Thursday, February 17, 2011

A "Homegoing" - Part 2b: "Getting there" lessons continued

I'm hoping my litany of hiccups in Part 2a , will be helpful for those who've not yet travelled "across the pond" - going "home" - but plan to do so one day.  If nothing else, at least you'll know that spontaneity alone, won't get you there!

I'd rescheduled my departure date for Dec. 4th (and changed my 3-day, hotel reservation to coincide with my Dec. 5th arrival), pushing that rock a few feet further up the hill. I figured I might as well keep it movin' - so I printed the application the husband had so helpfully sent on the 24th and completed it, leaving Item 12 - Passport No., Issue Date, Expiry Date) blank, until the passport came. At the end, I read through these, just to ensure I had, or soon would have, all of them):

VISA APPLICATION REQUIREMENTS (please note that we canNOT process unless requirements are complete)

1. Valid passport
2. One passport-size photograph (taken in the last six months; please write name and passport number on the back and sign)
3. Completed and signed application form
4. A nonrefundable application fee of $100.00 in money order only, payable to the Embassy of The Gambia
5. Prepaid self-addressed/return envelope (FedEx/UPS or Priority/Express Mail recommended)
6. Personal or telephone interview may be required.
7. Regular visa processing time 3 – 4 days.
It was Nov. 25th and now, I was in that - "on, or about" window, waiting on my "expedited" passport. When I'd applied Nov. 10th, the courthouse clerk wrote "5 - 10 days" in the top right-hand corner of the application and date-stamped it. The State Department email said it'd been printed on Nov. 23rd (apparently "printed" really just meant - "printed"). I'd been waiting 15 days - and counting. Add to that, the 3 - 4 day, processing time - and there was no way I would've made that first flight I booked!

The mailman delivered the passport Nov. 26th in the morning (Can't really complain right?  It did arrive "about" the 25th).  I filled in Item 12 and headed immediately to the post office (sans passport). I don't know why, but I thought Item 1 meant, I had to have a valid passport - so I could complete Item 12!

When my oldest was four, and doing his best, "I'm making my bed" imitation, he found his Skeletor among the tangle of sheets and blankets.  Yelling to me in my room, he said, "Look!!  It's serendipity, Mommy!  I did a double-take and walked into his room, saying, "Serendipity?  What's that mean (thinking he didn't)?"  He looked at me, laughed - and said, "When you find something good that you're not looking for!" I said to myself, "How did he know that??"  When I asked him, he just hunched his shoulders saying, "I don't know - I just do!"  I've never forgotten that day.  He's always been an old soul to me - still is!  But I digress.

I share that little vignette simply because, for some reason, as I headed to the "big" post office where I was sure I'd get any, and all questions I had answered - my "Low Fuel" light came on.  So I got off the expressway about a half-mile before the exit, deciding to go to the closer, "little" post office - inside the Shell gas station (this IS Texas, y'all!). 

As I started completing the Express Mail form for overnight delivery, the young Ethiopian guy - doing double-duty as postal clerk and gas station cashier - walked less than 10 steps over to the "postal" counter to help me.  I told him what I was trying to do, and that I'd just got my passport that morning.  He said, "Oh!  I'm waiting for my passport myself, so I can send it in for my visa to London!" (emphasis mine)

I said, "Send it in?  With the visa application?  He said, "Yes, yes!  How else will they be able to stamp it?"  Actually, having the visa stamped on the passport never crossed my mind (I thought they'd just mail me a page for it to put in the passport).  I told him, "Man am I glad I ran into you!  I have to go home and get the passport to include in that envelope!"  Serendipity, no?

So I hustled the half-mile back home, got the passport, put it in the envelope and went back to the "little" post office.  I tracked it with the overnight mail number - it was delivered on Monday, Nov. 29th (Why had I paid extra to expedite it - over the weekend - when no one would be there to process it???  Could've just sent it Express mail and got the same result!).  I called the embassy to make sure it'd be expedited because I was leaving Dec. 4th.  They assured me it would be - and it was.  I got it back Dec. 1st.

I'd not spoken to Gerald directly since Nov. 12th. We'd been communicating intermittently through our mutual, 81 year-old, Jewish friend in Key West (part of his collection - which he eventually plans to ship to The Gambia - was still being stored there). Our last cross-communication had me arriving Nov. 30th, but neither Rhoda, nor I had been able to reach him before then to tell him anything different (figured when he showed up at the airport - and I hadn't - he'd know, and call some-damned- body!). He did - in a panic - 20 minutes after 1 a.m. on Dec. 1st, waking her up when I should have been walking off the plane (there is a 7-hour time difference from EST).

When I called her later that morning, she said, "I'm glad you called.  Gerald is frantic!  I told him you wouldn't be there until Dec. 5th. Didn't you tell him?" I told her I'd tried calling his cell several times, but I kept getting a recording that my call had not gone through. Turns out he'd bought a Gambian SIM card and now had a Gambian telephone number - and had given it to her, to give to me (did I say he was really "single-minded?"). She said, "He gave me a "220" number for you to call him, but it didn't look like enough digits!" "When?" I asked. "The last time I talked to him," she said matter-of-factly.

I took the number and called Gerald. He was frantic. "Me and my friend, John were there waiting at the airport for you! I thought you got stuck in Brussels!"

I told him just as frantically, "If you'd given me your new - Gambian number - I could have told you I'd be delayed!"  He went through the whole thing about giving it to Rhoda, and thinking she'd pass it on to me.  I cut him off and said, "Never mind, Man - I'll be there on Dec 5th, same time.  And since we haven't spoken, I made a reservation at The LAICO Atlantic in Banjul for three days.  Any luck on that "great-rate hotel" arrangement yet? 

He said no, but by the time I got there, he'd know. I told him, "I'm sure glad I made those damned reservations!!" We both laughed, knowing one another too well.

I hung up and emailed the husband to tell him sorry I'd missed him on Skype - but I had to get my damned hair braided (he's ten and a half hours ahead of CST) and start packing! He said:
No worries...Got in and the internet was down, ironed clothes then it came back.  Should have called and told you I would be on later. Hope you got ur hair done and all.

I love you kiddo, I really do.
I answered:
Thank you so much for making this trip possible. I’ll be in here all morning tomorrow packing, so I’ll talk to you then.

He responded, Dec. 2nd (his time):
I am so glad that you will be taking this adventure. Push yourself the whole time because you can rest when you get home. See everything you need to, talk with the people, visit the public records building and see what's there. I know you're breathing is the thing, but get out and mingle with everyone and most of all, eat the traditional food. I want to know how it is.

See you tonight or later on today.

I smiled to myself contentedly thinking, "Ain't Understanding Mellow?"

I'd arranged with the oldest to come stay at the house with the dog while I was gone, and to take me to the airport at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.  Excited (and scared I'd forget something really important), I didn't go to bed until 4 a.m.   But by 6:45 a.m., I was dressed and ready to go!

And by 9 a.m., James Baldwin and I were snug, as bug, in a rug - in my window seat, on that Continental flight, heading to Houston for a short lay-over and then, on to Brussels - final stop, Banjul, the capital of The Gambia!

A "Homegoing" - Part 3:  Going "back to Africa" - on my own terms

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