I am so very excited for this adventure to begin. It has been a bittersweet seven months leading up to my departure (which is happening very soon). I have grown a lot, and become much more self aware (thanks to the enneagram, the mystics and yoga) over the past year. I have also had a lot more free time to think about this trip and my expectations, or lack thereof, which has caused some internal discomfort as I am forced to face the fact that things change, and when I return, not only will I be different, but the people around me. Not only in their emotional and spiritual state, but their physical state. I will return to Nashville after most of my friends graduation, and so realizing that some of the people I love very dearly will not be residing in Nashville anymore is quite saddening. And over the past seven months I have also grown more and more excited about this unique and incredible opportunity that has led me into more gratefulness for whatever this adventure may hold. Though sometimes I oddly wish I had more strings tying me down to Nashville (a strange thing for an enneagram 7 to admit), the fact of the matter is I do not, and instead of always trying to change that, I am thankful for the freedom and willingness for spontaneity that has led me right back to Cape Town.
Even in the months leading up to my departure, I have learned some very valuable lessons, like humility, flexibility and patience. If I have talked to you about my trip since starting the visa process, you have probably heard me complain about the FBI. Well fourteen weeks, yes fourteen, that is three and a half months after submitting my fingerprints, I finally received the long awaited piece of paper stating I had no criminal history, a surprise to many I am sure. I received my background check on Monday, and on that Wednesday I was on a flight to DC to go to the South African Embassy to apply for my visa. Let it be known that to apply for a visa, you have to go to the Embassy/Consulate to apply in person. This means flights, hotels, ubers, the whole nine yards. So, I arrive to DC Wednesday evening, eat some vegetable korma because Indian food reminds me of South Africa and every Sunday my roommates and I at S-CAPE would make veggie curry. I wandered around for a bit, it was freezing but I saw a Christmas tree at the capitol building and that was pretty neat! In the morning, I awoke, walked the mile down Embassy Row to the South African Embassy building and patiently waited outside. And to those who know me, I was 30 minutes early, which may be the most absurd thing you have ever heard because I am never early anywhere! But I was and am serious about this visa. So I stood on the other side of the fence next to a monument of Nelson Mandela, sipping some now lukewarm coffee and reading Desmond Tutu. The clock strikes 8:30, I ring the little bell and I am directed inside the small warm room with rows of gray chair lining the wall. I was told to wait and they would call me up. It was only me in the little warm box of a room so I observed the lion photo on the wall for what felt like an eternity before hearing “ok, come in.” I was then directed to an even smaller and darker room where the visa man sat on the other side of a pane of glass. I pulled out my folder with every single document they had asked for, from bank statements, to a radiological x-ray. The man asked why I was there, I tell him “I am here to apply for a Charitable Activities Visa”, and he asked for the letter from S-CAPE inviting me to come. So I proudly handed it to him, and waited as he glanced at it. He then proceeded to ask me many questions and, in essence, told me that there is an unemployment crisis in South Africa (which I am indeed aware of), and that by volunteering I would be taking away potential jobs from South Africans. Now I understand where he is coming from, however, I tried to explain that S-CAPE relies on volunteers, and the position I am taking would never be a paid position, thus leaving me confused with his reasoning. But there was no convincing him otherwise. He told me I could apply for a visa extension once I am in the Republic, or I could just go for 90 days (which Americans can do without any visa). Frustrated, I left with all the unseen documents I had compiled, and walked back to my hotel in the cold, got on a plane and flew back to Atlanta discouraged and upset.
I called my wise friend, Hunter Wade, in the airport to tell her what had happened and as she always does, she pointed out some valuable opportunities to learn and grow. It was quite humbling for sure. As an American, a white, middle class, educated, straight, able bodied American, I have not been denied much in my life, especially when I have followed all the rules and done everything “right”. This is one of the most poignant moments for me realizing that this happens to so many individuals. People wanting to immigrate here to the states, or even simply visit their loved ones. Arbitrary reasoning and unnecessarily difficult procedures are routine in the visa process to enter the United States as well. And in that moment, I realized this is how most individuals feel: hopeless, powerless, frustrated, defeated. It was quite a sobering moment. South Africa owes me nothing, though I went in with the mindset of an easy visa process because why wouldn’t they give me visa? I followed the directions, I think I am pretty nice, I had good reason to to go, I have good intentions, I am not a criminal (the FBI even said so).
On the bright side however, I was told I can apply for an extension of my 90 days visa (which is automatically given to visa exempt countries) once I am in South Africa. This means some more money, waiting and bureaucracies, but I have a better chance of obtaining an extension that would allow me to stay in Cape Town for the full time I had anticipated. But it is hard being so uncertain! I want everything to be sorted now, but it simply cannot. My impatient nature is surfacing and it has been quite the practice of learning to let go of what I cannot control.
If you have made it to the end of this very long first blog post, thank you. I am a written processor as you can tell. I am excited to update yall as I begin my journey in a few short weeks! Hopefully next post will be me on Muizenberg beach with an extended visa because it is going to be SUMMERTIME in the southern hemisphere 😉