My motto in life has been, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I guess that sounds bleak because when I say it I often get a funny look, but for me it works. It reminds me that difficulties also bring blessings and growth and opportunities that you might not of found otherwise.
An example is when I was a very young, single mom of three very young children ages 2-5. A busy and difficult time when making ends meet was almost impossible. One Saturday when I was in the middle of the weekly laundry the washing machine made a funny noise and stopped. I felt as though I had no one to call, no money for a repair person and a pile of laundry to do. First thing I did was break down and cry, and then I opened the machine and took a look. Somehow I was able to figure out that an important screw had become loose. It screwed it back together and it worked! Never have I felt better about myself and 30 years later I still remember that evening so clearly.
I got tested again big time when I arrived at the airport last week to head back for a long anticipated trip to Seattle. It had been 8 months since I had last seen my family and friends in the USA, much longer than I had planned on being away. The only downer was a couple of days before I left we found out that John wouldn’t be able to join me in 3-4 weeks as we had hoped, but it might be 8 weeks before he was able to get home. The news was weighing heavily on me. Being together in Vietnam is great, but being alone is difficult. The days drag by and the evenings are harder. My heart hurt for him being alone for so long.
Back to the test, the short story is that my visa had expired and I couldn’t leave until I pay for the time I have been staying here illegally. When living in a country that you aren’t a residence of, a visa is so important. Only the most daft person forgets to renew her visa.
And now for the long story. My visa expired on April 1, 2015. Somehow both John and I thought we had renewed it to correspond with his B1 work permit which expires in December. I checked my visa about 3 weeks before I was to fly and realized that I had not renewed the visa as I thought I had. This started a long chain of events. To make things more difficult I realized this right before we moved to a new home, and because we have to have a permit for the new house we were a little nervous about trying to explain the move along with getting my visa extended without complicating the permit for the new place.
Once we got the moved settled, John went in to talk to the immigration department here in Hai Phong. They were tacking on a bunch of fees which were probably legit but it seemed like they were just trying to get as much extra as possible. Things are different here. It isn’t so much that they have the extra fees, but it is the way they ask for them. There isn’t anything written down on what the fees are; so it feels like they decide case by case how much they will charge.
After doing some research online and realizing that I could get a 3 month visa on my return which would expire at the same time as John’s 12 month visa, John asked the head of the department if it was ok if I just left the country, and got a 3 month visa instead of getting the annual visa. Our thought was that it would be a little bit cheaper that way. This is where the communication broke down. The official said that would be fine, but he failed to mention that I would still need to back pay for the time I was here without a visa. It all makes sense now – of course I need to pay for that time. Unfortunately we only heard, “Sure, the 3 month visa is fine, apply for that in the US before Dawn returns.”
How did this all come to a head? I left our home in Hai Phong after a long sad day of saying goodbye to John around 7:30 pm for the three hour drive to the airport. Halfway there I realized I was still in my slippers, leaving my only pair of everyday shoes at home in the teary blur of goodbyes. Arriving at the airport I got my two large suitcases and two carry ons into line to check in and waited about 30 minutes to work my way to the front. Once there I realized the agent was going over and over my passport looking at the many visas I have and not finding what she wanted. I tried to explain the situation but she said I needed to talk to immigration. I still had 90 minutes before the flight left so I felt we could work things out. That was not the case. The immigration officials were very appalled that my visa was that far expired and wouldn’t hear of allowing me to pay my fees there, even after pleas from my husband and the US Embassy. Once again I had a good cry and then found a taxi to take me for the 3 hour taxi ride back to Hai Phong.
Things happen for a reason, right? Although this was all my fault I have learned a lot already from the experience. I think there is some reason I am supposed to be here for a few more weeks. John and I have been enjoying the surprising cool days as the monsoon season sweeps in and I have had a huge lesson in humility and learning to abide by the rules.