In December of 2001, I took my 18 month old son to visit a "jardin d'enfants" or preschool in Geneva. He was a large baby and looked like he was two and half already! I dressed him up appropriately, in his traditional light blue John John (Kennedy) coat, hoping to impress the director of the school. It worked! She had chemistry with him, then offered to take him in January because he was both independent and sturdy. She added that if he didn't acquire the skills of "toute petite section" (2s program), he could return to the same classroom the following fall. That is how my eldest son got an academic head start.
The following fall, after 6 months at that preschool, he switched to a beautiful school on the lake. This headmistress also took a look at him, his newly acquired skills (his fine and large motor skills) and was accepted into "petite section" (nursery) at the age of two, while most of the kids in the class were three. The only upset person in that plan was his teacher, who was in no mood to be changing diapers. She wasn't a day care teacher after all! A few months later, he charmed her. She passed him into the next class of "moyenne section", or Pre-K.
It was when we arrived in Dubai, to the french lycee there, that they objected to his young age. They believed only children born in 1999 should be entering moyenne section, whereas he was born in 2000. So, we worked a few "things" out, and returned to them with a valid Afghan passport and residence visa and a different birth year. He then joined his one year older classmates and he remains with them till this year.
His requirement to renew his Afghan passport came up this summer while we were in Geneva. Things are always simpler in Geneva than in Dubai. Especially if you are applying for an American passport. Luckily for me, the American consulate is across the street from our house. So I expected similar treatment at the Afghan consulate there. I called first to understand the requirements and payment and hours of service. My son and I then crossed to the other side of the lake, near the train station.
The Consulate office met our expectations in decor. In the picture below you will notice that the consulate feels like a Lamia Gargash photo of the UAE from the 1970s. Eventually, the very polite official returned to us with a question: "where was your son born?"
Forgetting that we had written on his passport that he was born in Kabul for obvious bureaucratic reasons, I instead told him the truth, that he was born in Boston! Anyway, he was smart enough to notice that nobody living in the West would give birth to a child in Kabul in 1999! Besides I looked like a foreigner, so the chances were even slimmer. We got that clarified and he told us to come back tomorrow and pick the passport. He also told me to call ahead and make sure it was ready. He was very courteous.
When I called again another functionary answered. I could tell because this man spoke in broken English and didn't know any French. He also wasn't polite unlike the official I had dealt with yesterday. I was hoping to expedite the passport renewal as Eid al Fitr holidays in Dubai were imminent, and the renewal of residencies needed to occur before governments closed their offices. He replied with unwarranted dryness, and told me to come at 9:30 am at the earliest.
I was there the next morning at 9 (too early for the man's wishes) and was invited to sit in the waiting room. The place was empty. No other visa or passport candidate were there. At 930 I got up and looked down the corridor and that is when I saw him. The man, who looked like Ahmadinijad, immediately scolded me:
"Didn't I tell you to come at 930?"
"It is 930 sir", I was looking at his wristwatch, not appreciating at all his tone of condescension.
He sent me back to the waiting room and it was seconds later that he reappeared with my son's passport.
"Next time don't think you can walk in here and ask for a renewal on the same day! I will give it to you in 4 days". He had adopted me.
I now turned to him sweet as honey and dared a request, this time in Farsi.
"May I ask a KHAHESH (favor) from you?"
He looked at me with intrigue, arms crossed. I had nothing left to lose.
"Could you please fax the single page of renewal to Dubai as I don't have a fax and this is very urgent and I will gladly pay the cost, whatever it may be?"
He smirked in dipleasure: "What do you think this is? A post office?"
I was going to reply but now, he'd taken a seat and was developping his rebuttal: "Don't you know the international laws and regulations?"
I smiled at him because I had a doctorate in the field, but I couldn't interrupt his boiling monologue. He kept repeating, "This is a consulate".
Nothing would budge him.
At this point, I was the one growing angry, but withheld all emotion.
I told him in Farsi: "I understand it is Ramadan and we are BOTH fasting. It was a simple request from the mother of Afghan kids at their consulate."
He walked me to the door. I stood by the elevator and then I charged back, this time in tears.
The Ahmadinejad look alike heard me and so did the grand crew of functionaries. They all came out of their offices.
"Your colleague here refused to send a simple fax to help me out!"
Through my tears, I couldn't help noticing how handsome they all were (except of course for my new nemesis) with their green eyes and bureaucratic suits. "Ahmadinejad's"only words were: "khareji hast" (she is a foreigner).
I turned back and said "passporteh afghan daram wa delam afghan-tar as shoma hast" (I have an Afghan passport and my heart is more Afghan than yours).The crew of men agreed with M. Zaseran (I asked for his name) and they gave me the same monotonous explanations that they could not fax the copy. I wished them Eid mubarak and walked towards the post office, forlorn but knowing that this may all be worth it, even if only for my son's education.