That's a pretty good title and explanation for no new blog updates for the past few weeks. It's been a roller coaster trip through paperwork and train rides, trying to tie up loose ends and prepare for the future.
I've heard stories about people who did things differently. Rumors that there is some easy way, some way that isn't so time consuming and expensive. And maybe it really does exist. But I've also heard horror stories. I've watched Green Card. I know there are things that can and do go wrong, and the potential costs and years that could be required to make them all right. Those are all things I really didn't want to have to deal with. So we went about the visa process as laid before us by the US government pages. It wasn't always easy or cost efficient, but it was legal and we did manage without the help of a lawyer, which did save us a pretty penny.
I won't bore you with the details of rushing from town to town for apostilles (a word which does exist but never wants to be accepted because it's just such a strange thing. A stamp to prove that another stamp and signature are valid. What?) and every single piece of paper required, but I'll tell you that it was a hectic back and forth sort of battle, full of nerves and stress at almost every corner. It's not like either Mark or I had ever done anything like this before, so every step along the way was something new and uncertain. For all the international traveling I've done, there has always been someone else who handled the visas. I have much more empathy for them now to be certain. When I think of all the red tape Amy had to go through to get me back to HK, I shudder and offer up a HUGE thank you!
Anyhow, the culmination of this story resulted in an interview being set. This wasn't so easy as we'd hoped either, because after being given a list of potential dates, we weren't able to reach the office by phone and our e-mails weren't answered. It seems the person responsible was on holiday and didn't think to set up an automated response so that we could breathe. In the end, Mark called at a time when we'd been informed that they wouldn't be available because they were doing interviews at that time, and we were given an interview time in the slot when we'd been told they would be free to take phone calls. Hmmm...anyone have the feeling there are some gaps in the US Embassy system? Either way, it worked, and that was what was important.
We had our appointment in the afternoon, so there was time to take the train in to Prague that day, which was nice, rather than having to stay in a hostel again. We were both quite nervous, and had come loaded with photos, e-mails, and anything else we could use to prove that our relationship was valid, as well as the beautiful engagement ring that is glowingly on my finger
Sorry for the greasy hair in this shot. Did I mention things have been hectic?
Anyhow, we turned in the official packet of stuff required and then sat to wait. We were the only ones in the room, which was nice and gave us the chance to enjoy the beautiful ceilings and try to talk about things that aren't so stressful. Then a man called us up to the counter and started telling us what things are going to be like in the future. He had us switch sides and took Mark's fingerprints, and then continued telling us how long to allot for going through immigration once we got stateside, and what they would do to process us there.
We were a bit confused. Where were the questions about toothbrush photos and distant family relatives? Or at the very least, where did we meet. I think he did say something to the effect of, "So you two want to get married right? And you know it has to be within 90 days of when you get to the US." He made some jokes about people who go through all this work and then change their mind at the end of the 90 days because really the person just wanted to travel. Let me tell you, that was a waste of their time and money. There are MUCH easier ways to get tourist visas.
Anyhow, the next thing we knew he was asking if WE had any questions. Mark asked if he wanted to see the photo album, etc, and he said, "no, you're clearly over prepared." He then went on to point out that we are obviously in a real relationship and that is what is important for this kind of visa. He said we were comfortable touching each other, and didn't jump away at the slightest arm grave having only met each other the week before. It was also clear that we could communicate in the same language, and that I wasn't old enough to be his grandmother. Images of some of the cases he must have seen come through passed across my mind. So basically that was it. Except that they had to process the finger prints and facial scan and have us pick it up on Friday.
When we left the office we were excited but still a bit confused. Could it possibly have been that easy? But Friday came, we got the visa, and the truth was in Mark's passport. It really did work out just as they had said it would.
So now we're gearing up for the big trip to America. Mark is now the owner of luggage and we've been starting the process of going through things to see what we'll take and what will stay. We're flying out on the 29th, so the time is short. We'll take another weekend trip to Germany to see his sister and family, and do all we can to work on saying good bye and preparing for whatever God has in store for us next. These are crazy times to be alive for sure!