It was a cold and grey morning in Lima, as they often are during the winter. The City of Eternal Spring is just that, so bright and beautiful, but only in the spring. The winter months are damp and dreary, disguising Lima’s many charms.
We sat in a cafe, sipping hot coffee and making use of the free wifi. I gazed out the window at the line forming across the street. The people were bundled up against the chill, bulky outerwear covering what had to be their best clothes, as trousers, skirts and dress shoes peeked from beneath the heavy coats. I checked the time on my laptop and realized we still had half an hour before our appointment. I took another sip of the foamy latte, grateful I didn’t have to go outside just yet.
A bus that had originated in Huanchaco the night before had deposited us in Lima a few hours ago, and a taxi had then ferried us to this coffee shop. We had business to take care of at the US Embassy, namely the collection of a new passport for Will, and we hoped to have that errand completed as soon as possible. I hadn’t spent much time in Peru’s capital city yet, and I was eager to explore.
When it was time, we paid our bill and scurried across the street. The embassy is an imposing building, covering the better part of a city block, and walled like a fortress. Or a prison. Stone-faced guards stood by as we joined a few others in the line for American citizens. The line for foreigners stretched away, and around the corner.
As we waited in our line, I studied the faces of the people in the other one. Their faces were stoic, and the talk amongst those who had come together was quiet. They checked and rechecked the documents that were snugly tucked into folders. They made their way, one by one, toward the guard who checked those documents, then offered entrance, or not. I saw a few shoulders slump as people were turned away before they could even get inside the door.
We made our way inside and passed through security. Once outside again, we followed the signs directing us toward American citizen services. On our way, we passed by so many people, sitting stiffly on stone benches in the cold, tending to wailing babies in strollers, and trying to contain rambunctious toddlers. Numbers were called over a crackling loudspeaker, and, inside the door of the foreigner visa office, fates were sealed. Dreams came true for some, dreams were dashed for others.
Since that day, two years ago, I’ve had reason to visit a US Embassy on several more occasions. My own situations were different each of those times, but the situations of the foreigners I’ve seen had to have been very similar to the situations of those hundreds of people in Lima on that day. A hope for a visit to a relative who was lucky enough to have gained residency in the US. A hope that the offer of a job would be accompanied by permission to enter the US to take it. A hope that a husband would be able to offer his new bride the chance to share his life in his home country. The list of reasons is long, but the idea behind it is not. It’s simply hope.
For me, a trip to the embassy is, more often than not, a chore, an unwelcome intrusion that takes time away from my experience in a new country. I am typically irritated by the fact that I have to deal with American bureaucracy when I try very hard to stay away from it. I tend to sigh and roll my eyes until my number is called, then take care of my business as quickly as possible, so I can move onto other first world problems.
I need to remember that, for many people, a visit to the US Embassy is a pinnacle, a possibility, a promise. It can mean a better life, a reunion, an opportunity. These people, no matter their nationality, who dot the i’s and cross the t’s on a mountain of paperwork, dress in their very best clothes, and arrive hours early so they won’t be late, have a dream, and that dream is about the country I often dismiss without thought.
It’s about hope for them, and I hope that their dreams come true.