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.