We left Mexico yesterday morning, and drove nearly all the way across Texas. The desert gradually receded, brown turning to green, and dry heat turning to humidity the further East we moved. The landscape around us is now totally different, but the memories are fresh.
I think back to two days ago when I did the same things I have nearly every day for two years. I can still see it all. I drive through the neighborhood, quiet except for the cackle of the grackles bathing in the puddles left by the sprinkler, past the man selling hot, tasty burritos from the trunk of his car, through the back gate of the Consulate, where the guards check underneath my car with a tool resembling a giant dentist’s mirror.
I am not early enough to get a shaded parking spot, so I know that the car will be an oven when I come back, but that’s okay. I walk through the gate and up the walkway to the front door, and I’m already overwhelmed by memories. Here is the front lawn where we bring our dog to run on the weekends, and pick on the other dogs (usually bigger) during our monthly “yappy hour.” There’s the great seal by the front door, site of so many group pictures, including one with the Ambassador when she came to visit a year ago.
I walk into the lobby, past the Marine behind the glass, and into the largest visa section in the world. I will not be conducting interviews today, but everyone else is. On every side I see our army of Locally Employed Staff and Officers running to and fro, pushing carts of case files to where they need to be. Rain or shine, the work of facilitating legitimate travel continues.
I remember how overwhelming this humming machine of an office felt when I first arrived. So many strangers, doing so many mysterious tasks that I did not understand. But now the strangers have names that I know, and I have memories of good work done together in a constant and beautiful mix of English and Spanish. There’s Angel, who I went on an outreach trip with. Here’s Miriam, who I worked with to fix a hundred visas that were printed with an error. There’s Ana, who helps me pick apart complicated investor visa cases. A hundred locally employed colleagues and a thousand memories to go with them.
I sit at my desk, finishing last minute admin stuff before shipping out tomorrow. I listen to my colleagues interviewing applicants for Non-Immigrant Visas and I think about this work that I will likely not do again in my Diplomatic career. How fascinating to serve a country that both desires the safety of it’s citizens, but that also creates so many avenues for people to visit legitimately. Every day we issue visas to people seeking to visit their relatives in the U.S., employees hired by American companies and getting their big break, college kids making a go of it at an American school, entrepreneurs trying to make a business work. It’s all very exciting, and the memories, again, are thick.
I’ve learned a lot from this work. A colleague of mine once said that working on Immigrant visas teaches you a lot about the law, but that working on Non-Immigrant visas teaches you about Mexico (or whichever country you do it in). I think she’s right. We do up to a hundred interviews a day each, and that hundred usually represents a good cross section of Mexican society. The elderly farmer, living off the land. His son, who works on the line in a factory, saving to put his kids through school. His kids, working to be architects and doctors. A society on the move, with economic mobility in its DNA. The musicians and artists. The border commuters who’ve had visas their whole lives, whose family and work exists on both sides of this artificial boundary bisecting the landscape. Mexico, and the border, are fascinating. And that story comes to the window every day.
At lunch time I slip home to say goodbye to our nanny/housekeeper. She’s been a wonderful presence in our family these last months, loving J well when K worked, and giving us a great window into the community as we got to know her and her family. It’s a tough goodbye.
As the day winds down I take one last walk from one side of the office to the other. I say many goodbyes, lots of hugs, a few tears. Most of the officers who are here now arrived after I did. Turnover happens fast. I think of those who were here when I arrived and have now been scattered to the winds, landing in France, England, Japan, China, Ghana, Honduras, Croatia, and so many other places. Yesterday they were here. Today they are a memory. Tomorrow I will be a memory. But the work will go on. I see the enthusiasm of my colleagues who are new here, and I do not worry for the future.
I head for the door, turn in my badge to the Marine, and I’m finished at the Consulate. I go home, pick up K and J, and we go for one last round of tacos with a special group of friends. We retell old stories. We laugh and cry. They hold the baby, who was still yet to come when most of us met. We make plans to meet again. In the Foreign Service life these plans are often little more than a pleasantry, unlikely to come to fruition. But with these friends I believe it will happen.
We go home, pack the car (it all fit!), and go to bed.
Now we are driving. Juarez is behind us Ahead is Riyadh, and much more. A hard Texas rain falls, forcing me to put the wipers on high. I watch as the thick dust of Juarez that cakes the hood of our car is slowly rinsed away by the rain. New things will come our way, but I hope that the memories of this first tour, doing good work in a great place with incredible people, stick.