by Jacqueline Stockin
The first time I laid eyes on the place, I was not there as a warden, but was attending to some business with the consular end of things. As you approach the entry gate, the impression is of a modern castle / fortification. If you have bad knees or other physical issues that make it tough to climb hills, your taxi or car is allowed to proceed up the long drive flanked by perfect lawns to a seriously guarded building where it is decided whether or not you may enter.
Sorry I don’t have any good (or bad) photos for you – they are discouraged. In fact, when you reach the fortress that is our embassy, guards relieve you of your phone and, if it is a separate item, your camera. There is, of course, good reason for this. But it would still be nice to have a picture, as the buildings and landscaping are quite lovely. Oh, well.
Anyhow, once you are admitted, an escort takes you from that building along a walkway lined with orchids blooming on eight foot stems to the area where consulate business is done. I’m afraid I was fairly distressed the day I went, so my memory is a bit fuzzy about how I was assigned a number and told to wait until it was announced. I entered a large room filled with chairs in which to do that waiting. Again, the memory is fuzzy, but I remember mostly blue and white in a very spacious room. Around the perimeter were over 100 windows where people stood to speak with a consulate employee. The woman who helped me was extremely kind and helpful, and it took very little time for her to sort through what I had considered a complex mess and solve my issues, both of which were social security related.
I later learned that my administrix and her co-workers process between three and five thousand applicants a month, many of them Panamanians seeking visas to visit the US, as well as US citizens renewing their passports, solving social security problems or the like. I was lucky that I had somehow picked a day and time when few people were there. I barely had time to be seated before I was called, but I have heard stories from others about hour long waits.
So if you have business at the Embassy, be prepared. Your smartphone isn’t going in with you. Your Kindle, wonderful electronic device that it is, might not make it inside. Your tablet certainly won’t. So print out everything you might need beforehand. Bring a book or magazine.
And enjoy the orchids and the experience.