U.S. Consulate in Istanbul – The Cause of My Newfound Righteous Fury

I don’t want to get into all the details right now about what inspired the letter I will copy below. I am sure you can fill in most of the gaps: It was not a good day for us in Istanbul (although, for once it didn’t rain) because Fati’s visa application was rejected after many hours of careful preparation and stress. The good news is that I didn’t have a total nervous breakdown or turn violent (unless you count shouting at the switchboard operator because he wouldn’t put me in touch with his supervisor) and that we had the pleasure of being hosted outside of the historic city of Bursa, the former seat of the Ottoman Empire, by our dear friend and fellow student Vedat and his family. I will post more on that piece of good news later. For now, enjoy the latest stage of my struggle against Uncle Sam:

To Whom It May Concern:

As an American citizen and taxpayer, I am extremely disappointed by your treatment of my fellow student who applied for a non-immigrant visa this month. I am asking that you clarify your policies so that I can determine whether it was the action of a rogue agent or systemic in nature. Either way, I hope that you take my concerns seriously because any maltreatment of visa applicants abroad reflects poorly not only on your agency but on the country and its citizenry as a whole.

I was not allowed to accompany her personally and had to wait outside in the cold, which was irritating enough, and I would like you to explain to me why there is no waiting room or why it’s not allowed for me to enter my own consulate without an appointment — Americans can enter almost any other government building without an appointment — but my complaint is primarily based on what she told me after informing me that her application was rejected.

I can provide her report, if necessary, but in the interests of time, I would like to ask you a few questions and to attach the necessary documents that explain your policies:

1) Is it true that you do not accept non-immigrant visa applications from non-Turkish citizens at the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul? If so, why do you not post this clearly on your website and in the application? Why do you allow unsuspecting third-country citizens to waste their time, energy, and money on a lost cause (like my fellow student, who is from Nigeria)?

2) Do you reject applicants based on country of origin? If so, how do you justify/defend this given anti-discrimination laws and American values? My fellow student was told implicitly by one of your agents that her country of origin was a factor in her application’s rejection (despite the fact that she is not a risk for over-staying her visa). Was this is an ill-advised comment or a reflection of policy?

3) What criteria do you use when assessing non-immigrant visa applications? Clearly displaying this criteria would allow applicants to determine whether or not to apply for a visa before spending their time and money.

I will end by saying that I hope you, at the very least, consider the dignity of each and every individual who applies for a visa to the United States. They deserve the same consideration and respect that Americans receive within the country and outside of it. To view them as potential squatters based on arrogant perceptions of U.S. superiority relative to their countries of origin is not only wrong — it contradicts the very values that the United States was founded upon and should maintain.

Sincerely,

Matthew Johnson

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Vacation in Antalya

After returning from Europe, I met Fati back at the hotel in Sile, and we flew to Antalya to visit her friend from Senegal. It was a relaxing nine days, and we ate healthier than usual because of having access to a kitchen. We also slept a lot — too much really.

But we also saw some amazing things: like ancient Lycian tombs carved into mountains in Myra, the Church of St. Nicolas himself in Demre, and the aquarium in Antalya.

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One Billion Rising to End Violence Against Women

Sorry I’m late on this, but I wanted to post video of an action here in Sile on Valentine’s Day as part of the One Billion Rising campaign.

Click here

Zurich Layover + Comfy Airport Sleepover

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I am so glad I decided to spend a couple of hours in Zurich, Switzerland, rather than passing the entire 12 hours of my layover in the airport. I had no idea how classy and beautiful the city would be. Switzerland is never mentioned to me as a place to visit, but I have my sights set on it now. It felt like Amsterdam without the scroungy youths and cannabis cafes. The only thing I knew about it prior is that Einstein had gone to school there.

I needed help from someone just to purchase a ticket for the train (I thought the currency was in Euros, but the Swiss use Swiss Marks), and I had no idea where to go. I asked a young, beautiful blonde sitting near me who was speaking a German-sounding language I later learned is called “Swiss-German” with her friend. Her English wasn’t great, but she told me the name of a place and rough directions of how to get there. When I exited at the stop she indicated, a man stopped me near the exit and helped me further (he had overheard the conversation). He was black and wore a Yankee cap, so I thought he was American at first. But he wasn’t — despite his very good English.

I don’t know if I ever ended up where he directed me, but the walk was worth it nonetheless. I talked to a few people on the way — including a man who wanted to know why we had so many gun murders in the United States (apparently they have a lot of guns in Switzerland but very few gun deaths). The churches were remarkable, and I even saw a statue of Ulrich Zwingli, an early 16th century Reformation leader.

I returned to the airport before it got too late and was somehow able to sleep on the benches near one of the gates. It sure beat paying 50 euros for a “resting room.” I even had a lone young woman as a bunk mate of sorts.

P-A-R-I-S

I’m always looking for creative ways to document my experiences, so I will use an acronym to talk about Paris.

P is for People.

One stereotype we have in the United States is that French people hate Americans and choose not to speak English (even though they can) just to make our lives difficult when we visit their country. I was a bit skeptical of this claim due to my very pleasant experiences with French Canadians and straight-from-France French people in Montreal. I also heard a counter-claim from a friend who has spent significant time in France that French people will force poor French speakers to speak English because they can’t stand them butchering their language. This was somewhat more plausible to me — yet not consistent with my experiences either in Canada or France.

My experience was not sufficient to speak to all of these claims because I was escorted by an American friend who spoke enough French to get by (and insisted on speaking it even when it was difficult for the other person to understand), but overall I found the people to be friendly and helpful. Some tried to speak English with her at times, but they did not seem to chastise her French. If anything, they seemed to appreciate her efforts.

I would really like to learn French so that I can get the full experience — in French-speaking Canada, France, and possibly in West Africa some day. Unlike some, I don’t particularly like the language because of the difficult-to-pronounce vowel sounds and silent letters, but I recognize its utility.

Another thing about the people of France is that, like in Greece, I encountered far more immigrants (mostly African and Arab/Algerian) than expected. I like the diversity of Paris, reflected also by the various types of cuisine available (Turkish, Ethiopian, Indian, Chinese, etc.).

A is for Art.

While I did not get a chance to visit the famous Rodin Museum or the Dali Museum despite my intentions, the Louvre provided more than enough art and culture for the week. The size and scope (not to mention the architecture and the famous pyramid I remembered from the movie The DaVinci Code)  left me breathless and overwhelmed at times. I think it took us about 15 minutes to figure out how to leave. My biggest memory is the crowd around The Mona Lisa and how anti-climactic it is to see it, given all the signs directing guests there as if its something far more amazing. Maybe I’m just ignorant when it comes to art. Strangely enough, I think we spent the most time in the Islamic section. I remember skipping through Egypt quickly because I still had memories of the museum in Cairo, and all the European portraits got monotonous after a while.

My favorite art was the architecture and decor of the many churches in Paris (some pictured in the previous entry). The Church of Notre Dame was one I learned much about in my high school art history class, but I was not prepared for the massive size of it. I can’t imagine how it was built.

Of course, a panoramic vista of Paris is a work of art itself. I can only compare it to one of Istanbul, but I cannot say which I prefer…

R is for Rain and Ride.

It did not rain enough to ruin our plans (although it did make New Year’s at the Eiffel Tower a lot messier than it would have been otherwise), but the specter of rain was always there. The first day we decided to ride bikes through Paris, it began to rain just as we set off. I told my friend to keep going and hope that it would abate soon — and it did. It was an exhilarating experience  even though I injured my knee while peddling because the bike was not adjusted properly and could not be easily fixed (thanks, Velib!). Now I can say that I’ve biked through three cities: Washington, D.C., Paris, and Kyoto. It’s remarkable that I taught myself to ride at age 19…

According to my friend, who is a woman, French women don’t ride bikes or engage in other sports/outdoor activities as much as American women do. She says the culture is more sexist but less racist than in the United States. I haven’t been there long enough to gauge it myself.

I is for Indian food.

The only night I got drunk (I was only moderately buzzed on New Year’s) was the second to the last night I spent in Paris, and it involved my friend’s friend, two bottles of red wine, bread and cheese, another type of alcohol I can’t recall at the moment, an electric bike, and an Indian restaurant (not the Gandhi restaurant in the photo but one close to it). I remember the food being incredibility tasty and my acting like a fool as a result of that and the alcohol.

S is for Shannon.

Shannon is my amazing friend and great host in Paris. She helped make my first experience in Paris action-packed and organized. I hope I didn’t set her too crazy (she’s not a big drinker — although neither am I anymore). I enjoyed our time together as much as I enjoyed the sights and sounds. There aren’t too many people in life that you feel comfortable sharing almost anything with and whom you really trust. I won’t ever take it for granted.