Last week was Take Your Child to Work Day at the Consulate. I volunteered. I swear, I don’t know why I do this. Volunteer, that is. Maybe it’s my generous nature. Maybe it’s because I’m curious. Maybe it’s because I’m bossy. Maybe it’s all of the above. Maybe. At the appointed time the DiploBoys and I went to the Consulate, ready for the DBs to spend the day as diplomats.
Our neighbor, B, was in charge, and introduced the Consul General to say a few words. The CG is a laid-back guy and really good with kids. He swore all the kids in for the day, having them raise their right hand and as an added bonus made them promise to “do everything my parents say”. Awesome. After a quick photo op, a pizza lunch, and a lot of giggling and herding, the day was off to a fun start.
The kids were divided into two groups – 6-8 years, and 9 and up. I was supposed to be with the older kids (shoot me now – keep me with my tween all day? I could have killed B for that assignment), but I had the only good camera, so I shuttled in between the groups. This was perfect for me. Stay with each group until my kid started whining, then leave them and go to the other group. Repeat as necessary.
The younger kids started out with the Public Affairs Section. A, the Cultural Affairs Officer, introduced them to the section and explained that this month the theme was the environment. She introduced one of the Consulate’s environmental partners, Green Yatra. The men from Yatra then did a presentation on the environment and their operations. I think three or four kids fell asleep.
Before I followed suit, I decided to duck in to check on the older kids, who were at the Health Unit.
The HU had Nurse D and Nurse K telling the kids how to avoid sports injuries. When the discussion turned to the various colors of pee and what each one was telling you, I decided to head back to the little kids. I have two boys, I get enough discussion of toilet matters at home, yo.
Back in the MPR, the little kids had begun their environmentally friendly craft, which was a take on the brown paper bag grocery sack, using newspapers. It was a cool idea, but too complicated for the younger set, and the Yatra guys wound up doing the majority of the work.
Honestly, I’m not all that bad at crafts, and if it was too complicated for me, imagine how confusing it would be for someone thirty years younger. The older kids did much better and about half of them were able to follow along and finish the project.
In the middle of the older kids’ craft session, I ducked back into the little kids’ HU session and found them all outfitted with stethoscopes, listening to each others’ lungs. Now, THAT was cool. After a few more minutes where they listened to stomach gurgles (“It’s our lunch talking!”), we headed over the Consular Section.
You now I’m biased here, but the Consular Section was honestly the best part. The first section the kids visited was American Citizen Services, otherwise known as ACS. An Officer and one of the local staff met the kids and asked them questions while explaining what ACS does. Because so many of the kids were local employee children, the frame of reference they used for explaining what ACS can do in an emergency was 26/11. They explained how ACS helped the Americans who were victims in the attacks or staying at the hotels targeted, by getting them home, finding them places to stay, find doctors if they needed them, and helping contact family back in the U.S. For those of you who are unfamiliar with 26/11, it’s the Indian equivalent of 9/11, and just as important. Read more about it here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2008_Mumbai_attacks
The ACS folks also explained that they issue passports, notarize documents, and issue Consular Reports of Birth Abroad for children born to U.S. citizens in India. DiploBoy 1 mentioned that he had a CBA too, and I was kind of proud he remembered that.
The kids also got to try on these really cool Consular Corps vests, and check out the emergency kit.
The next stop was the Visa Unit, or as I call it “where the magic happens”.
The kids each took a seat at a window, and were given a list of potential questions to consider when deciding whether or not to issue someone a visa. The Consular Section Officers were dressed up and role-playing, and the kids had to decide whether or not to issue a visa based on the interview and any documents submitted, including their passport, which identified each applicant as a citizen of “Kraziistaan”.
Some of the kids were really, really shy, and some were just learning to read (age 6), so a lot of folks helped out. DB1 was in his element. He refused his father a visa, which was good, because from all indications he was posing as a Russian spy. DB2 was a sucker and let him in.
“You realize you just let a Russian spy into the U.S., right?”
He did much better when the next guy tried to bribe him.
“So, do I get a visa?
“No? But I have a little something extra . . . .”
Yeah, my 6-year-old knows when to call the guards on an applicant.
The Officers got into it and it was hilarious. The Deputy Principal Officer was posing as a queen. One of the Visa Officers was a wealthy woman with a big floppy hat. One of the Officers was sporting a clown tie, which worked for him until one of the older girls told him, “I’d give you a visa, but I don’t like your tie.” Other Officers were students, guys trying to skate in to work on a tourist visa (one of the girls I was helping out denied him and told him to get an H1B visa – I may have had a little something to do with that), and some random guy who claimed to be working on a film with Shah Ruhk Khan without a contract or the name of said film. (Denied!) It was hilarious watching the kids figure out the process and the Officers playing up every insane scenario they’ve seen over the past couple of years.
One of the questions that generated the best answers was “Why do you want to go to the United States?” Some of the best answers:
“Because it’s Pasta Fest at Olive Garden and it’s all you can eat pasta for $9.95 and I want to go and to eat pasta until I pass out under the table.”
“I love America! I love America!” (Gets out U.S. flag and waves it about, ignores question completely.)
“Because I want to go have breakfast at Tiffany’s”.
“I have a long-lost brother that I need to find.”
“I want to go to sewing school.”
The final stop was at the Fraud Prevention Unit, where R, the Fraud Chief, had set up an exercise in deduction and interview skills. It was a scenario where one person had lost her ring and there were three suspects. The kids interviewed each suspect and narrowed down the evidence until they decided who had stolen it. Only the older kids participated in this exercise as we were running out of time. It was probably for the best, as it involved a lot of time and thinking. After leaving the Consular Section, we headed outside to the Marine House to meet up with the Marines and the Regional Security Officers.
The Marines had set up a “Red Man Activity”, which essentially means “dress one of the Marines up in a padded suit and let the kids beat the crap out of him”.
Boy, did I feel bad for the guy in the red suit, because it was easily 90F in the shade. Not too bad though, because when I was goaded into it, I grabbed a baton to whack him too. Soon, B, the CG’s wife, and I were whaling on him with the kids cheering us on.
“Get him Mommy!” yelled DB1. “Pretend he’s Daddy and he just gave you a cheap, crappy purse for Mothers’ Day!” That certainly did it and I really let loose on the poor guy. (DiploDad, if you’re reading this, you’ve been forewarned, and remember the DBs have foam TKD boppers.)
The RSO had the armored cars out and the kids got to climb in, get behind the wheel, and set off the sirens. They also got to try on the vests and helmets. It was so cute. Some of the younger ones were so tiny the vests almost touched the ground.
At the end of the day, D, our Deputy Principal Officer, handed out certificates to all the kids. And the RSO handed out whistles. Someone in that office has a sick sense of humor. Within three minutes, half of the kids had them confiscated so we could actually hear ourselves think and hand out the certificates. The kids had a great time, and the DBs talked about it all the way home that evening.
“So why didn’t you give Daddy a visa?” I asked DB1?
“Because he was a Russian spy, Mom,” he answered. I was about to congratulate him on figuring that out from the information in the passport when he said, “I wouldn’t have given him one anyway. Dad needs to be messed with once in a while”.