My daughter is hoping to travel to the United States next year to visit her aunt and cousins. A writing friend just recently went to Germany and nearly missed her flight because the visa was not ready. She ended up in a mad dash collecting the visa only minutes before the plane was to leave. I don't want that to happen so I thought I'd call the US Embassy in Gaborone to see what we need to do to get a visa and how much time we need to complete it all. Since I live 200 km away from Gaborone I thought phoning would be the best way to deal with the issue.
So I called the US Embassy. First, you get a robot who tells you a lot of things, none of which are applicable and insists that you must wait or press 0. I waited thinking the robot had a plan and would take me somewhere. Don't wait, you're not going anywhere. The robot lied. You don't actually have an option -you need to press 0. Perhaps robots didn't learn the definition of the word "option" in robot school. Or perhaps it's an in-house joke for bored Embassy staff, or a money raising exercise for Botswana Telecoms for as you wait in robot purgatory, the money is click-click clicking away on your phone bill. I did learn from the first robot that the US Embassy in Gaborone is a dandy place to work because you knock off at 1:30 on Fridays. Can't beat that, unless of course they cancelled Mondays too.
When you press 0 you get a human, but as soon as you mention visa you're sent straight back to robot land. There you will get an American voice (I struggled to decide if it was male or female) of a person who is slightly annoyed with you and all of your enquiries. S/he demands straight away that you must listen until the end of the tape. S/he also tells you that s/he is not going to entertain discussing visa appointments with you on the phone. Not now. Not ever. And "calling repeatedly will not change the situation". I don't believe that last bit. I'm sure there is a threshold at which if a person called the American Embassy the robot would give in. S/he would collapse under the pressure of the calls and have to discuss the issue with my visa appointment over the telephone. Like for example if I called every 30 minutes for eternity. I don't like blanket statements like that, made by humans or robots. If I had time I might just put that bossy robot to the test. But I don't.
Apparently they have "limited consular staff and can't attend to all enquiries", but they can knock off on a Friday at 1:30pm to beat the traffic and get out of the city for the weekend. Anyway, it's all about how you prioritise things.
The androgynous robot person then directed me to all sorts of websites, repeated very quickly so it was almost impossible for me to get the whole address, unless of course I was a robot too, which I'm not. I think s/he meant to do that. And then came the worst. In a very clipped and seriously "I'm done with you" tone the robot person said, "Thank you goodbye." One sentence. There wasn't even a comma. It was the kind of "thank you goodbye" that makes you feel like you should turn ass and run. S/he had no genuine gratefulness for my call, in fact s/he wished I hadn't phoned at all. The thank you reeked of insincerity. It was a sarcastic thank you. A Steve Martin kind of thank you. And the good bye could have been shut-up if words really expressed their intended meaning.
Needless to say I know nothing more about how to get a visa for my daughter and what's worse it seems there is no way to get the information. I looked around on websites and got lots of vague information about how strict it all was. All I wanted was a bit of human contact. I would have been happy with the normal belligerent Gaborone kind of help. Anything but that sexless robot person with an attitude.