Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Thumbelina Seeks Entry 


I write this with a light heart but also deep down I am frustrated. Just trying not to let it get to me.

So today we had a really successful US visa appointment (thank you God). They asked us two questions: have you ever been to the US? (stupid question because the application shows our previous visa numbers and our Texas Driver licenses and Social Security numbers so I am guessing it’s either an ice breaker, or a trick question to check your lying skills or something).  Second question is why we’re going to the US. All good. Visas approved.

With a glitch. My husband and daughter get their visas in a week. Mine is on hold, technically. Because: They need those above age 14 to provide biometric data aka fingerprints (electronically captured) of all 10 fingerprints. 

Unfortunately, I had a wart on my thumb surgically removed a month ago (just before my UK trip, I didn’t realize such a tiny thing would create such a huge wound when removed and the doctor didn’t tell me i had less invasive treatment options and it was painful and I didn’t wanna keep it) and I have a crater in my thumbpad up until today. I need to visit a doctor and understand why it hasn’t healed and what I can do about this.

The first time this thumb posed a problem was upon enry to UK because they ask you to offer two fingerprints (thumb/forefinger) during passport control. We panicked. The guard looked at me calmly and said, “either hand”. And we laughed over our panic. 

Today, I discussed what to do with the visa officers at the US embassy. They were baffled. Never seen that before. Need all 10 fingers. No room for exceptions in instructions they are given. I asked if I could get a letter from the doctor. They asked if it was permanent. God I hope not. But at this rate I wonder if it will heal by July or August. 

The thing is, I am not too concerned about the visa. I assume inshallah we will find a way. Either it heals or I get a letter that this wound makes my thumb unfingerprintable for x weeks.

What I am worried about is entry into the US and starting this conversation again. If my thumb hasn’t healed by then, I mean. Which maybe it will have because really it’s been darn annoying living this way and opposable thumbs? Yeah. Really important functionality. Everything my kid wants needs thumbs. On two fingers. Cutting up fruit. Opening boxes. Needle through thread and sowing clothes for Barbie. 

Sigh. At least it isn’t my dominant hand. At least it’s just my thumb. 

Still, not really concerned. Will see what the doctor says and go from there. Wish me luck! Either in healing or in getting a letter of “unfingerprintable in near future” that they would accept.

Or, you know, it would be nice not to get fingerprinted that often in my life. Aren’t 9 fingers enough anyway? 


  1. I’m sorry you need to go through this Maha. Even if your thumb got, say, a 5% bonus for being extra useful, you’d still be at 85% which would be a “pass” most places. Leslie has a metal knee replacement that sets off the detectors and she mentions every time and every time it becomes a not funny skit about rules and stuff. Thinking about it, an odd thumb print would be even more unique, especially if it only occurs in combination with the other nine. Hopefully your thumb will heal (we’ll keep our fingers crossed) in time.
    Have you read Simulation and Its Discontents by Sherry Turkle?
    Can machines have empathy designed into them or does it have to come directly from a human mind?

  2. I think we may be afraid of direct contact obligating us to direct our gaze away from ourselves. (That sounds a bit grandiose!) so maybe we just don’t have enough time to give our attention properly so we try to substitute and don’t get it quite right. I’m sorry you aren’t getting the proper hospitality America can give and I appreciate your effort to not let things get broken more than they already are. Leslie and I have lots of friends in the States and it’s hard to know what say that’s kind when we’re feeling really impatient.

    • The people were really nice at the embassy, I promise. They just didn’t know what to do with this exceptional case.
      I also btw had a great UK trip. Uneventful at the airport (first time in maybe 10 years i don’t get random checked and stuff)

  3. Glad to hear the embassy people were nice. Interesting to see what happens when parts of a communication channel are interrupted. The layoffs at Leslie’s college seemed to logically pick departments that could get by with fewer staff but previous had created a whole, and somewhat disorganized, network of side-of-the-desk jobs that weren’t officially designated. Suddenly, the person in charge of such-and-such (that never made it onto an organizational chart) wasn’t there because the person who was covering for the person who used to do it was let go for something else. Could be we humans are too organized and have become slow to adapt on our organizational roles? Or, with a change in government the department of oddities and strange requests hasn’t been filled yet.

    Leslie’s coordinator Fatima was in Hawaii a month ago and had no travel glitches. Her Lebanese / Canadian family travels to the US a lot. Big family with lots of thumbs to count, border people get tired and just wave them through?

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