Thursday, October 25, 2012

Falling in Love

I've had somewhat of an adventurous life.  I'm 31 years old, and have tried not to waste any of those years.  I've traveled a bit of the world, met some really interesting people, participated in events that made a difference, drank a lot of beer and made a lot of friends.  I've also savored the experience of falling in love.

The head over heels, world spinning outside your door, glowy feeling that comes when you stumble over that special someone is like no other.  Sometimes you feel like a superhero, invincible and strong.  Other times, it can make you feel week in the knees and stomach, like your heart will jump out of your throat.  And in the tenderest of moments, you feel melded into the other person, two becoming one and never to be separated.  Nobody else matters.  I've spent the last year slowly falling in love with my son.

Once I found out I was pregnant, I was in a state of shock for quite some time.  It wasn't an entirely unplanned pregnancy, but I wasn't really prepared for it, either.  I guess you could say nobody really is, but in my case, my world had just been flipped upside down, and this followed on the tails of another big, life-changing experience.  I had just broken my leg while serving in the Peace Corps, and had to come back to the USA much earlier than planned to live with my parents, as I was homeless, jobless and injured.  Pregnancy was another big stressor, and I wasn't in the best of places to handle it.  But, I did, as best as I could, and had a textbook labor and birth with no complications. 

I did not experience an immediate connection with my son, or have romantic feelings about him or us.  Previously, I had decided I wanted to have an unmedicated birth and nurse, because those were the best choices.  And I dutifully read the books, consulted the experts, joined a support group for breastfeeding moms, and have not wavered from giving him these gifts.  I had some help from my sister and mother, so I was not completely alone.  We waited for my then fiancee to receive his visa so he could come and be with us while he waited in South Africa, not knowing how long that would take.  But for many months, I felt overwhelmed and barely able to be me.  I was getting lost in the swell of the baby, of motherhood, and I was so angry.  I was many times balancing the feelings of anger, regret and sadness at the loss of self, with those of joy, peace and giving of things and time for my son.  Maybe I was struggling with a bit of post-pardum depression?  Maybe those feelings are normal, but people don't talk about them?  In any case, I wished I could be a little more relaxed and just enjoy being a new mother instead of worrying about finding a job, a home, getting my fiancee to the USA, and never having any time for myself.

When my son was about 6 months old, his daddy finally received his visa and we went to meet and accompany him back to the States.  That was not a smooth transition, and it has taken about 6 months for us to adjust and get along.  I had so many expectations of him, what he should be doing to help with the baby, and around the house, I wasn't very gracious at giving him the chance to adjust himself!  I'm not proud of that, but I just couldn't physically be kind and gentle.  I was like a wounded animal, lashing about and feeling guilty about my sanity flying out the window on a regular basis.  I wanted to be peaceful and zen-like, I knew it was possible, but I just couldn't get there.  There were moments of clarity and sanity, but much of the time it was like a roller coaster ride.

Now, it has been 13.5 months since the birth of my son, and I can honestly say I am in love with him.  His morning babbles, his soft skin, smooth little head with whisps of brown hair, his toothy grin that lights up a room, the relief on his face when he sees me, his precious closed eyelids as he drifts off to sleep.  All these things and so much more are the joy of mine just because I am his mother.  I may not do everything right, but I never fail him.  Even when I feel weary, or when I don't feel like it, I play games.  I hold him.  I sing and rock.  I patiently pick up blobs of food after he's finished a meal.  And I don't resent it.  It's certainly not what or how I imagined, but it's motherhood.  I have the peace of mind now that the storm has settled, to realize I am still me.  I can look back on these months and see his gradual independence when it seemed he would be attached to me forever, growth and change, and it's a really neat thing.  I feel privileged to have a healthy baby and to be the center of his world.  It feels great to finally be on the up, and be in the groove again.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hats Off

Yesterday, a topic arose on my favorite social networking site, the thread quickly spiraling like wildfire unbeknownst to me.  The subjects:  war and peace and politics.  Just one is loaded enough to clear a room, let alone the combination of the three.  I added a thoughtful but hasty reply, but have been chewing on it ever since.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a pacifist, even before I knew what the word meant.  From the core of my being, I feel violence is wrong.  The first time I saw a neighbor kid get punched in the face, my guts wrenched from that skull-smacking-bone-on-bone sound, and I thought I would throw up right there in the front yard where I stood.  I might have been eleven or twelve years old, and now I am thirty-one; so many years and I remember it like it was yesterday.  As I grew, I allied myself with leaders and politicians who also shared this viewpoint, that violence and wars as unnecessary evils.  Today, when I hear news of violence and bloodshed, it really breaks my heart and I wish for peace and understanding for those involved.

For my undergraduate commencement day at Oklahoma State in 2004, the scheduled speaker was an Iraq war general, Tommy Franks.  I have opposed the "War on Terror" and the USA war in Iraq and Afghanistan from its' beginning in 2001.  It has never made sense to me to fight violence with more violence; this is akin to smacking your child and telling him not to hit.  It doesn't make logical sense.  It also destroys and maims real people.  So, I did want to attend the ceremony, because I was proud of my accomplishments, but I did not support the invitation of the speaker.  I chose to use a non-violent, respectful form of protest by writing the words, "NO WAR" on top of my graduation cap.   I did not want to disrupt the day for all the other graduates and their families, but I did feel I had to show my disdain.

My friend Rudy, who is a fellow artist and alumnus from OSU, sat next to me during the ceremony.  We enjoyed a pacifist camaraderie during General Franks' speech, and have kept in touch over the years.  Recently, he was really upset by my support of President Obama for the DNC because of his history of warmongering.  He feels like I have taken off my hat, that I no longer support peace.  At first, I was shocked, and a little dismayed, but the accusation has struck a chord within me.  Are these things true?   Have I become hardened or discouraged, or distracted by more pressing things in my life?  What do I value and hold dear?  Working in rural RSA did harden and embolden me to things which I used to be very sensitive and shy, but did not turn me off human suffering.  If anything, I feel that my passions have increased, and even become more directed than they were when I was a younger person.  Now, I have a much clearer idea of how life works for many in the world, can put a face to the word, because I've put the rubber to the road.  I would say that peace is an abstract idea, a goal, and to get there takes many roads.  I more closely identify myself on a specific road, but always with the end goal in mind.  Helping educate a child is a path to peace.  Rearing your son to be a respectful person is a road to peace.  Volunteering to clean up trash in your neighborhood is a road to peace.  With different jobs come different hats.  My job as a formal student is finished, so I guess I did take off that hat.  Currently, my big job is mother and that hat changes on an hourly basis, it seems.  It is a much less defined role, and certainly less visible than that of a university student, but it is not less important.

Maybe I'm not as fired up and willing to outwardly protest war as I was years ago, but that does not mean I support it.  I certainly will raise my son to respect human life, just as I do.  I want to lead by example that we all have responsibilities and rights, and we should use our gifts accordingly. I probably should better educate myself about President Obama, and other leaders I choose to support, even in the small ways, because somebody is always watching.  It doesn't make sense for a pacifist to support a warmonger, even if he has done other good things for the country.  I do and always will support voter registration, which is not partisan, and that is what I did to show my support for the President.  I feel it is a huge right that should not be taken for granted, because it allows each person to actively be involved in their government.  I also support community, which is another reason I chose to volunteer for the DNC in Charlotte, my "backyard."  In summary, this has been a good chance to re-evaluate where I stand, who and what I support, and to think about life outside mothering an infant, which can be all-consuming at times. 

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

immigration, part ii

I want to begin this entry with a  description about the process to enter the United States as a foreigner.  Only an elite few are permitted to enter without a  visa        (those from Western European countries, mostly),which can be very difficult and expensive to procure. It can require many items, such as letters from employers, police clearances, affidavits, medical examinations, all of which are expensive, can expire, and can be nearly impossible to retrieve.  As an American passport holder and semi-frequent traveler, I have been waved through customs more often than not.  If I am questioned, it is very briefly and with lack of interest, then stamped and permitted entry to each country I've visited. The single exception is when I visited Mexico in 2002, and was randomly chosen for a full-body and belongings search.  To go through customs with a person who is NOT an American citizen is a scarier beast.  I was not intimidated, but he was, and for good reason.

Jackei and I decided in mid 2010 that we wanted to take our relationship to the next level and get married.  We thought we'd have plenty of time to decide the details, because I was supposed to be volunteering in South Africa until September 2011 with possible extensions of duties, so we didn't really looking into how and where this togetherness would happen.  Halloween of that year changed everything, because that's when I had my accident and broke my leg.  This led to the early termination of my job and time in RSA, so we had to quickly decide what to do.  After searching through the US immigration visa options, we decided to apply for the fiancee visa for Jackei.  We wanted to do it while I was still there, so I could double check the details: that he signed and understood all the paperwork, had the proper attachments and photocopies. We didn't know when we would get to meet again.  I was being shipped back "home" and didn't have immediate plans for the future except to walk. December 4, I had our visa packet and meagre belongings packed and on the plane headed from Joburg to Charlotte, North Carolina. My parents moved here from Coloroado, and before that I lived in Oklahoma, so "home" wasn't really "home," but what was "home" anymore anyway?

Once I arrived in Charlotte, which was my first time there, my big task was to get into physical therapy so I could learn to walk again.  Second was to file Jackei's visa petition via U.S. mail to Dallas.   I was quickly able to file it because my sister kindly chauffered me around in her personal car.  This was a big deal because I had just spent 20 months taking only public transportation, which sometimes included waiting on the side of the road for an hour or more and riding in the back of pickup trucks to get somewhere.  It takes a lot of effort and time to get simple errands done when you're always waiting on transport.  Anyway, back to the visa.

I received a confirmation letter, which stated that immigration had received my request, sometime in January.   In between that time, I also discovered I was pregnant. I decided I wasn't ready for the USA and living with my parents again after ten years of living on my own, so I planned to go back to South Africa to say with Jackei for an undefined amount of time.  The idea was that he would get his visa while I was there, and we could return together.  Little did  know the process would take much, much longer.

Upon receiving that confirmation letter, we had to wait for the foreign post to contact us regarding the details for Jackei's interview.  He was nervous about the interview because he doesn't understand American English very well (South Africans have a British-sounding accent, as well do Indians and Bangladeshis who speak English), and he didn't know what kinds of questions they would ask.  Would I be permitted to go with him?  I couldn't wait for some undefined amount of time, so I began emailing every e-mail address I could locate asking questions.  This was no easy task because in order to use a computer, I had to hitch a ride or wait for a taxi or bus to go to the nearest town, trek across town on my gimpy, limpy leg, and hope one of the internet cafes had electricity or working online connection that day.  The 7 hour time change is also difficult, because that means you have to wait until the next day to receive a reply.  I did have an application for gmail on my cell phone, so I could easily check and read emails, but writing them using the cell phone was like sending an SMS; not easy and not professional-looking.  Can you imagine?  "dear consular rotfl :) so funny cheers jenneffer...i mean, not a good idea."

Someone at the Johannesburg consulate office did check e-mail frequently, which was a huge shock to me.  I had been accustomed to 20 months of little to no response via e-mail from businesspeople and non-profits alike in RSA.  Maybe people knew it was important to register for e-mail and have a business website, but not necessarily to check the e-mail and update the website regularly.  I received by e-mail a 40 page document with instructions on what to do before Jackei would be eligible for an interview.  Part of this included obtaining police clearance letters from countries he has lived since he was 16 years old, with an asterisk at the top and bottom of each page listing "do not bother getting certificates from these countries because they aren't what we need," and the 2 countries where he lived were on this list.  He had to get and pay for a medical exam, pay a fee in the sum of over $400 USD, and the petition I filed just to request his visa interview was about the same price, and sign many papers promising he is not a terrorist, isn't going to practice poligymy, and so many other items of that nature.  Then, when he called, he was told that yes, he did indeed have to get those police clearances, and he couldn't have the interview until they were obtained.  One he could receive in about a month's time, the other took over 3 months and many calls from me to the head office in the capital city, back to    the consulate office in South Africa,      emails and calls to Jackei.

I thought he would have his visa in a few months' time, but I was wrong.     He wasn't any closer by the time I was nearing my third trimester of pregnancy. While in RSA, I had one anti-natal checkup, with everything coming along just fine.  But, the nearest gynecology clinic was booked solid for months and was over two hours travel time away.  It was time for me to come back to the USA.  I was so anxious about this!  I didn't want to come back, I certainly didn't want to come back without Jackei, but I felt like I needed to be near good health facilities for my baby.  A good friend who was still serving his Peace Corps time agreed to accompany Jackei to his interview, providing it was scheduled while he would still be in the country, and I was really thankful for this.  Turns out, this was a HUGE help.  Jackei said he didn't understand hardly anything the American consulate officer told or asked him without our friend's assistance translating from American English to South African American English.  {Do you know this Ryan, we will never forget how much you helped our family to be together!}When I came back to the USA, my sister told me I didn't need to talk to our family members like they are stupid, that they understand me.  I was so used to South African American English, i.e. speaking very slowly and       clearly enunciating every word, I didn't realize I was doing it.  Since Ryan helped Jackei get through the interview, he realized his South African paperwork was not in order and ha dto go straighten that out before he could get the visa.  One stumbling block down, many more to go.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

back to RSA and immigration, part I

Jasmir and I flew to South Africa a few weeks ago and planned to stay for a week to meet Daddy, and be there so when he went through the immigration process, we could help.  According to him, our presence would be "big proof" if he encountered any problems.  Although I was positively anticipating this trip for over a year, the nearer it drew the more nervous I became.  Since Jasmir was born, I've been a single parent.  For six months, every decision was mine.  Every smile was mine.  Every poopy diaper was mine.  You get the idea.   Even though I had to do all the work, I got all the rewards.  I didn't have to explain or justify my decisions to anyone, or share the burdens of raising a child.  Traveling to RSA to meet Jackei meant that would all change.

Meeting his father for the first time and reuniting with my fiancee after almost one year of being apart was certainly exciting and positive.  I was nervous and shy about it, though, and am still adjusting.  To begin with, Jackei was late to meet us at the airport, and I started to freak out because I didn't have a phone or any rands. Then, I thought I left my wallet on the plane. In no time, though, we did all manage to meet up, get to our backpackers and eat before we tried to sleep to began our first day together as a family.

Each day, Jackei traveled to the Home Affairs office, which is the South African equivalent of our Homeland Security or USCIS.  The task he was supposed to accomplish would take an officer five minutes to complete, and send him on his way.  Each and every person wants to receive a "little extra" (meaning a bribe) and even though he has paid and did pay again this time, they still did not help him.  They said they were too busy helping new immigrants or what-what.  A friend of his said that he didn't need to worry about this document, as it was not necessary, but I heard otherwise.  Many things in other countries do not work according to strict adherence to rules, but rather to the whims of whomever is executing the duty.  There was nothing else we could do regarding this step of the process, so we gathered up our last minute items, said our goodbyes and headed for the airport.

During the time while Jackei was busy with government affairs, Jasmir and I were just cruising Pretoria and meeting up with old friends.  I was really happy to take him to South Africa because it is really an exciting place.  There is so much diversity in such a small place.  Walking down the street, you will hear at least 4-5 different languages, see people of several races, from lots of styles and classes. The place we stay is relatively safe, and as I anticipated, we had a grand time.  He enjoyed marketing, sightseeing, the zoo, my friend Dr. Jaco, and all the people at our guesthouse.  He got to see inside a Chinese kitchen, ride on a public taxi, play with schoolchildren, learn some Afrikaans and Tswana, try ice cream and guava, and meet his uncle Sohid.  I found that traveling in Pretoria with an infant was actually much easier than traveling as a single lady.  People were much kinder to me, instead of looking at me as if I had horns growing out of my head or yelling at me for not speaking enough Setswana.

Last time, I came with a general idea to learn, to see, to develop compassion and do some work.  This time, I came with a specific purpose; to fetch a member of my family. I was a bit nervous about our experience with the immigration officers, both in RSA and the USA, but Jackei was really really nervous.  His family in Bangladesh gathered around 500 people for a "pray party" to petition God for our safe and successful travels.  He had everything to lose, so it stands to reason he would be sweating bullets.  As far as we understood the processes, his paperwork was all in order.  We checked and double checked, with the help of some awesome friends and my fastidious fact-checking, and piled out of our taxi at OR Tambo to immigrate.