Wishing Blessings on the Refugees

I was humbled, humbled, when I heard this poor Syrian man—a “white shirt man,” he said (he meant white collar worker)—break down on NPR as he talked about being a stranded migrant worker in Greece, trying to get to the UK … and in impeccable English.

He said, “If someone is looking for someone who speaks Syrian and English, with a background in finance …” He was so gracious and hopeful, speaking to the American woman who was interviewing him. He needed her—and through her, us, the world beyond that beach in Greece—to understand that things weren’t what they appeared.

I know, I think, how he feels.

When I was first a single mom checking groceries in a Piggly Wiggly, I had to stifle myself to keep from saying to every customer, “This job is not who I am.” Because, you know, we humans, we judge what we see on the surface. It embarrasses me to say this about myself, that I thought I was better than that job checking groceries; I’ve grown some since then. But when it first happens to you—like this man, trying to say, “I wore suits to work. I supported my family”—it’s hard to believe that you’ve found yourself in this circumstance. It’s hard to believe when you find yourself eating crackers to survive, as he was in that moment.

It hit me very hard—the tragedy of this situation (the man’s wife and child are waiting in Syria; he hopes to get to England, to get a job and bring them into the country legitimately, on an airplane). But also the embarrasment I feel now for being the me who worked at the Piggly Wiggly, who thought she was too special and smart to check groceries. (Oh, I had a lot of growing to do, I must say.) The shame I feel for only speaking one language. And the gratitude I have, in every fiber of my being, for the pure luck of being where I am right now—cool and clean and well fed and employed and happy.

I drove down South Church Street, weeping.

Then this photo turned up on the interwebs.

Tears of relief. They are together and safe and out of Syria.

Tears of relief. They are together and safe and out of Syria. But they have no home.

This is not the same man as the one I heard interviewed. But it is the embodiment of the old saw about a picture being worth a thousand words. It truly is. I don’t know how anyone could look on this and not cry, even without knowing this man’s story. (In fact, his tears are ones of relief, that they made it out of Syria, he and his wife and two children, and are relatively safe. Here are two stories about it.)

My heart is breaking for these people who have had their lives disrupted by war. If you want to have your heart broken (and you should), have a look at these photos. (In the link to the NPR story, you can read a transcription of the interview, but I strongly urge you to listen, to hear the voices and the tears.)

These two stories—the man on NPR and the man in the photo—embody two approaches. Some, like the first man, leave wives and children behind; they know the trip will be arduous and full of uncertainties. They hope to send for their loved ones after they’ve prepared a place for them. Others, like the man in the photo, are afraid to leave anyone behind. Can you blame them? But both ideas make sense to me.

I wish and hope that this crisis is resolved soon. I pray that the men will find work in their new countries and that they will be safe and welcomed. I am thankful, so thankful, for my own good fortune—which is nothing more than an accident of birth.


Like the La Brea Tar Pit

Waaaaaaaait … I was telling a friend about the Great Immigration Adventure, and when I got to the part about whistling past the National Visa Center graveyard, I had a brain fart. I was going to be in Dublin in two weeks (the June trip). What if … what if I just walk in to the U.S. Embassy and … ask?

It doesn’t hurt to ask, right? And I have firsthand experience that “Sometimes Things Work Out” if you ask. I promulgated this theory to our attorney, and was astonished, a little, when she said she thought it was a good idea. “Let’s meet next week. I’ll coach you on what to say and give you the files,” she said.

Then, as it turns out, that next week—the week before I left—the computer got unstuck, she was able to make the payment digitally, and it was acknowledged. That was 8 June 2015. So we abandoned our plan for me to go into the embassy and beg.

Seven weeks later—the wheels of the Immigration Service grind exceedingly slow—on 28 July, Gerry received this message from the National Visa Center:

All documentation necessary to complete the National Visa Center’s processing of your case has been received. As soon as an interview date has been scheduled, the applicant, petitioner and attorney (if applicable) will be notified.

The applicant should NOT make any travel arrangements, sell property, or give up employment until the US Embassy or Consulate General has issued a visa.

The US Embassy or Consulate General may require additional documentation at the time of the interview.

So … this is good news. But don’t get too excited—we must wait, now, for that interview to be scheduled. And here’s what our Internet friends at Hammond Law Group say:

Once your immigrant visa (green card) case is finished being processed by the (National Visa Center) NVC, you will receive a letter … Once the NVC has completed that process, it notifies the appropriate consulate that the case is ready to be scheduled for an interview, and sends this letter to the applicant advising the case has reached the point at which it is ready to be transferred to the consulate.

The interview is normally scheduled within 30 to 60 days after this letter is issued. The reason the NVC letter says do not make travel arrangements, sell property, or give up employment is that the NVC does not know when the consulate is going to schedule the interview, and does not want the applicant to think the interview will happen immediately. There is no guarantee the interview will happen that soon (not to mention another retrogression sets in, moving the dates back), so they don’t want the applicant giving up property or jobs, etc., until they are sure the interview is going to take place.

If you receive this letter and then do not receive an interview notice within 60 days, you should follow up with the NVC just to make sure you have not missed any communication from them about the interview.

Notice that part about the retrogression. We’ve already experienced one of those during our process.

Now, if you’re keeping track at home, sixty days from the time we received the letter puts us to 28 September—the day before I’m set to depart for Dublin for our wedding celebration on 3 October. Gerry could get an interview appointment while I’m on the plane back to Dublin.

After the party, we’re planning a little honeymoon in Donegal. It’s a five-hour drive from Dublin. We’re hoping, of course, that the interview will happen before I arrive. So we’re thinking good thoughts and hope you will too …

But we’re not going to speculate. If the interview gets set for time we’re scheduled to be in Donegal, we’ll just put Gerry on a regional airline in Donegal Town and he can go straight to the Embassy from the airport. If he “passes” the interview (and he will, of course), he’ll be given the provisional visa right then, on the spot.

So we’re moving forward … and we still don’t know a thing! Not a thing! It’s a little like being stuck in the tar pit … 🙂

Let’s Talk About Driving on the “Wrong” Side of the Road

This is the question I get asked more than any other. Is it hard? Is it scary? I didn’t really think about it in those terms, the first time I had to drive in Europe, because Gerry doesn’t drive (yet), so I really had no choice.

When I answer this question, I say: No, it’s not hard at all—because everyone else is driving on the left too. It’s easy to just follow the crowd. You adjust very quickly, I’ve found. However, at the end of the day don’t be surprised if you are more exhausted than you expected to be. Why? You are driving an unfamiliar car, in an unfamiliar place (and you want to look!), and your concentration is fierce, because you’re driving on the left side. You’ll be tired, trust me.

That said, I’ve been thinking about advice for American drivers who might want to rent a car in Ireland.

  • Rent something small. It will be easier for you.
  • How many times will you go to the door on the left side of the car before you figure out the driver sits on the right? I still do it occasionally.
  • Make sure your seat is comfortable and your mirrors adjusted before you leave the rental car lot. (I have actually had to return a car before I ever left, due to the difficulty with shifting gears and the way the seat was situated.) Familiarize yourself with everything you’ll need: wipers, lights, and so on. Where the gas tank is.
  • Most of the cars being rented in Ireland these days utilize auto stop-start technology, so, no, your car didn’t die while you were stopped at that red light. When you take your foot off the brake, the engine will start right up!
  • Yes, you’ll be changing gears or shifting with your left hand. Everything is flipped. You’ll get used to it.
  • Remember that driving lanes and streets are noticeably narrower than what you are used to (thus the recommendation to choose a small car).
  • Place you are most likely to drift back to the wrong side: in the parking lot, leaving the parking lot. So pay attention.
  • Be extra cautious at first. It’s OK, they’re used to tourists. Remember that a left turn in Ireland is like a right turn in the States: easy peasy. Those Irish right turns, though, you’re gonna have to wait for the light.
  • Don’t feel rushed, especially when parking and leaving parking. Watch the locals! Everything’s tight here, so there will be lots of times when you’re going to have to wait for someone or they’re going to have to wait for you. When people are parked on both sides of the road so there’s only room for one car down the middle, look ahead: there may be someone waiting for you to come through. This is how it works.
  • Be courteous, pull over if you’re slowing a lot of folks down on a two-lane road with no passing opportunities.
  • Distances are measured in kilometers, not miles (5 miles = 8 kilometers). Speed-limit signs and your speedometer are too (if the speed limit is marked 100km, that’s 62mph). Sometimes a narrow, winding road is marked for a pretty fast speed; do not feel that you must drive that fast! Just remember the “be courteous” rule.
  • Always use your turn signals.
  • Take a little practice run. From the Dublin Airport, get on the M-1 and head north to Swords, then get off at the R-106 and head east to Malahide. You can follow the R-106 along the coast back toward Dublin. There are plenty of places to pull over and enjoy the sea view. Once you’ve had this practice, turn on your GPS when you’re ready to get started.
  • Freeways (the M- roads, which are usually numbered with single digits) will be easiest. They’re divided, like American interstates, with controlled on- and off-ramps. After that, use the highways (N-roads, double digits). But sooner or later you’re going to find yourself on R-roads (triple digits), which is when things get exciting.
  • When driving on the freeway, slow traffic should be in the left (outer) lanes; you’ll pass on the right. Again, everything is flipped from what you’re used to.
  • In the States we see the broken yellow line down the center of a road, with a solid yellow line marking the the edge—in Ireland, this is opposite (though the center line will be broken if you can pass). Very often you will see a road with the line painted down the center, even though you could swear that’s a one-lane road. You’re not mistaken: two cars probably can’t pass side by side without one or both of them dropping onto the shoulder. They’re just playin’ wit’ yer head. But don’t feel you have to drive all squished up to the left—go ahead and take your half in the middle unless there’s a car coming from the opposite direction. 🙂
  • If you want to look at something or if you’re confused, pull over.
  • No false pride: you’re gonna bump the left curb sometimes. Can’t be helped.
  • Signage is pretty good for getting places (but not for street signs; they are not where you expect them to be). GPS is helpful, but our Garmin has gotten it wrong once or twice. So listen to the GPS but don’t turn off your brain; watch the signs. (Here’s an overview of what Irish signage looks like.)
  • It doesn’t hurt to have a paper map book on hand either.
  • There will be very clear signage as you approach the roundabout, so LOOK AT IT. Your GPS will say “take second exit [from the roundabout]” but what this really means is “go straight through.” You’ll see. If you miss your exit, just go around again. Drive in the inner lane until you’re ready to exit, then move left.
  • As with American signage, it helps to know the next town along your route when you are reading signs on the fly. Thus an alert navigator is helpful. 🙂
  • Most importantly at roundabouts, pause and look right and be prepared to yield. Traffic is coming from the right.
  • Don’t be misled by those triangles painted on the street. They are not arrows, they are not “pointing the way.” (Don’t follow them!) They are inverted. Triangles mean YIELD. There is lots of yielding in Ireland.
  • In a large city like Dublin, you’ll encounter cab and bus lanes when there are two or more lanes headed the same direction. These will be on the left, clearly marked. They are reserved for cabs and buses; you may only drive in them when you need to make a left turn.
  • Take frequent breaks when traveling cross country. Pull over in a lay-by or in the next village, and get out and stretch your legs. Better yet, have a cup of tea before you get back to driving.

The most important thing is to relax, take it easy, and don’t get in a rush. You’ll be fine. Have a good time. 🙂


Going Down the Country

I’m starting to think about Ireland … again … because in less than two months I’ll be there again. You see, we’re throwing a Dublin dinner party to celebrate our marriage … and Gerry’s retirement … and his emigration to the United States.

Think about that. Whew.

The party’s at a beautiful hotel in Portmarnock, a village north of Dublin. It’s right on the beach, and can feel like it’s a world away from the big city. But in point of fact, it’s still in County Dublin, and that country village “feel” is only an illusion. Portmarnock is close enough to Dublin that my nieces take their grandmother to the hotel for afternoon tea.

It’s a beautiful site. You’ll love it.

Still, it’s definitely going to be a “country” trip this time: we’re going to take a little honeymoon after the party. I’ve written a lot about Dublin recently, but I wanted to see something different. So we’re going down the country, as they say in Ireland. To the wild, wild west.

To start, County Donegal. We’ll visit the Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal Town, and also Galway City. If you’ve been paying attention to my travel philosophy, this is my preference: pick a region and see it thoroughly, rather than driving all over the place.

We’ll head back to Dublin to take care of some business, and then … we’ll come home. Maybe we’ll come home together. Right now it’s too soon to say.

Rock Paper Scissors …

The version of Rock Paper Scissors that happens at our house is Dove Robin Bluejay:


Dove beats robin,
Bluejay beats dove,
Robin beats bluejay
(but only because bluejay don’t care).

A friend of mine says this reminds her of poetry. I’ve written some of that, and maybe I’ll post it one of these days. We’ll see. 🙂