Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pakistani Holidays

Every marriage is interesting when you try to mix traditions, but when you try to mix staunchly American and Pakistani traditions, when mixed with Christian and Muslim traditions, it is more than interesting, maybe better described as mind boggling.

I really thought that after all my husband and I had been through together we knew each other well, but it occurs to me, that you cannot know anyone completely, EVER.

One of my best friends is married to a German man, they are both fairly agnostic and knew each other for about eight years before deciding to get married. We had a conversation recently about how many things she has now discovered, five years into the marriage, after having two children, that she would have never expected.

I feel the same way she does. M and I have been married for almost five years now. We have baby S. We've celebrated Eids together and Christmases together. We've put up a Christmas tree, after a HUGE disagreement, I've bought Eid gifts and helped him pick out new clothes for the baby--part of the tradition. I've learned about the Eidee tradition (and taken full advantage of it!) and I've tried my best to be respectful and helpful. This year, my husband volunteered "his wife" to make food for the entire mosque for the breaking of the fast during Ramadan one night. Since they wanted fried chicken, he figured it should be right up my alley.

Forget the fact that they also wanted vegetable pullao, which until that day I had never made, and that we were to feed at least 100 people. One-hundred people! Thank God for my mother, we pulled off the chicken and I extorted a rice maker from my husband for the pullao!

This brings me to Christmas, largely ignored by my husband. This, normally, wouldn't be a problem but this year my parents had to celebrate with us on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day and this confused my husband. This year is particularly important to my parents because baby S is finally old enough to open their presents and ooh and ahh over them. But my husband, suddenly felt that tradition was being broken by not celebrating on Christmas starting a conversation about whether or not he supports my traditions in the same way that I celebrate his. Cue his *remembering* Iftari dinner and my mother's contributions and how it came to be that I received $200 in twenty dollar bills as my Christmas present. . . .

I think there might still be a culture gap.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Chopping Tomatoes

When I first met my husband I had never chopped a tomato. I was that girl in college who ordered fried chicken wings when everyone else ordered normal Chinese from the takeout menu. In fact, this was what a good friend of mine from college pointed out to me the first time she learned that I was cooking Pakistani food. It was my first tastes of chicken curry that convinced me I had to learn to cook Pakistani food, not to mention that I thought it might be a little unfair for me to expect my husband to convert to American cuisine only.

The first dish I tried to make was chicken curry, but if I had only worked on that dish until I perfected it, we both would have starved. I kept getting chicken curry wrong! I would cook it in Canada and everything would seem fine and then, back home, I'd invite my best friend over to try it and cook it all wrong. Eventually, my husband and I all but gave up on it and I learned to cook byriani by watching Z's wife cook it once. It was really great! Even though she does not speak much English, she talked as much as she could and was very tolerant of my note-taking. That dish was so easy that I've done it just right since that day and it really built up my confidence. Since then, I've gotten really good at Kadhi Pakora, all types of byriani, beef and chicken, bindhi and daal curries.

Finally, in year number seven, I've made a chicken curry that I consistently adore. It took me seven years of and youtube cooking gurus with trial and error to finally get proficient enough to even ask coherent questions of others who are better cooks! Gori Wife, you've no idea how much I envy you!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Forced out of Silence

When I first decided that I wanted to marry a Pakistani, a lot of things went through my mind.

What if his parents don't like me?

What if I cannot understand the religion?

What if I can never learn the language?

How can I learn the language?

What if we don't have the same ideas about kids?

What if, what if, what if?

So, to figure out the answer to my questions, true to form, I Googled it. In my Google search I used lots of search terms, but "learn Urdu" or "Study Urdu" became frequent. As you can imagine, there are not a lot of places online that you can learn about Urdu for free. . . . .you can't even get Rosetta Stone for that language! I felt dejected, so I started typing in goofy stuff like, finally, "Urdu for Gories." "Gori" is the word that I found out my husband's family used to describe me. It means, basically the equivalent of "white girl," so I was typing, "Urdu for whities."

Anyway, up popped the Sometimes Sobia forums. Most of you are probably very familiar with Mrs. Sobia, but someone many years from now who stumbles on this blog looking for support with their own Pakistani may know nothing about her. Why? The forums are now closing.

It's a really sad day for me because I kind of credit the support I got there for keeping me from going completely nuts. By the time I found the forum my husband and I were neck deep in the most horrible parts of our long, sad story. By reading about Sobia and her husband, and their successful, Pakistani/American marriage. . .and even by reading about the not-so-successful Pakistani/American ventures . . .I was not alone. I knew that there were other people just as crazy and weird as my husband and I (or at least close to it.)

I was kept from total insanity by a pink floral print website. I was able to share pictures, and see pictures of families I will likely never meet in person. In real life, I've only met one family with a Desi husband and a white wife, and when that woman saw me across the crowded Verizon Wireless store, she shouted aloud. We never spoke, so I guess it doesn't count. Without "Sometimes Sobia" I would not know anyone, much less 10 people, who are the same as me. Now, that is not to say that everyone there is there for the reason I was there. In fact, I met people of all different nationalities married to people of the same background or completely different background, another aspect of that forum I will forever miss.

I will miss knowing and talking to people literally all over the world, every single day.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Change and Overcome

Living with your husband for the first time is always a strange experience. Okay, that sounds funny, but think about it, you've lived most of your life with your parents, then in my case, lived for ten years or so alone or with roommates. Living with your husband is something completely different. You share a lot more space than you share with a roommate.

M and I had been married in April, 2006 and arrived home July 1, 2008. We had definitely passed the honeymoon stage! I have decided that the "honeymoon stage" is essential to a good co-habitating experience, without it we were both just a little crazy. On top of that, after two years of marriage, I was in a baby craze. We had both wanted to have a family from the very beginning, but held off because of the living situation. "Baby crazy" is just a little bit too much pressure for a husband and wife truly starting out.

M loved the apartment. He was depressed at having left his best friend Z in Canada, and that added to my stress and frustration. I had expected, naively, for everything to be just perfect and for us to be splendidly happy all of the time. It was so unrealistic, and I know that now, but at the time it made me pretty miserable.

Happily, I found out in August that baby S was on her way and got to calm down about the baby craze which made things a lot better.

But remember? I said M hates change. . .

Monday, September 13, 2010

Leaving Canada

The day the visa finally arrived, I was a crazy person. M was at work, but I opened the package anyway. I immediately started snapping pictures of the visa inside his passport with my cell phone camera. From Canada I started picture messaging the picture to my family and to M. I kept opening the passport page and running my fingers across the lettering just to make sure it was real.

I really could not help myself. I started trying to hurry M along to leave Montreal. I was so excited for us to go home! his apartment lease was very flexible since he'd lived there for many years, his original lease was up and we did not need to give any notice and it was coincidentally near the end June. I wanted to leave within two weeks. I rationalized it with "saving money" and that was what eventually convinced M to do things my way.

M is not one of those people who like change, even if it is change they've been waiting on for years. Remember, this is the same man who took MONTHS to leave a HORRIBLE situation in Pakistan because he couldn't make a firm decision. I was in Canada because the summer had come and I was off work, but I was so excited to finally show my husband our home. I had spent two years married to a man living in a different country from me. I was excited.

The furniture I had carted to his apartment in Montreal, we decided to "gift" to some of his bachelor friends. The curtains and pillows and all were left out in the garbage pile when we left and as we drove away we noticed families from his neighborhood sifting through it and even taking some "jewels" away. What is funny is that this is not something I would have expected to happen, but M had told me earlier it would. He had laughed when we saw it happening. He was actually excited that something he left behind would find a new home with someone else.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Biggest Break

It took two weeks to get a response from the consulate. It came in the form of a voicemail message that I received as I drove between the two schools where I taught Spanish. I nearly crashed my car into off the side of the road when I heard the man identify himself and leave a DIRECT number where to contact him with questions. In the message, he directly admitted the error in our case. When I called the number he left, he actually answered the phone. There was no routing message, no secretary, this number led directly to a consular officer. This NEVER happens and would in the end be the only way that our case was ever resolved.

At exactly the six month mark, my husband received confirmation in Montreal that his 212 waiver that I had filed in Buffalo was approved. Luckily, I was in Montreal when the notice arrived, because it did not DIRECTLY just say "approved." It was a long, confusing letter that listed all of the good/bad factors and just said, in the middle of the letter that he was now allowed to pursue his immigrant visa. I had to read it three times before I could tell we had been approved and then I began jumping up and down uncontrollably. It was the biggest rush I had felt in a very, very long time. I was able to get things rolling while there, setting up a new medical exam and prodding M to go and get updated police certificates. The letter was submitted to Montreal via fax and we waited. I emailed them and we waited, they emialed back that it could take 90 days for them to get the notice and to contact them again after that. They also stated we could turn in the updated documents and wait for them to recieve the letter directly from Buffalo USCIS.

Here is where the story gets frustrating (as if it were not already.) We waited 60 days and I started getting antsy. The emails they sent back to me kept saying that the form we were given was "not printed on the right form" to be an approval. Montreal refused to contact Buffalo and when my House Representative's immigration liaison contacted Buffalo, all Buffalo would do is send out a re-printed form, only this time with a date. After waiting this long, I started freaking out. One afternoon in June, the last day of school, I finally called my friend at the Consulate. We had spoken a few times in the between time and he had just told me to be patient. This time was different, I was freaking out. I was ready to cry. Mr. C answered the phone and I explained the whole story about the repeated emails from their consulate, the repeated emails from Buffalo, I was on the verge of crying.

Mr. C acknowledged that it sounded like I was "getting the run-around" but by this time he literally recognized the sound of my voice as soon as he answered the phone and had even stopped calling me by the respectful Mrs. M and started addressing me in an exasperated tone by my first name. He told me that he was going on vacation and was just cleaning things up that day. He decided he would contact the House Rep's liaison directly and at that point stopped talking to me.

Within two hours the House Rep's liaison called me sounding more excited than I had ever heard. She told me that Mr. C had called her and that things were moving. She thought that the visa was going to be issued and was faxing and emailing everything she had from the Buffalo USCIS office. I was too shell shocked to believe it, but I had that excited/nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach. The next day, I got another phone message from Mr. C, the visa would be issued before he would ever get back from his two week vacation, I am sure by his own threat of bodily violence to his staff if he ever had to hear my voice again.

In the end, here is how long our case took:

Married April, 2006
Filed App May, 2006
USCIS Approved Aug, 2006
Interview Feb, 2007
New Divorce Cert July, 2007
212 submitted Oct, 2007
AP Over Feb, 2008
212 Approved March, 2008
Updated forms April, 2008
Visa Issued June, 2008

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Getting the 'Scoop'

I figured out pretty quickly that the only way to get information from Islamabad or the Department of State or local offices of USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services, formerly INS. . .) is the dedicated help of elected officials. I enlisted the help of two, one of whom, sadly, has since retired. The retired official's immigration liaison was the most militant lady I think I've ever spoken to. By the time I spoke to her for the first time, I had discussed my case with several prominent attorneys and held my own. I had discussed very intricate sections of law and even introduced a few of them to some new aspects of processing. This lady made me shake in my boots. Everything she did was done in the most "word efficient" way possible. She wanted to know only the most important facts and she wanted to know them quickly. She made it clear that she was only going to help if you were, for lack of a better term, worthy. I felt that every second I was on the phone with her I had to make count.

Before contacting her, I had spent three months waiting on my worthless other Senator's (who unfortunately has not retired) liaison who accomplished less than nothing. I allowed him to work on the case for three months with no news and not a single call back to me. The expedient woman had my case number for three days and I had information back, VALUABLE information. For the USCIS aspect of the case, I had my House Representative's immigration liaison taking care of things. . . I think I just feared asking Ms. Expedient for too much. I was kind of afraid she might abandon me if I became too needy. Through much online research I found that Islamabad typically takes around six months to clear simple stuff and at exactly seven months after we submitted the divorce certificate, the case miraculously came out of administrative processing (aka, black hole of death.)

At that point, the consulate contacted me to tell me that they needed me to file two waivers, a 601 waiver, better known in immigration circles as the "Hardship Waiver" and the I-212, which I knew I had to file, for the expedited removal that I wrote about earlier. I had been preparing for this and immediately started drafting letters explaining why my husband did not need the 601 waiver. . .mostly because he had not broken a law that required the 601 waiver. I worked all day, and once home, was awake until 3:00 in the morning drafting and faxing the letter. It was two pages long, plus evidence, the fax ended up being about five pages. I sent it to the Immigrant Visa Specialist and the Consul General of Montreal. I also sent a hard copy. I then faxed a copy to both my Senator and my House representative to request that they write a letter in support of my letter and attached a copy of the fax I had sent. With all of this done, I settled in for ANOTHER wait.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Administrative Processing

*Reader Note* While this post is not all that impressive, I just updated the dates because I started writing it on May 21. Life is a really, really busy place!

The second divorce certificate was submitted to the US Consulate in Montreal, July 2005. Immediately our case was put into "Administrative Processing" which is a scary thing when you're dealing with US Immigration and a Pakistani-born immigrant. The petitioner (me) has no way of knowing why the case is in AP or how long it will take. There are no guarantees and the Department of State uses "National Security" as an excuse to blow off any inquiries or questions one may ask.

By August, I was freaking out. It took me a long time to figure out what exactly what was going on with the case because the US Consulate and the Department of State do not like to just give you information on your case. . .they make you work for it. I tried one of my Senate Immigration liaisons and gave him two months to try to get a response. I would call him back every two weeks, he would promise to follow up and call me back and then would never call me back. After two months of that, I made an inquiry through then Republican Immigration liaison to Senator John Warner. This woman was intimidating as Hell, but she was the most efficient and effective representative EVER. Within seven days she had a response and more information than I could have ever hoped for along with LEVERAGE!

She slipped in telling me that the AP was for "Document Verification." They did not tell her what type of document they meant, but I already knew that information, and that meant that my AP was finite, because it was not security checks! There are no words for how excited that made me. It was leverage because the more you already know when you call the Department of State, the more information they will give you. All I had to do was call and say, "I know that the case is undergoing AP to verify the divorce certificate I submitted to Montreal on. . . .Could you tell me what stage it is in?" Or, "can you tell me the last day a note was made on the case?" or "Can you see if the case has been returned to Montreal yet?"

I was able to find out that the rest of the case stayed in Montreal, while only the divorce certificate was sent to the US Embassy in Islamabad. In September I had a moment where I was discussing the case with M and told him (only half joking) that they were checking up on him for me and that if he was still married to some woman in Pakistan they'd let me know . . .he took it waaaaay too seriously and got all offended.

I now found myself spending time trying to get information from Islamabad, but if you've ever done that you know how futile it is. I sent them an email and within 10 minutes had a reply. They had SO MANY cases undergoing Administrative Processing that they give you an automated response ANY TIME you email them saying that they will not respond to emails sent before your case has been in administrative processing for 180 days or more. You know what I discovered?

They don't respond after 180 days either.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Side Step

For just a moment, I'd like to take a leap faaaar into the future. Today is baby S's first birthday and I've been having flashbacks to the day she was born for the last three days!

Having a baby, while a beautiful experience, is stressful in a lot of ways and when you have the huge differences in culture involved that M and I have, it can be made even more stressful. When I first told M that I was pregnant, he panicked. I am not talking about a little freak out, I am talking about major panic, household crisis.

M wanted children, yes. He knew that we were planning for children, yes. He just apparently did not realize that it could actually. . .happen. As time went on there were larger and smaller panic moments, for instance, the day we found out the baby was a girl and M silently disappeared for several hours only to return with 20 pounds of beef. Yes, I said BEEF. I still have no explanation for what happened there.

Over the course of the pregnancy, we discussed how things would go for the delivery. We knew that I would have to have a Cesarean ahead of time and I informed M that he would have to be in the delivery room. He balked and was nervous about it and many times told me that he would not do it, but I never took him seriously. The difference in birthing habits culturally is huge. I've heard friends from Pakistan talk about the mother spending the weeks leading up to and the weeks immediately after delivery with her parents and as M relates it, the man is DEFINITELY NOT expected to be in the room.

My Cesarean was scheduled for the morning of May 7, 2009 and M felt that he would be prepared. He still joked that he wasn't going in with me, but I knew that with the advance warning and preparation, he would be fine. Saturday, May 2 and Sunday, May 3would be my last chance to get the house prepared for the baby to come. I spent all day Saturday cleaning the house and cooking byriani and haleem and spaghetti. The haleem would be done Sunday morning, the byriani was done around 5:00 and M wanted to take some to his buddies at work, and a friend who was visiting. These visits usually last for hours so I just kept checking the haleem and doing laundry, and cleaning the house.

Here I was, days before my planned birth running up and down the stairs with big boxes of laundrey and three meals cooking in the kitchen. I was feeling SO well organized! So prepared! Just after M left I noticed some signs of labor. I pushed them aside as being to minor. . .called my parents who encouraged me to call my doctor. Talked on the phone with my bestest friend who begged me to call the doctor. She told her mother, who called and scolded me for NOT calling the doctor. So, under pressure, I paged my doctor directly, she did not answer. I paged again an hour later, she did not answer. I took it as a sign, but my father, did not. By this time, a normally very mobile, active baby was not moving at all and had not for hours. He demanded that I call the on-call physician who listened apparently, to the first part of what I said and told me that there was nothing wrong and that I should wait a few hours and call back.

I called M and told him about the ruckus (downplaying a little, not wanting to cause a panic) and he told me he'd be coming home soon and not to worry. An hour later, no M. I called the hospital again and the nurse said that the doctor had told her to tell me to come in and be evaluated if I called back. . .still no M. So I called him back, 10:30pm and told him we needed to go to the hospital. . .sounding annoyed, he told me he'd be on his way home soon. . .

At 11:30 when M was not yet home I called him and absolutely tore into him no longer downplaying or being calm. It was just before midnight when we got to the hospital. There was construction all around and the normal entrances (I am a Paramedic, you'd think I could figure out how to get into the hospital. ..) were all closed. The Labor and Delivery was closed at 8:00. . the emergency room entrance blockaded by cones and "Do not cross" tape. M was mad. Mostly he couldn't see past the fact that I had yelled at him on the phone and that though he'd been up since 5 am I was dragging him to the hospital to be "checked out" for something the doctore said was "nothing." Frustrated, I stomped back to the car and called my dad. I told him that the doors were all locked, we couldn't find an entrance and that I was taking this as a sign that God did not want me there tonight. By the way, I DROVE TO AND FROM the hospital.

We got all the way home while my father berrated me for leaving the hospital. He told me that I was acting crazy and that if I did not turn around and go back he was leaving work and driving the hour to my town to MAKE me go. THIS is what convinced M that I needed to go to the hospital. . . .and so we drove back. We went to the non-emergency entrance and found construction signs saying it was now the emergency entrance. We were registered (while my water was continuously breaking) and I was forced to sit and calmly sign all the paperwork--they even asked for my $500 copay. . .

In the room, the nurse did her tests as M dozed on the daddy couch. The nurse confirmed that my water had broken and told me that the surgery would be moved to the next morning around 7am. We discussed a few questions back and forth before M looked up, oblivious and asked, "So when are we going home?"

Friday, April 23, 2010

Running Away again

Blooming Peaches had a very good question for the last post. The question was

so did the situation create a rift between you two or was it the two of you guys against the entire community?

did anything good happen when you moved in lol? you only talk about the frustrations... i am curious if you were happy with your decision at all

The truth is, I was pretty miserable living there even for a short time. The first few days we were together were great. I was always on a huge high when he picked me up from the airport, so excited and happy and relieved to be together again. The problem was, the reality of the pressure around us really got to M. He would get depressed because of the accusations and the looks he got every time he went to the mosque. For M, the mosque is a huge source of comfort. It is where he goes to feel better, he feels peaceful there and for the other people in the mosque to take that away, it was just too much for him.

In addition to this, the main language in his province was French, and I only speak English and Spanish and French is not one of the five languages M speaks. It was an all-around uncomfortable experience. M always said he considered me his ally, but sometimes when everyone around you is against your ally, your ally doesn't look all that great to you, see my point?

At any rate, after the egging experience and the fight that triggered it, I was sure I could not live in M's town and was certain that I was going home at the end of the summer. I immediately updated my resume and called my employer back. By the end of the first month I was there, my school system had scheduled me for school interviews. My old school even called me back to offer me my old job back, which I happily declined. I hated that job.

I started really pushing hard for M to get the required divorce certificate from his parents and by early July, after four and a half months they finally sent it and I was able to submit it to the US Consulate in Montreal. As soon as I sent it, they placed our case in Administrative Processing. This means they again had to verify the validity of the document and this time it would be sent to Islamabad Pakistan. In research I discovered that Administrative Processing could take as long as "they" wanted. Six months later, we still would not have an answer as to the validity of the certificate.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Opposite of Over Easy. . .

It's funny the things that I remember from those years. Memories get a little hazy over time, but some things I remember very clearly. The other day, I was washing dishes and flashing back to the day that M flew to Pakistan. I had that first immigration package all signed and copied and ready to go. I was so excited, that I carried it away from the airport with me knowing that as soon as I got into the US I would mail it.

I felt so independent staying in a hotel alone the night after I dropped him off. . . .I got up the next morning in this teeny tiny town determined to find a post office to mail it from. I had asked directions and smiled the whole time I walked around half-lost thinking that this one day of extra time was going to make things faster than waiting to mail it tomorrow when I got home. Even then I had this strange feeling that something was not right. . .but I had no idea what was in store for us.

I had no idea what I was getting into trying to "live" with hubby in his little apartment. Okay, my husband is Muslim (*gasp*) and I am not, at all. M's apartment was right across the street from the local mosque, not just the local mosque, the regional mosque, the biggest one in the province. It was a mostly Pakistani mosque with a large Egyptian and small Arab population. On Fridays and Sundays the streets were especially full, but it was pretty busy every day, all day. At any time you could find bearded and robed men seated on the front steps, often having heated discussions, about what I will never know, they were always in Arabic or one of a variety of South Asian dialects.

If you think the white girl gets stared at while travelling in Pakistan or Egypt or wherever, that is nothing compared to the white girl who suddenly appears with the Muslim who lives across the street from the mosque. Not just any Muslim who lives across the street from the mosque. . .the muslim who has attended this moque for more than eight years and knows EVERYONE, but refuses to talk about . . . the white girl.

Because the mosque had refused to perform our marriage, they somehow got the impression that we just didn't get married, and this made things all the worse. There were members who would follow us down the street staring at us, people who would sit across from us at the restaurant and stare at us and people who only stared at us as we walked in and out of the building. One guy was so obvious that I walked backwards down the street so that I too could stare at him. Once, M got so angry that he had to talk to one man in our favorite restaurant, and he stopped.

It was bad enough that we got reports from two of our closest friends about conversations they had with members of the mosque where they had to "defend" us by testifying on the validity of our marriage. One particularly nasty neighbor made claims to THE IMAM of the mosque about our "illegal" acts. . . those of a marital nature. The stress level in our house was pretty high with all of these stories. I thought they were funny, but M was a lot more sensitive about it. He was the one who had to be questioned and confronted about it in a place, the mosque, that he had once considered a peaceful and safe place to go.

Everything culminated into one big fight wherein M did something really, really stupid. I will not post it here, but I was angry enough to make a complete fool of myself in a manner loud enough to be heard by the entire building where we were living. . .this is not saying much, since I could always hear the kids upstairs rolling in an office chair and was a party to every phone conversation the Egyptian next door ever had. . .but it was loud enough that when we were finished I walked outside to find my car, egged.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I spent a lot of time thinking about that divorce certificate. Was it real? If it was not real, did M know? What would happen to the case if it turned out that the certificate was a fake? Were we not really married? We had used the divorce certificate M's family sent us as proof when we got married. I was exhausted after the interview. I had only slept for about two hours during the snowstorm because I kept tossing and turning. I wanted to make sure I woke up early enough to make it to the interview and now, one of my "worst case scenarios" had actually come true. There was absolutely nothing I could do but wait.

What if the divorce certificate was real, but the consulate wouldn't accept it? What if we couldn't get M's family to obtain the real certificate? We'd already looked online for ways to obtain it and it was not a possibility. Would M have to go back again to Pakistan just to get the certificate? What would happen if he went? What if, he was still married to that woman, he went back there and obtained a better fake divorce certificate. . .

I could. not. sleep.

Two weeks later I was back home in the US when the letter from the consulate arrived. The certificate we had submitted was not enough. We would have to submit a certificate from the Union Council over the area where the woman lived, hundreds of miles away from M's family and thousands of miles from where I sat at that moment, angry and crying. I called M and yelled at him.

It was the last week of February, my work contract was up in June. As a teacher, the contracts are renewed year by year. I hated the school where I worked. The county didn't allow first year teachers to transfer and I was lonely. I made a decision that I was moving to Canada. M was certain he could get the certificate, but I had no faith. I typed up my resignation and started making plans. I would move the furniture from my apartment to M's barren apartment in Canada. I would get out of my lease early and save a little bit of cash to make a start. I would spend the summer in Canada and we would start the paperwork for my immigration. We would not stop M's paperwork, but it would be our own little "race" to see which would finish first. We still didn't have the new divorce certificate from Pakistan and it had been nearly four months.

I would come back to the US and work as a Paramedic while we waited. June came, and I drove straight to M's home from work. We were going to live together for the first time as husband and wife and I was excited, we had been married more than a year.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


The world felt like it was crumbling up around me. I was prepared for the long wait for a waiver. I was prepared to fight about the legalities surrounding whether or not my husband should be forced to file a waiver at all, but here I was being told that they were doubting whether or not my husband was even legally divorced. I had spent a lot of time worrying about this when it came time to submit the divorce certificate initially, nine months before, but when it made its way through the USCIS and then the NVC, I had, wrongly, assumed that it had passed muster.

For those of you who aren't aware, US Immigration takes polygamy very seriously. They also take fraudulent marriages (when they rarely correctly diagnose them) very seriously. Every piece of paper related to a marriage visa that we submitted had to have a certification on it that he was not married to anyone else, and we had CONFIDENTLY signed them. Now, instead of filing a waiver and moving on to simply waiting, we were going to have to figure out if his divorce was valid. We knew it was valid in Pakistan, for his "ex-wife" had remarried years ago, but how to prove that to the United States Consulate in Montreal?! The certificate would be sent to Islamabad by fax and we would be notified of the result in "a few days."

I was crying for the rest of our consular visit, quietly, angrily, crying. I was not only angry at the consular officer for the hold up, but I was angry with M. I had begged him to obtain a different certificate, the type I had read about online. I had lectured him on how unhelpful and unsupportive his family had been already, and I had reminded him of how hard it was to submit supplemental evidence once one piece had been found to be insufficient. I had reminded him of the delays we has already suffered because of his stupid Pakistani marriage. I was livid and M was going to be the one to bear the brunt of it because it was he who had again trusted his parents' word in place of mine. Again it had cost us. I was mad, and I had no idea of the amount of time we were now going to have to wait.

I walked out of the consulate with our huge bag of irrelevant, useless proof along with our five pound waiver envelopes all worthless. The snow was piled high around us as we walked out to the car. Now, even I worried if the divorce was real, I mean, I only had one man's word, right?

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Interview

We waited for quite a while before being called and looked like a couple of crazies sitting there in the waiting room. I was wearing my new favorite outfit, business casual best, high heels included. I got a huge hug when I walked in. M looked relieved and nervous. He had bags under his eyes as if he had not slept for days. He held my hand tightly as we sat there waiting for them to call out number.

Consular interviews are made as stressful as possible. In Montreal, there are a series of about four windows on the left and eight on the right. They have separate windows for submitting documents and then windows for submitting payments. It has a similar feel as the Deparmtent of Motor Vehicles, only at least there when they call your number you can get everything done, exept your license picture. He was called to the left first, and then to the right and then to the left again to show the receipt from the right. It was all terribly efficient. When we were finally called in for the interview, there was a gray-haired and balding man who was in a separate room from us. We were separated by what I assume was bullet-proof glass and there was a tiny depository to place requested "evidence" through if asked.

The man's eyes were huge when he saw me. He knew about the blizzard and had all of the paperwork showing my home as more than 700 miles away. From his facial expression, he knew what I had gone through to get there. "You must be Mrs. M," he said. I found it hard to talk, but forced a smile and said yes. There was only one seat, so I stood at the far end of the room while M sat down to be interviewed. I nervously held onto my coats with both hands, and had my thick packets of paperwork and evidence held close to my body. M held a paper shopping bag with pictures and other evidence he had brought from home. (There is strict security at the consulates and "candidates" are not allowed to use any type of bag, but open shopping bags. . . .)

The interview was short the Consular Officer (CO) asked M about how we met and how long we dated before getting married. M's answer was incorrect and I, without blinking said, "Oh no it wasn't! You called me the first time on ****, but we didn't go out for three months after that. You kept standing me up!" The consular officer giggled and M nervously followed suit. I have to laugh when I think about it, because after that the officer did not ask any more relationship related questions.

One of the things about the interview that made me very angry was that the officer bluntly asked me why it was that I could no live in Canada, instead of the United States. While I understand that this may not seem offensive to someone reading the story, it really offended me. For one thing, why in the world should this guy infer that I should have to leave the country instead of applying for my husband to immigrate to my home? I was legally entitled to apply. Second, how was it any of his business? At least that was what I was thinking. I just replied, "I am a Spanish teacher. In the United States, teaching Spanish is a critical needs field, at least in my state it is. Here, French is the necessary second language and I don't speak French. It would be very hard for me to work here or even live here. Also, my whole family is in the states, and his is in Pakistan."

The CO left the window for what seemed like forever. When he returned, he pulled out that hideous piece of paper that M had gotten from his parents. The officer said, "Where did you get this document." M told him about his attorney in Pakistan and his parents sending it from there.

"Well," said the man, "this is not what we are used to seeing from Pakistan. It is possible that this is valid, but we are not experts on Pakistani documents, so we wil be sending it to Islamabad for review."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Around me were a few tractor trailer trucks and a few pickups. Most of the pickups appeared to be government vehicles with orange lights on top. There were no more snow plows and the snow was coming down hard enough that it was difficult to see. As I drove I began to feel the car sliding intermittantly and it really did worry me. I was driving slowly, but it was becoming obvious that this was not enough. And then it happened, I felt the car start to spin. It was one of those moments that you try to remember everything that anyone has ever told you about defensive driving. I was repeating advice in my head frantically. I had just looked in my rear-view mirror and seen headlights behind me. . .big headlights.

The car came to a rest covering three-quarters of the two open lanes and I saw the headlights getting closer and closer, but I was unable to move. Like a miracle, the truck stopped just short of my car and gave me a moment to drive my car back to the right direction. The emotional damage was done and my heart was beating very quickly. I had two more spin-outs before I was able to find a hotel. I was on the phone with M crying. I was promising that I would get up early in the morning. I was less than two hours short of Montreal, but there was no way to make it that night. M was despondent and I knew that there was no way he was going to that interview if I didn't make it to Montreal in the morning.

I set my clock for 3:30 the next morning, and went to bed, it was impossible to sleep.


The next morning it was dark when I woke up. I had not packed a lot of my toiletries for the trip because I had duplicates of everything I needed at M's house in Montreal. I went down to the front desk and managed to procure toothpaste and men's deodorant. (As an aside, it is amazing the difference there is between men's and women's scents. I felt like I could smell myself for the whole morning after putting that stuff on!) I had been planning what I would wear to this interview for months. That sounds really silly even typing it now, but I had my outfit picked and planned to look amazing.

One of the things that always scare people about these interviews is the fact that the consular officer has an amazing amount of power over your life when you present yourself for one of these immigration interviews. They have the power to declare your marriage "fake," they have the power to slow things down terribly. I wanted there to be no doubt in this guy's mind that we were the real deal. That part of the interview would turn out to be the least of our worries.

I got in my car and got on the road. What a difference a few hours had made! I must say that the people who take care of the roads in New York mean business! The roads were as if it had never snowed. The only proof was the three feet lining each side of the road. I had no problem making it to the embassy only thirty minutes late for the scheduled interview. Lucky for me, the interviews NEVER happen at their scheduled time and I was more than two hours early. The look on M's face when I walked in was another moment I will never forget.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Memory Lane

I've been asked over and over why I didn't "cut and run" when everything started happening. . .why I didn't just give up. I would sit and remember things we did together before things happened in Pakistan. For example, we went through this phase where M would randomly pull a "movie moment."

One of our movie moments came when I visited M at work. It was raining very hard and I had just gotten off work. I changed out of my uniform and into regular clothes. I went to say hi and M was really excited to walk me out to my car. It was funny to see the expression on his face as he walked me out. I was trying to run to my car but he pulled me back to him. We're standing in the pouring rain when he pulled me close and kissed me. I could feel the rush even past the cold water running through my hair and drenching my clothes. Hundreds of memories (a little less cheesy than that) kept me waiting for him to return.