God Bless America

I love America, I always have. I love everything that it stands for. I love the stories of bravery and incredible integrity of those men and women who made America something to be proud of. I love the stories of courage and sacrifice from men and women who understood what it meant to be free both in terms of rights as well as responsibilities. I loved the stories of people who believed that they could stand up against tyranny and succeed. Even when that tyranny came from their own king and country.

I didn’t always appreciate every aspect of it, I didn’t always know just what it meant to have the freedom of the press and just how important that right was. I never really understood the significance of certain laws and rights that I took for granted.

Then I volunteered to spend three months in Uganda, working to help bring jobs, education and better living conditions to single women there and I started to see. I started to gain a deeper understanding of what my country stands for and what those rights means. Mostly I gained an understanding for how important the system is that keeps these rights in check, the systems of law and order that made my world a safe, mostly predictable place to live.

When during that time in Uganda I met and married a Ugandan man, my world changed and my understanding changed with it. Gaining a better understanding of the protections and the rights that I had as  US Citizen, seeing by contrast what his were in his own country scared me. When I returned back to the United States I sobbed when my feet finally touched the ground and I felt a certain peace and security that I had always taken for granted. There is security in knowing that there are laws and rights and resources to go to when laws are broken or questioned. I’ve always felt protected by the system.

We knew when we married that it wouldn’t be easy to get a visa for Joseph. We knew it would probably mean being separated for a time. We did everything we knew to prepare for that and to make it as simple as possible. We crossed every T and dotted every I. I learned more about the immigration laws and system than I ever thought was possible. We were prepared to follow the path, and work through the red tape. We were prepared to utilize every resource at our disposal but we knew that in the end it would be hard. We looked forward with a sigh of sadness and with great excitement to the day that Joseph would leave his own beloved country and become a citizen of the United States. In his words he would be stars and stripes all the way.

When we applied to the United States Embassy in Kampala for a visitors visa so that Joseph could be with me when our baby is born, we were hopeful. The law says that since we had a pending spouse visa it wold be assumed that Joseph intended to stay in the US. That was understandable. Who wouldn’t want to stay with their wife and new-born baby.  We were informed that it would be up to us to prove during an interview that he intended to return. This could be proved by providing documentation showing strong ties to Uganda. Things like family, work, owning property etc. could be used as proof that he would return.

We went to work gathering documents, showing that Joseph owns a business in Uganda, in fact he had just renewed his business license for another year, we gathered documents showing that he was the president of a non-profit organization that provides help for the disabled, we had documents showing that he was contracted to do work for a company for two months following his return to Uganda, he had a speaking engagement scheduled for after his return, he had exams and a letter from a dean at the University stating as much, vouching for his character and recommending that Joseph be given a visa. His entire family is still in Uganda. We were hopeful because we had all the evidence that one could ask for. I sent a letter of invitation and bank statements showing that we could support him while he was here, and just to be sure my parents sent the same as well.

Joseph paid the $160 fee (this amount could easily have paid three months rent for us in Uganda) and excitedly boarded a taxi for the three-hour journey to Kampala to the embassy for his appointment. This visitors visa would give us a chance to spend 90 days together at the time when I would need him most, it would give him a chance to be there when his first-born child, enters this world. It would allow him to hold his new-born son before he is already walking.

His interview lasted all of about 1 min.

The letter denying him the chance to visit had been drafted before he even arrived. You were unable to provide sufficient evidence that you intend to return to Uganda at the end of your visit… was the reason he was given. He protested that he wasn’t given a chance to prove it and was sternly told to leave the embassy NOW! He was told that there could be no appeal, but that he was welcome to reapply if he wanted, he could pay the fee again and see if they would treat him fairly the next time.

As he left the woman’s office he encountered another man in the waiting room ready to fight because he too had been denied a chance to visit his wife who was delivering their child in a months time. He talked to him, calming him down and explaining that fighting would get him nothing. And they left the embassy.

Joseph’s first interaction with the United States government shook his faith in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. He had always seen America as an example to be followed. Democracy, liberty and Freedom as something to aspire to. Now he saw them as predators, stealing from innocent Ugandan civilians their hard-earned money and their hope. He saw them as a land without concern for right or laws.

So, now we wait. we contemplate leaving America to find another country that will allow our little family to be together while we wait for the slow wheels of bureaucracy to turn in our favor. I console myself by knowing that I am not alone in this. How many soldiers wives, give birth alone, in the early days of our church how many missionaries left their wives pregnant and sick to go on missions only to return to a two-year old child and a wife stronger for having had to do so much on her own.

I tell myself these things and yet those women can also tell themselves that their husbands are doing it for a cause. For freedom, for liberty of our country and others, for the eternal welfare of a soul. I get to do it because someone had a bad day, or decided that they didn’t want to do an actual interview, and no one thought it was worth doing anything about. So when I am tired and sick, lying in bed alone aching for someone to rub my feet or help me up to go to the bathroom yet again, when I am lying in that bed holding my first child, my newborn son in my arms and marveling at the beauty of it all and the miracle of life I can console myself in the fact that my husband is 9000 miles away because someone didn’t want to take time to look at some papers and it will make me feel so much better.

I still love America. It will always be my home. I still sing our National Anthem and my eyes still fill with tears at the heartfelt passionate lyrics

O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

In fact if anything I love her more. Because I see how fragile America is and how quickly all that was fought for can be lost. And I will pray that God WILL Bless America because she is my home that I love and she needs all the prayers she can get.

The_Prayer_at_Valley_Forge_by_Arnold_Friberg

 

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MY Whirlwind Romance part IX “I won’t leave her”

Leaving Rwanda wasn’t nearly as easy as it had been to get in. You see Rwanda, in an effort to encourage tourism, doesn’t charge a fee for a visa. So when I entered, I simply had to get my passport stamped. Uganda’s policy is different. They require a $50 fee and since every penny I had was stolen I had no way to pay the fee.

We stood pleading with the immigration official, explaining our situation to no avail. You simply can not enter Uganda without paying the fee, he told me. I am sorry for what happened to you but we can make no exceptions. “What should we do then?” We asked, desperate for an answer out of this impossible situation.

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He turned to Joseph, “since you are African you don’t have to pay, you can go. Leave her here and you go get the money to pay her fee.” The idea was unthinkable, it would take him two days at best to get back to Uganda, get the money and get back to me. In the meantime I was in a no man’s land between borders. I had no way to get back to the city and no place to stay if I did make it back, I had no money and nothing to eat. It was simply out of the question. “I will not leave her” Joseph said adamantly.

“Then find someone else here who will give you the money” the immigration official said callously before moving on to the next person in line.

We decided to try the bus driver, we found him loading passengers back on the bus, they were getting ready to leave and we literally had minutes to figure this out. We explained the situation to him and asked him to loan us the money until we got back to Uganda. We can pay you as soon as we get there we assured him.

He refused.

We approached the conductor on the bus (this is as assistant of sorts to the driver) We asked him and he also refused. You will not pay he said, people always say they will pay and then when we get them back they leave and never bring me the money. “I will leave something with you, I promised, something that I will have to come back for. When we give you the money you can give it back to us.”

He thought about this for a minute. What will you give he asked. I searched through my belongings looking for something that would do and my eyes rested on the shiny new engagement ring on my finger…

I hesitated, I will give you my ring, I told him.

“No” It came out in perfect unison from both Joseph and the Conductor. I was a little relived.

“My camera, then” I said suddenly remembering that I had a camera that might be worth something to him. He agreed, took my camera and gave us the money. We were the last people back on the bus. My heart was beating and I felt like crying.

Also not my picture although it is an actual picture on the bus route that we traveled from Kigali back to Uganda

Also not my picture although it is an actual picture on the bus route that we traveled from Kigali back to Uganda

As we drove a sales man stood up and began putting on something of a show advertising his healing products with magical capabilities. He spoke fluently in five or six languages, none of which I could understand. Finally he turned to me and asked in English, “do you understand what I am saying,” I shook my head.

Do you speak any language besides english?

I admitted that I didn’t

He had a playful smile on his face, and I knew I was about to be the butt of one of his jokes. See that man sitting next to you? He asked, “say to him Nkwagala” he told me. (that word means I love you in Luganda) I laughed to myself. I may not know Luganda, but I knew that word. People around us were watching and snickering to see if I was going to fall for his joke.

I turned to Joseph and took his face in both hands, Nkwagala Nyo I said, adding emphasis on the Nyo (very much) I said it with my sweetest sappiest, love-sick voice I could, so that everyone would know that yes, I knew what that word was and yes I DID very much love him and the joke was on the salesman. The bus erupted in laughter.

“If you want to see what love looks like, look at these two,” he told the passengers.

We arrived home just in time for fast sunday and we decided that our fast would be devoted to Joseph getting a visa so that we could have our planned wedding in the Salt Lake Temple in Oct.

All day we went without food and prayed for our request. By evening as I went to bed, I felt so uneasy that I couldn’t sleep. I got up and started researching the visa process. Everything I read terrified me. People who had been separated for years as they waited for a visa, reports of complications and difficulties in obtaining a visa. The feelings that I had as I stood at the border being told that Joseph would have to leave me, and feeling so loved and reassured as he refused. We had found a way and we would do it again. But I knew one thing…I couldn’t leave him either.

I finally fell into a restless sleep and woke with one thought on my mind. Call the man who left you his number in the taxi several weeks ago. I had met a man who was a government official. He had given me his number and told me to contact him if I needed anything during my stay. I didn’t know what he could do to help but I called him.

Turns out he was just a few minutes away from where I lived passing through on his way to Jinja and he agreed to stop and talk to me. He did and I explained my situation. Just marry him here and then wait together for the visa he told me. You can wait here until he gets it and then you don’t have to leave him.

It would mean marrying outside of the temple, it would mean marrying without any member of my family present and no friends of mine would be there. It would mean giving up on all the dreams and plans I had for my wedding. But it would mean that I wouldn’t have to leave him. It was the only option. I thought it over all day and that night when Joseph came to Lugazi to see me I sat him down.

“I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think we need to change our plans” I told him. His face looked weary, hesitant and slightly scared at what I was going to say next. His normally smiling face was serious.

I paused, for dramatic effect and swallowed hard, knowing that what I was about to say was going to make him so happy.

“I don’t think we should get married in October,” I told him. ” I think we should get married here, at the end of this month!”

He looked at me as though he wasn’t sure he had heard me right. I explained my thought process to him, but before I could even finish he had crushed me in a bear hug. Joseph normally has a radiant smile, but his smile that day was like something I had never seen before! We talked about our changed plans, it felt good, it felt peaceful, I knew it was fast but it didn’t feel fast. It felt right.