I had been through the interviews, filled out all the forms, even managed to gain employment at a camp in the USA for the summer. Only one thing left to do – get a VISA. Fairly easy, right? The UK and the US are pretty chummy; we’ve had no big fights recently, we watch a lot of each other's television programs. So, what's the problem?
Well, first, you have to go to the United States Embassy in London, bad enough at the best of times but terrible if, like me, you live in Glasgow. You get an appointment that you have to book three months in advance, complete the forms than you really want to think about because they ask excellent, in-depth, important questions like "Are you a terrorist". Then you pay £12 for two 2 x 2 inch square photos (British passport photos won't do) and $100.00 for the honour of being interviewed.
That completed, it’s off to London. After navigating the maze of streets from the nearest tube stop in the pouring rain, you are really looking forward to getting "into" the embassy. However, when you reach it, you find it is a fortress surrounded by road blocks and policemen with guns, with a line of people snaking round the street.
You make it to security – after hours standing in the freezing rain, slowly getting wetter and wetter. At this point you think it'll be smooth sailing. No, actually it’s easier to get on an aeroplane to America than to get into the embassy building. Once at security, I had to hand them my bag, jacket, jewellery and shoes to be x-rayed. After they had established that there were no hidden bombs, I had to walk through a metal detector. Only essential documentation is returned. Everything else is stored in a locker at security; all I had was a plastic key ring with a number to reclaim them later.
Finally you're in the building. As you ascend, it becomes apparent the waiting is not over. Through the glass doors is a room full of chairs, full of people. People are sitting on every available surface, leaning against every wall. The jabber of noise engulfs you. You get a number; then find a place to wait. When I first arrived, I made my way across the room to a more quiet patch of floor. Number 321 was announced over the loudspeakers. I looked at my ticket, number 834!
Three hours later, I was called to hand over my paperwork and wait again. I sat back down on my patch of floor, watched the world go by, mind wandering, thoughts bouncing around. After another five hours, I'm called back to the window. My passport is stamped; I'm told to have a good summer. My passport will be posted to me within a week. I was stunned. That's it! Eight hours total – for a stamp on a passport.
I looked at the people leaving; they were all hurrying too. We were exiting this monstrous building that had caged us in the whole day. I rushed to the door, stepped outside into the cool night and gulped in the fresh air. I felt so free. I looked back at the embassy building lit up in the darkness with shadowed men holding guns. I hoped I wouldn’t have to do that again. One year later I was going through the whole thing!