedule separate appointments for the DNA tests and embassy paperwork.  In fact, they weren't even doing DNA tests that day. They can schedule everything the same day -- you just need to, uh, schedule it, which I hadn't done.  Duh.  But even though we were a half-hour late and STUPID, they accomodated us.  We sat with Indian-American families applying for passports for kids born in India and a couple of slacker-dude backpackers who'd lost their passports, and before I knew it, our paperwork was complete.  "Don't you need proof of residency?" I asked the pretty, studious-looking African-American woman behind the window.  "Oh no, with what you have in your passport, it's pretty obvious you've been living in the U.S.," she said.  Good thing, too -- I'd just realized I'd left the file with five years of tax records back at the hotel.  Double duh.

They told us to come bacy the next day for the DNA test, just for the girls as I'd already done mine back in Los Angeles.  This time, we remembered to be in the lobby for an 8:45 am pick-up -- and so did Avey, finally heading home to the UK after two months in Delhi, and Rob and Dave from San Francisco, on their way to the dreaded FRRO.  Our drivers?  Nowhere in sight.  Avey called Rahul -- her driver would be there in five minutes she was told.  Five minutes passed; no driver.  Avey called Rahul again, her patience wearing thin.  Rahul himself showed up about two minutes later, and Avey was on her way home at last.  The next driver appeared at 9:25 -- Rob and Dave told us to go, as they didn't actually have an appointment (thanks, guys!), but we'd obviously abandoned hope of arriving on time.

We pulled up to Consular Services once again a half-hour late.  So same thing all over again:  cellphone at first security check, hold the girls while the Cocoons go through the x-ray machine, back to the fluorescent and linoleum waiting-room.  The girls couldn't eat for an hour before the cheek swabs, so we nervously awaited our turn in the "privacy room."  See, we've discovered that Clara has a superpower:  a shriek that pierces walls, shatters glass and ruptures eardrums.  If she let loose at the embassy, surely we'd be sent to Guantánamo or something.  So in the interest of national security, we wanted to keep her happy.   Embassy staffers Karin, John and Sarah told us not to worry about our late arrival... they're used to it; it is Delhi after all.  Our turn came, the girls squealed like piggies as the tech took the cheek swabs, and we headed back out to the waiting room to give them their bottles.

Our companions in the waiting room this time were quite interesting:  Diana, an expat single mom who was trying to get a passport for her son.  She was the daughter of a diplomat and had never lived in the US, which complicated things -- to convey citizenship, you have to be born or naturalized AND have lived in the States for five consecutive years after the age of 14.  She was frustrated at the roadblocks that throws up for her son.  We were also joined by a married couple with a clutch of five (I think) kids in tow -- three adopted from Indian orphanages, two biological.  He was from a village in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh; she was from New York, where they now live, heavily tattoed, and had a mouth like a marine.  "You guys are fucking amazing," she exclaimed as she breastfed her baby in the waiting room ("Careful, mustn't have any titties floating around in public!").  "Gay couples aren't the problem, they're the fucking solution -- you guys don't have the relationship bullshit that heterosexuals have, you've worked it all through.  You're so much more honest."  Okay, I don't mind being a positive stereotype.  But I decided not to disillusion her by telling her that, whatever she was talking about, same-sex couples suffer from all the same problems -- boredom, infidelities, petty jealousies -- afflicting straight ones.   Instead I told her that they were amazing, adopting three kids... and raising them to speak English, Hindi and Yiddish, of all things.  Then a woman came from behind the window, inferred that her boobies were spooking the horses, and made her go in the privacy room to finish nursing.

So that was that.  In spite of the squealing, all pretty painless and straightforward.  This was last Wednesday and Thursday -- they told us to expect the test results by tomorrow, since we'd paid to have them expedited.  We also opted for the emergency passports, since they'll give us the option of returning home sooner, even if Lufthansa doesn't.


  1. This is hilarious! I'm sure our visit when we get there in December will be just as comical. Though I'm going to print this out and keep a list of things that I have to remember to do! Great to hear all is going well guys!

  2. Ha! Classic post. Another one for the baby books. Here's to hoping you guys get back sooner than later. Good luck with everything else.

    P.S. Your "baby brain" sounds like mine these days...and we only have one!

  3. Hey can you explain ,when you have your DNA test done in the usa do you just take the report with you to India ,then they compare it to the babies ,how dose that work and .at which week would be good to do it ,so it will be ready when you go for baby pick ..you can email me raquelsimone1@aol.com thank you

  4. How exactly does that work ,getting your DNA done before you get their , and did you travel for babiesrus pick up on medical or tourist visa ?

  5. At least one DNA testing lab -- Chromasomal Labs in Arizona -- lets you test in your hometown. You head to a facility they license (in my case it was an Asian traditional medical clinic), they take the cheek swab there, and send the results to the embassy once they have the babies' results. The embassy generally recommends doing it a month to two weeks before you plan to head to India. You can also do it at the embassy at the same time they test the babies, but doing it at home is free (well, aside from the hundreds you've already paid for the DNA tests).

  6. I am going in January to pick up my baby alone, any hints or pointers please let me know, what to bring and all the emabssy stuff thanks