An American in Morocco by John Liechty
When my Moroccan wife of a year needed a visa to enter the United States it seemed simple enough – a trip to the American Consulate in Rabat, then on to visit friends and family. There were a number of good reasons to expect the procedure to go smoothly. For one thing, Fouzia had been to the States half a dozen times and had attained half a dozen visas in the recent past. The woman was, furthermore, an example of the respectable professional types who so baffled the unprofessional likes of my colleague Wendell and me, who’d slid into teaching as haphazardly as balls finding their slots on a roulette wheel. Fouzia regarded the teaching of English as a serious profession, and had once served as president of the Moroccan Association of Teachers of English. Her visits to the States had all been white-bread. She had led groups of Moroccan high school students and had spent two years in the States as a student herself. She had broken none of the Great Satan’s laws. She had no incendiary political views. She was not destitute. She had a job in Morocco she had worked hard to get and was working hard to keep. Jumping ship was far from her mind.
In short, as my wife and I walked into the US Consulate we had little reason to expect that Fouzia’s application for a tourist visa would be anything but routine. The year was 1989. The consulate had just undergone a facelift, moving from the easygoing, friendly, rather unassuming place it had been to the defensive, ill-at-ease, rather forbidding stockade it was becoming. Security measures had been taken – an indicator, it seemed to me, of insecurity. The Greatest Nation in History was aware of its waning status as world friend, world leader. A dozen new ‘flowerpots’ squatted along the pavement separating the street from the consulate wall. These massive blocks of concrete were to deter anyone piloting a vehicle full of explosives. That the blocks held enough dirt to support a few geraniums or Norfolk pine could not disguise their purpose, or the fact that they were ugly as warts. The facelift featured higher, reinforced walls topped with concertina wire, a new, more sophisticated barrier gate and screening point, a roof bristling with surveillance equipment, and closed circuit cameras in every direction.
Advocates of such changes would argue their necessity, observing that we live in a dangerous world. Maybe. The Rabat Consulate facelift had come in direct response to the Iranian Revolution. In 1979, security at the US embassy in Tehran had been spectacularly compromised and hostages had been taken. The history of America’s myopic meddling in Iran was familiar enough. While many individuals within the US government were aware that it had to some degree brought the deluge down upon itself, the official response was typical: pretend the revolution came out of nowhere, feign ignorance or innocence concerning American partnership, and attempt to avert future embarrassments by implementing cosmetic defensive gestures. Hence the ‘flowerpots’ appearing along US embassies and consulates from Karachi to Rabat. I considered them a waste of money and time, a misapplication of energy, a gratuitous snub.
But what did I know? Fouzia and I waited our turn, then approached the plate glass to present her application. She had to submit proof of employment, a current bank statement, rent, gas, and water receipts, and a copy of a reservation for a return ticket. These were duly collected by the vice-consul, Ted Kuntsler III, whose pseudonym may yield a hint of my feelings for the man, feelings that were undoubtedly reciprocal. Kuntsler was pink and large, reminding me of one of the pigs at the tail end of Animal Farm – one of those humanised pigs on two legs. Kuntsler asked us to resume our seats while he made copies and considered. He then called us back to the window, sliding Fouzia’s dossier back under the bullet-proof plate.
‘The application for a tourist visa is denied,’ he stated. ‘However, as the wife of an American citizen, Ms Sabil has the right to apply for a resident visa to the United States.’
‘But she doesn’t need or want a resident visa. And we’re meant to be leaving in a few weeks.’
‘If you want to discuss the decision further you can arrange an appointment through my secretary.’
We arranged the appointment and left, Fouzia with tears in her eyes and I with a lump in my throat. The visa rejection gave me a taste of the rage the routinely rejected feel towards America, particularly within the Muslim world. In time I became grateful for that. But for the moment I merely wanted to blow up the consulate. If there had been a hawker outside the door peddling bombs I would have bought one without hesitation and tossed it over the concertina wire in hopes of frying Kuntsler III’s bacon.