Today started out quite routinely, but ended far differently than expected. I had my first experience with the US Embassy today, was suddenly called upon to give a speech and had Ethiopian food - all unplanned when the day started.
Now that the US election has concluded, I have been appointed to another 4-year term as a Justice of the Peace in Connecticut. Prior to leaving for Kenya, I spoke to the local town clerk and she informed me that I could be sworn in for my term at the US Embassy. I had a few weeks during which to do it, but it was a quiet day at the office and I felt like getting out.
After the bombing in 1998, the US Embassy complex was moved out of the downtown area to a suburb where security could be tighter, and on the surface, it was. There were many armed guards, barbed wire (no different than the average restaurant, actually) and some concrete barricades. I was first waved into the compound merely by answering that I was a US citizen. No showing of passport, or proof of identification. I was told to walk to the security area, bypass the queue where approximately 70 people were waiting in line and go directly into the building. There, my bag and I both went through scanners. I set it off (usually my hair clip), but was waved through. The contents of my purse were examined and my cell phone, camera and hand sanitizer were removed, to be picked up upon my exit.
I was then told to go to the next building, where hundreds of people were waiting both outdoors under a pavilion and inside a large hall with very few wooden benches. By the way, the people in the queue and in the waiting areas were all black. I was waved through once again and told to go into a different waiting room equipped with a TV, private bathrooms and comfortable chairs. There were a few people in front of me, so I waited about 20 minutes for my turn. The woman handling citizen requests was helpful and efficient, but more importantly, she knew to charge money for her services. After coughing up $30, she authorized my signature card to be returned to the Stonington Town Hall. Since I had just spent more money than I have ever charged to perform a wedding, I asked if she could at least send it back to the US, a suggestion she adamantly declined. “Your fee does not cover postage” she said. The total transaction took less than 5 minutes.