The Nation, Lahore

29 Saffar, 1419 - Thursday, June 25 , 1998, Lahore 


Travel to Pakistan

Dr Rana Jawad Asghar

Yesterday, as always, was very hectic. I had to get up early in the morning and had to get visa from German Consulate. When I went there, I was told that it is not possible for them to give me visa in one day as they are required to send a telex to their main embassy. But I was leaving the next day so I requested them to do something. The visa officer was quite nice. She consulted with her colleagues and then told me to have a coffee and comeback after half an hour to pickup my visa and passport. To avail this free time, I went to a near by store and started my last minutes shopping. After half an hour I was back, but visa officer apologised that my visa was not ready yet but assured me, that she would not do anything else until she finishes my visa papers. I waited for few more moments and my visa was ready. The visa officer also requested not to spread this word to others that how quickly I got my visa. I thanked them and I was really impressed by their co-operation and willingness to help.

I have heard horrifying stories of many people about getting visas. Luckily, I never had such a problem. I have never shown big bank accounts and I don't consider getting a visa is my big priority. I always go there in a sense, that if I am going to their country I would give them something in return, in the form of money I would spend there on in form of my skills with which they would be benefited. But I also agree with many complaints of people about visa consulates here. It is true that a visa officer, especially a US visa officer has great discretionary powers and none could force them to do anything if they don't like it. But I think, we also partly share the blame. There are so many people within us who think getting a visa of US is their lifetime achievement. So they will pay hundreds of thousands of rupees to get there legally or illegally. People here are expert in making fake documents. That makes us Pakistanis as a whole a nation of people expert in fraudulent documents. This creates difficulties for people who want to go to the US on genuine reasons.

A week ago, I was in Vancouver, Canada. Under the USA immigration laws, it is necessary to go out of the country and apply from there for visa extension. Vancouver BC is just a three hours drive from Seattle. My University International Office had warned me that Vancouver US consulate does not encourage people in getting their visa extended from their office. As it is a small office and it puts them under lot of pressure. So if I am going there I should be prepared to hear a 'no' from them. I always like to take risks so I went ahead and applied for visa extension there. I went there a night before and stayed in a near by Day's Inn which even was more expensive than the Holiday Inn a few blocks away. In the morning when I went there, there was a big line but everyone had an appointment. After official procedures, I was told to go to the 20th floor for my interview. I went there, waited for few minutes and them my name was called. The visa officer asked me only two or three questions and then told me to come in the evening to get my visa. When in the evening I went to collect my visa, there were only handful of us from the crowd of the morning, who got their visas.

I decided to take the train back to Seattle this time. I had heard many nice things about the scenic path it take to reach Seattle. I booked my ticket on phone, checked out of my hotel but left my luggage there. I had few hours so I decided to have a late lunch in Vancouver downtown. Vancouver is famous for its desi population. Mostly Sikhs, these people came to Canada in 60s when there was a big drive to encourage people to immigrate there. So, Vancouver is now famous for its authenticated Punjabi cuisine. I had a big desi dinner last night so for lunch I went to an Italian roadside cafe. It was a nice sunny day and I was lucky to grab a chair outside. Food was tasty -- Italian pizza with chunks of barbecued chicken, and lot of herbs and spices. After having a leisurely lunch, I strolled back to my hotel, and from there a long walk to the railway station. I bought my ticket and then I was in a line again to board the train.

There, I noticed a Pakistani family ahead of me. Me and my friends think and many times truly, that we could tell Pakistani and Indian families apart by just looking on them. People who think, that we are exactly same are quite wrong. I think we do share many common things but we are distinct from each other too. That is the reason that we are correct many times in identifying them. In this family, there were four girls and their parents. When we entered the immigration office, we went to separate immigration officers. My paper were complete and he was going to stamp them. While this Pakistani family had landed three days ago in Canada and were moving to USA. Now my immigration officer also became suspicious and asked me that if I knew the family. I said no but he asked me to come to the adjoining room. Asked for my wallet and checked my papers there. It was full of American credit cards and my US driving license. But the thing which made him satisfied was my membership card of Block Buster Video. This is a famous video chain in the USA. Here again, he asked me many times that if I knew the family. But I had never seen them before so I told the same to him. The officer stamped my papers and told me to go to the train. Then he asked them that if they were really going to the USA for a few days why were they carrying so much stuff with them. They had a lot of suitcases. Their reply was that they had gifts for people there. Then he asked for his wallet and found that the father had an American driving license in it. So his suspicion became strengthened. I left the immigration hall at that time and these officers were discussing, what to do with them. I waited for this family on the train, but they never showed up. I suppose they were denied entry to the USA. I really felt bad for them.

My return journey to Seattle was really a beautiful one. Amtrak trains are very comfortable and scenic beauty was excellent. A major part of the journey is alongside beautiful beaches and you feel that this train is travelling on water. Back in Seattle, my taxi driver was a Sikh and he told me quite funny jokes about the Sikhs. He was very much bitter towards India and to my surprise, charged me 30 per cent less than his metre.

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