October 13th. That’s the last day that I wrote a blog. Oops! I have several of them mostly written in my head (the witch doctor that was dancing outside my house in an effort to find the thief who stole my neighbor’s things…..the day I had three deliveries in a day and may have finally overcome my reflexive urge to vomit from nervousness every time a laboring woman comes in, etc). But it’s old news now, so I’ll just have to leave those blogs to your imagination (and please imagine them to be the perfect balance of information, hilarity and emotion.
It’s 4am now and jet lag has me wide awake write a blog about the most recent exciting event in my life. My trip home!! In order to tell it well, I have to go back a bit to explain my travelling buddies. One of the reasons I was so frantic in my last blog to get everything legally squared away for Marie was because I knew I would need those documents to get a visa for her to go home at my usual time in November. I figured that if I got legal custody, they would have to give me a visa for her right? Um….wrong. I spoke with a friend of mine who was in a similar situation. She and her husband had obtained legal custody of a 10 year old Sierra Leonean boy who was sick. They had exhausted all the medical options in Sierra Leone so wanted to take him to the US for medical treatment. We all know that when trying to get a visa for someone, the object is to try and prove that they will come back to Sierra Leone when they’re supposed to. Unfortunately, because such a high percentage of Sierra Leoneans DON’T come back when they’re supposed to, it’s VERY difficult to get an American visa. My friend explained that even though they had legal custody of this little boy, the consulate was still VERY concerned that he would run away (he’d been living on the street in Salone) from them while he was in America and wouldn’t come back. So they POURED over her documents and ended up saying something to the effect of “Ok, I’ll give you this visa, but don’t bring this boy back again and don’t bring me any more children!” Yikes!!!
For this reason, even after I got Marie’s legal custody papers, I was still nervous about getting her visa and was mentally preparing myself to spend my first Christmas in Salone. Since Marie is only five and never lived on the street, I was hoping they wouldn’t think she’d run away. However my friend advised me that I had to prove I would come back with her. I brought all the documents I could think of and just started praying! The day of the visa interview we went in and I had a very pleasant interview experience. There are two people that conduct the interviews (Americans) and the woman I got asked me quite a few questions, but they all seemed perfectly legitimate to me and in the end gave me a 2 year, multi-entry visa for Marie. Woo hoo!!! America here we come!!!
Ok, now about my second travel companion. Oh boy. Peter is a friend of mine and we’ve been…eh hem….talking? dating? Spending a lot of time together? for the last year or so. My parents have met him, but we decided it would be fun for him to get to come to America with me over the holidays to spend some more time with my family and experience my culture. To be honest, I was a little excited for him to experience what it’s like to be in a culture that’s so foreign from your own with different languages, different way of doing things, different way of thinking about things, etc. He’s always so sympathetic when I’m feeling homesick or on the days that I “feel like I’m taking crazy pills” because everything is just SO different, but until you experience that kid of “fish out of water” experience, it’s hard to explain. At one point he asked me how many black people there are in my town and I explained I live in a small town that isn’t very racially diverse. However, I assured him, that I highly doubted the kids would yell “BLACK!! BLACK!!!” like they yell “WHITE WHITE” at me in Sierra Leone when I’m walking down the street. So it wouldn’t be exactly the same……
We had a little trouble getting Marie’s application completed online so Peter’s interview was first. We took everything we could think of to prove that he would come back when he was supposed to. It still didn't even take them five minutes to deny him a visa. Bummer.
A friend of mine suggested that we call the American ambassador to see if he would have any sway. As the day for the interview approached, my dad tried to call the ambassador a few times but could never get through. Then I found out that his term was over and the new one hadn’t arrived yet. Bummer!! Our ace in the hole plan was foiled!!
To be honest, I was a little annoyed. Not at anyone in particular, but I was 100% sure that Peter would be denied and really didn’t want to make the 7 hour trip over a horrible road just to sit at the embassy for 4 hours and be told that once again, he couldn’t have a visa. If we applied for a visa again, we were supposed to come with new information that would prove he was going to come back. But we'd given them everything we could think of the first time. Peter did end up getting a letter from a veterinarian telling them how many cows, sheep and goats he had……but somehow I didn’t think that would make a big difference.
Miracle of all miracles happened though, on the interview day! The woman that interviewed him was the same woman who had interviewed Marie and I and she recognized the name of our NGO. She ended up calling me to the counter to ask about the nature of our relationship and the purpose of his visit. I just told her the truth. And she gave us the visa. We. Were. Shocked. We both just stood there staring at her and she started laughing. That was NOT what we were expecting!
I was so exited to go, but was also nervous! I'd never traveled with non-citizens before and was afraid I hadn't done something correct, or wouldn't have the right documents. I was especially concerned about Marie because I did NOT want to go to prison for child-trafficking!
The first two officials we spoke with at the airport asked if we had documents for Marie and when I said yes, they said "ok" without asking to see them. Finally someone from immigration asked to see my documents and although I was nervous, he said it looked good. Yeah!! Safe!!!!
We went through security and as they were checking our bags a police officer came up to us and asked about Marie. I knew that the police don’t really have much to do with immigration so I explained that I had just shown my papers to the immigration man. He told us he wanted to see us after we were done. Oh great. After we were done he came over to us and asked to see Marie's custody papers. I pulled them out and he started pouring over them. At one point he looked at the document that had Marie’s parents’ thumb prints as signatures and said, “Well these people aren’t educated. You could just tell them this says anything and they would sign it.” Um….it’s true. But that’s not what I did!! See the magistrate’s stamp and signature!!?!? Then he pointed out a word that said “recomendating” and said, “Um, I don’t think this is the right word is it? Shouldn’t it be recommending?” I said, well yes, that’s not the right word, but I didn’t type it up. AND SEE HOW THE MAGISTRATE SIGNED IT!?!??!! (At this point I was getting a little frustrated). He said, “If this was a real court document, I don’t think there would be these mistakes.......... Oh man. I started praying!! I also pulled out the pictures I had of Marie when I first met her and she was near death with malnutrition. I showed them to him and he immediately changed his tune. “This was her? What happened? Was she in a fire?” (She has wounds all over her body in the picture). Peter jumped in and started explaining that she’d been in the hospital 3 times for malnutrition and was near death before she came to live with me. The police officer said, “Well, God decided that she shouldn’t die. Thank you for taking care and helping her.” Thank you Lord!!!
We made it out of the airport and were ready to go!! The trip was pretty uneventful….albeit long! I had shown Peter where we had to fly on a map before we left, but you really can’t have a concept of how long it will take until you do it. Marie did awesome!! I was SO thankful for the little personal TV’s because she was fascinated! The hardest part was making sure she didn’t kick they guy next to her while she was sleeping. Peter and I learned after that to put her in between us!
|Food and TV on a plane. Could life get better?|
|Marie getting prepared to step off the moving sidewalk|
My favorite moment was when we went on the moving sidewalk things and the escalator. Marie LOVED them but every time we got close to the end she would start saying “oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!” Our flight from Brussels to Chicago was delayed so we were cutting it pretty close to catch our flight to Portland. Unfortunately that was the time we had to go through customs and security and seemed to have our bags checked a million times. As Peter took our laptops out of the bag AGAIN he said, “You really have to have patience if you want to travel to this country!! So true!
After about 30 hours of travelling we made it to Portland and were greeted by some familiar faces. I am SO excited to be home and get to share this with Marie and Peter! :)
|Wonderful reception at the airport|