Ok, so I lied. You did have to wait longer for this one. What can I say. Well, a lot as you might imagine.
Much has happened since last I wrote. Of course. Before I get to the new (and oh is there new), I will share my travels to my ancestral homeland in July.
Slovakia. Ahh..I love the syllables. Four. I counted. Not the kind of country you can say quickly. You pause. Letting the sounds rest on your tongue. Like savoring a square of deep dark chocolate. Allow it to melt. Contemplate the complexity, appreciate the richness. Finished with a sigh *ahh* on the out breath.
My cousin Roman describes the difference between the Czech and Slovak languages in the way of cadence. Czech is spoken with a continual rise in intonation until the end of a sentence, like climbing to the zenith of a mountain peak, over and over. Slovak is spoken with the cadence of one strolling over the hills and valleys of the Orava region. Picture a sine graph, rising and falling like the gentle sounds of a bubbling brook. In one word, soothing.
Imagine: fields of sunflowers with upturned faces. Rugged mountain peaks. Wide river valleys. Cliff top castles. Alpine cottages. Accordion serenaded garden parties. Central/Eastern European life, post-communism. Roman Catholicism. Slovak. Beautiful family and friends.
Slovaki-wha? Don’t be ashamed if you just looked up Goggle maps to locate this gem of a country. You aren’t the only one.
Niall: “How is Slovenia today?”
Kenni: “You mean Slovakia?”
Niall: “Yeah, that’s what I said, Serbia.”
My journey to Slovakia is a complex one, yet fundamentally so simple. A desire to unearth a lost branch of my family.
Last summer (2010) I was conducting family research. Easier said than done when the majority of your family comes from a non-English speaking part of the world. Identity is central to my studies at university (Naropa University, www.naropa.edu). What better place to start than to unravel the multi-colored quilt of my own?
Psenak. Most if not all of you, know how to pronounce my surname. It’s unique (until I found a village of Psenaks in Slovakia, but more on that later). Growing up with an unfamilar surname was a blessing and a burden at times. (Often compounded by being a girl named Kenni. Thanks Mom and Dad. It built character, I’m sure. ) Mispronunciations are common, only to be expected. “Pisshnack?”
But on the brighter side, I can categorically say I am the only Kenni Psenak in the world. I think that’s quite nice, although I was always a little sad when doing name meanings, family crests and such in school. My teacher would invariably come back with a sympathetic look and “sorry, we can’t find any information on your name.”
But I did.
The next bit is a bit dense. Family trees tend to be that way.
Back to last summer. I had been scouring online for information on my Dad’s family for months when I brought a packet of printed out documents to my Grandfather with information on the birthplace and immigration of his father, John (Jan) Psenak. My Grandfather had always been told that his parents were from Czechoslovakia (Mother) and Austria (Father). After wading through countless ship manifests and naturalization, census and draft records I found my Great Grandfather Psenak. According to the documents, my Great Grandfather Psenak was born in Medzibrogy, Hungary which at the time was part of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, later found in Czechoslovakia and finally a small village in the Orava region of northern Slovakia. I was elated.
I brought the information to my Grandfather and shared while my cousin was visiting. We began asking my Grandfather more about his elusive Mother’s family, the Pohancenys, the ultimate mystery. All that my Grandfather knew, was that his Mother (Margaret Pohanceny) immigrated to the US with her family from Czechoslovakia. As a teenager in Ohio, she returned home to an empty house and suspected that her father, stepmother, and baby half sister had returned to Czechoslovakia, leaving both her and her younger sister Josephine in Ohio.
My Grandfather also mentioned a cousin Don (son of his Mother’s sister Josephine) that my Great Grandmother briefly raised in Ohio after the death of her beloved sister (Josephine).
Fortified with this new information, my cousin began to search for my Grandfather’s cousin Don (the only one we knew of) somewhere in the US. Serendipitously she found him. Not only did she find Don Sole, she found a newsletter he had written about his search for his mother’s family (my Great Grandmother Margaret Pohanceny’s family). Lo and behold, they were alive and well in the village my Great Grandmother grew up, Medvedzie, Slovakia (once part of Czechoslovakia) a stone’s throw from the village of my Great Grandfather Jan Psenak.
My aunt contacted Don and a whole new family blossomed across the US and Slovakia. My Grandfather’s aunts (including the baby half sister that was born in the US) were recently passed, but the descendants (my Grandfather’s first cousins and children) were living in Slovakia, mostly in or near Medvedzie. Don had been in contact with the family for the past decade, including multiple trips to visit. All that had been missing from Don’s research were the whereabouts of our family, the descendants of Magaret (Margita) Pohanceny (Pohancena). Like the final piece of a jigsaw, the puzzle finally made sense.
I, of course, started to plot.
Not in the sinister evil doer sort of plot (I watched “Despicable Me” for the second time last night), more the “how do I work travelling to Slovakia to visit my family into my studies?” sort of way. As you do. I’m sure everyone has been there.
I found a way.
A year ago, my aunt put me in touch with Don’s family and from there in touch with the family in Slovakia. Specifically, the brilliant Roman. My cousin of the same generation, the sole fluent English speaker of our family in Slovakia. Not only was Roman absolutely indispensable as translator, guide, event coordinator and general wealth of information, we soon found that we had much more in common than mere blood. I could not have asked for a better resource or friend once I reached Slovakia. Thank you Roman.
I spent last fall semester drafting and implementing my master plan:
1) Take Spring 2011 semester to fulfil independent study and Honors Directed Research and Reading credits for my interdisciplinary studies
2)Complete these studies abroad while being enrolled 6 credit hours
3)Spend the semester (Jan-April 2011) studying Odissi Classical Indian and Kalbeliya Gypsy dance in India (independent study of devotional dance and folkloric dance) and Honors Directed Reading of Performance as a Means of Social Change in the Balkans
4)Leave India and follow the Roma migration from India into Eastern Europe conducting research (Honors Directed Research)
5)First stop; Turkey May 2011
6)From Turkey overland into Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and finally Slovakia June 2011
7)Visit family in Slovakia July 2011
8)Return to Boulder Aug 2011
9)Back to Naropa Fall 2011
As you might gather from previous posts, steps 6,8 and 9 were a bit compromised by the introduction of a certain tall, dark, handsome Irishman. As he likes to say, “the best laid plans….” (Robert Burns)
Instead of continuing to travel through Turkey and up through the Balkan Peninsula, I found myself in the Channel Islands. Soon to feel unwelcome by the immigration authorities and left with no choice but to leave and resume step 7 of the Master Plan.
Enough background. Feel free to comb through previous posts to fill in any holes. If after that there are still glaring omissions and you are like me and like to know the details……. tough luck.
So there I was, July 6th, 2011 leaving Jersey in the Channel Islands and flying into Bratislava, Slovakia. Completely unprepared. I had been resolute about learning Slovak before reaching Slovakia, yet all I managed to accomplish was the ability to count to 10, say hello and notice the similarities with Russian (which I took a year of). Not even “thank you.” It was a bit pathetic. On top of it all, this was my first venture into continental Europe. I must be in a very select club of North American people whose first taste of Europe is Slovakia.
I was a combustible mixture of terror and elation upon arrival in Slovakia. I felt honored to be the first of my Grandfather Psenak’s family to return. I also felt the weight of that responsibility. In the taxi from the airport to my hotel in down town Bratislava, it was all I could do not to break down into a sobbing basket case in the back seat. Not because I was sad to leave Niall in Jersey (which I was), not because I am scared to travel on my own (which I’m not), not because the driver was playing terrible techno club music (which unfortunately he was) but because I remembered the little girl I had once been. Dreaming of finding family on the other side of the world, about as far away from Palmer, Alaska as you could possibly get.
As I gazed up at the beautiful, rubenesque moon that night, filling the sky above Bratislava with warm lunar light, tears silently escaped the confines of my normally less sentimental tear ducts. Tears for my Great Grandmother Maragret who never knew what became of her parents. Tears for my Grandfather who has never met his family or seen the land of his parents. And tears for the little girl I once naively was. The one who dreamt of one day travelling to the land in her imagination where Psenak is easy to pronounce and family mysteries would be easily revealed. She was soon to discover that she was the one pronouncing Psenak incorrectly and family mysteries only deepen.
As cliche as it sounds, I genuinely could feel the embrace of the land of my ancestors. I knew I was home.
I’d like to think it was the spirit of the land and not the familiar stop signs in English. Or cars driving on the right side of the road. Or the friendly hotel clerk looking at my passport in confusion. “You are from Alaska? But you have a Slovak name.”
These were my impressions of Slovakia, night one. I still had another two weeks of exploring Bratislava (attempting to walk to Vienna, not the brightest idea), meeting beautiful family in Orava, eating meat for the first time in over three years (sausage no less), wandering the old church cemetery looking for relatives, drinking whisky at 11 am (quickly followed by being pissed by 3 pm), speaking with gestures and smiles, soaking up the mountains, and learning the essentials of Slovak (pivo, vino, klobasa, dakujem, dobry den: beer, wine, sausage, thank you, and hello respectively sans the appropriate accents. Not necessarily in order of importance).
Well, I’ve written quite a lot without actually saying much. This must mean Part I is finished. In that case, I’ll leave you with a bit of food for thought.
I had a frightening realization while residing at Hotel Kyjev in Bratislava. Although my room was on the 17th floor, I rarely took the elevator. I made a point of taking the stairs. Some would interpret this as a phobia of elevators. If only it was so easy. Unfortunately, it’s a symptom of something much more sinister. *Cue old black and white horror film close up of a woman holding her face and screaming: I am becoming my mother.
I’m beginning to think like her. Don’t take the elevator, take the stairs. It’s good for your butt, she whispers in my ear. Thanks Mom. For those of you who know my Mom, you understand my concern. Just kidding. No really.
Perhaps it was foresight. The next two weeks did consist of large amounts of sausage, beer, gulas (pronounced gulash) and kolace (pronounced kolachies, pastries). I needed all the help I could get to keep those fatty calories off said bum.
But I digress. Next instalment will be sure to cover three very important things:
1) whether Kenni could still fit in her jeans when leaving Slovakia
2) how she lost a new pair of sunglasses the same way as the previous pair in Turkey
3) how absolutely extraordinary it was to finally meet the Pohancenys and the Psenaks
Stay tuned. But don’t hold your breath. Soon, I promise part II will come soon.
Life as a Bohemian (in the late 19th century Parisian sense as well as being of the land of Bohemia) is not always easy. Exciting, adventurous, soul awakening, and colorful but never easy. Perhaps that’s what draws me to the lifestyle, if I really have a choice in the matter (which I’m beginning to think that I don’t). The ever changing and shifting experiences. Spontaneity. Surprise. I like to think it keeps me sharp. Always ready for what’s next. I get bored easily. I like the challenges. It keeps me alive. It’s also exhausting. Sometimes I wish that I could be content with something easy, normal. Not enough to actually try to live normally, but sometimes it’s a nice thought.
Even my new significant other recognizes the absurdity of my life that I seem to conveniently forget about. After an official Facebook designation of “complicated” in our relationship status, I hesitantly asked him “what exactly do you mean by ‘complicated?’”
He laughed. “Well it is complicated isn’t it? I mean, not how we feel about each other, but we don’t exactly live in the same country, let alone be from the same part of the world. You are travelling as a nomad and I live in one place with a nine-to-five job.”
And my response was “So?”
What I have taken for granted as the continually convoluted ‘of course the universe has a sense of humor’ aspects of my life, such as meeting and falling for a phenomenal man while on an island in India (of course) who just happens to be from another island, Ireland ( of course) but working on yet another small island off of the coast of France (of course) while I am still nomadically travelling (of course) with the intention of heading back to school in Boulder eventually (of course) is not exactly normal as Niall so insightfully pointed out. I won’t let those little hiccups get in the way.
My life is anything but simple. But I am beginning to think I wouldn’t be happy with simple.
Therefore, I won’t get married for a visa.
Yes, I know it’s a bit sensationalist (yet true) and I am missing a great chunk of the narrative. No you have not missed a crucial posting that would explain this new and flabbergasting plunge into the reflections of a Beloved Nomad who obviously abhors the thought of being bullied into a corner by immigration authorities, even nice ones.
This is a brand new chapter of the ever changing plans and journey of my not so simple life.
It began during a lightning storm with a gorgeous man on an island in India and it continues in directions and to places that I could never have expected nor dreamed. This is love. It sweeps you up in a great zephyr regardless of what path you had previously been following. It’s exciting. It’s giddy. It’s like being at the top of a rollercoaster when the butterflies decide to come alive in your belly. It’s watching the sky being painted by the rays of the sun rise over the sapphire ocean. It’s dark chilli chocolate after 6 months of Indian milk sweets. It’s a sunset walk on the beach with linked hands. Belly laughs and sore cheeks from face splitting smiles. It’s a field of sunflowers in the countryside of my ancestors. It’s beauty. Laska. Love.
I left India in May in a state of nervous excitement. This new person had made a grand entrance into my already mercurial life. Of course I had plans. I always have plans. I always have a direction. Mostly I know which way I am headed, but I won’t know how I got there until I look back and reflect on the path my feet followed. I let my heart be my guide as much as my head. There must be balance. To follow my impulses while also honouring reason. (I acknowledge my reasoning is probably much different than say, my Dad’s). To me, it all makes sense. Sometimes it takes me a little reflection to make it all make sense for others, but I am genuinely happy with where I have been and where I dream of going.
Back to Niall. Niall. I’m still not quite sure how much I want to share yet. I tend to be a little superstitious. There are some things I refuse to say out loud for fear they will change the outcome of what the future will bring. Knock on wood. Call me old fashioned. Or ridiculous. Please bear with me.
May 2011. I left India for Turkey. While I was still on the beach in Havelock, Niall booked us into a resort in Antalya, Turkey. Five nights in Turkey followed by a long weekend in London. My eyes welled up when he asked if I would want to spend these holidays with him, his treat. I’ve never experienced such generosity. We spent the intermittent month between India and Turkey writing witty (definitely his) emails and making (expensive, again for him) international phone calls. I felt a bit like a love sick teenager.
I was nervous about seeing him again in Turkey. What if he doesn’t feel the same? What if it’s awkward? What if I’m not as attractive as he remembers? What if he’s not as handsome as I remember? What if what if what if?
I arrived at the resort first. Let me just say, wow. I have never stayed in a big resort. I didn’t quite know what to expect. I was definitely overwhelmed and a bit culture shocked from the previous 5 months in India. I am sure I am the only person to show up at this resort with a backpack. A dirty one at that. Probably filled with cockroaches from my last train journey. I sure as hell hoped not, I thought. I remembered the ones crawling out of Vanessa’s backpack in Mumbai and I hoped like crazy I didn’t carry similar stowaways. I would be mortified.
I checked into the resort and headed up to the room. Again wow. Ocean views over a big beautiful jacuzzi and balcony looking down at the pool and water slides! Niall picked this one for the slides. What a great qualifier for a good resort. Water slides. I threw my bags down and danced around the room. I felt a little bit like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” except for the whole hooker thing of course. Lowly Indian backpacker, to plush resort in Turkey. I don’t know what I did to deserve this.
All of the fears and what ifs dissolved as soon as Niall walked in. Tall, handsome, smiling, golden eyed Niall. If I can speak for the both of us (I’ll be sure to ask him), the weekend was amazing. We lazed by the pool (I burned while he slept), played on the kiddie slides (why not? There’s no age limit and we met the height requirement), ate copious amounts of food, dived in extraordinarily (compared to the Andamans) boring waters, and laughed, talked, had couples massages, and shagged the days away. (It’s true and it’s my blog, so sue me).
On our last day at the resort together we went diving. The owner of the company after watching us giggling and teasing away and taking photos of each other in our wetsuits, came up and asked if we were newlyweds. Embarrassed, we said no. Then he turned to Niall and said “her eyes glow when she looks at you. This is your chance. You are a lucky man. She is in love. Don’t let her go.” Niall was flustered and I felt caught out. Damn, I’m not very good at hiding my feelings, but what can I say, it was true.
Niall left Antalya the day before I did, to head back to work. The inconveniences of having a job. After the resort stay in Turkey, Niall booked me a round trip flight to London and back to Turkey for the weekend so I could continue my travelling (incredibly generous and thoughtful). I was ridiculously excited for London. The last time I had been, I was 15 and on a school trip. Much different experience I would expect.
Again I left the resort with my backpack and a query about the public bus stand (“you want to take a publicbus?”) to get to the airport in another city. Breaking stereotypes and assumptions, that’s me.
I left Turkey with a small hesitant (and a bit presumptuous I was later told by Niall haha) thought that it might be a while before I came back. I knew I had a return ticket but a niggling feeling told me there was a possibility that I might not be on the flight. Just a hunch.
London. Unprepared to answer immigration’s questions about where I was staying while here.
“My boyfriend has the reservation. It’s somewhere on Oxford Street.”
“There are a lot of hotels on Oxford Street. Where is your boyfriend?”
“Getting off another plane….”
“Can you call him?”
“My phone doesn’t work here.”
I whipped out the Lonely Planet and picked a likely one. “Piccadilly Backpackers.”
“You’re staying at Piccadilly Backpackers?” Raised eyebrow.
My most innocent cheerful smile. “Ah, yes.”
Stamp. 6 month visitor visa.
After a brief moment of worry that we wouldn’t find each other at the airport, we were back together again. This time in the official boyfriend, girlfriend sort. Still how strange to say. London through the eyes of someone who has lived here in this great big metropolitan city, was great. I forgot how much I missed being able to understand others. Although, granted there are some English accents that are just as hard to decipher as Hindi or Turkish.
It began to feel a little like normal life. No swimsuits or beaches. Still a holiday, but this one had more clothing involved. (He’s just as handsome in street clothes as swimming trunks, lucky me). The movies, the theatre (Wicked!), pubs, museum days, and meeting friends. You can read a lot about a person by seeing how they interact with their friends. I fall for Niall more each time I see him around those that love him. It’s probably the stronger Irish accent that emerges with drink and friendly banter that gets me.
Over the weekend, Niall asked if I would want to come over to Jersey and stay with him for a bit. I told him I thought there had been a chance that he would ask.
“A bit presumptuous are we,” he smiled while my cheeks burned.
“We could do a one week trial run and see how it goes from there. I know you mentioned you needed to find a job before continuing your travels, so why not do it in Jersey? You would have a place to stay and it will be easy to get a work visa.” (Famous last words as it were).
How could I argue with that logic? Of course I said yes. I did need a job. My original plan was to head back to Turkey and find a job teaching English or being a nanny. Why not go to Jersey? Who was I kidding, I wanted to be near him.
We arrived in Jersey and headed straight to the ER. Niall had contracted a terrible chest infection the last night in London, (not doubt attributed to a little flu bug I picked up in India) and due to his already over taxed immune system from an accident and travelling, developed pneumonia. We holed up in the house for the next 10 days and I played nurse and attempted to tackle his bachelor pad. Beer in the veggie crisper, “you’re suppose to put what there?” “Veggies.” “I heard you, I just don’t know what those are…” haha funny how opposites attract.
The first night he handed me a brand new loofah that he said he bought me. “But you haven’t left the house since we arrived?”
“I bought it before I went to London thinking there was a chance you might come over to Jersey…..” with a shy smile.
“A bit presumptuous are we?” With butterflies in my tummy, I smiled.
The one week review came and went with “let’s see how it goes for another week.”
I find myself on a small island off of the coast of France. Living the quaint English life. Small streets. Pounds. Celsius. Really having to pay attention before I cross a street. Accents. Pubs. Learning to appreciate tennis. And Niall. This beautiful soul that has opened his home to me and invited me into his life. Wow.
The second weekend we flew to Dublin for a party for one of Niall’s college buddies, or mates (see, I’m learning yet another language). More great friends, more fun, more wandering around museums (Frieda Kahlo exhibit!), and more falling in love. He showed my around the small village he use to live while working in Dublin. He brought me into the local Catholic Church (I didn’t burst into flames, thankfully. That would have been embarrassing) and introduced me to good people. While dancing away in a pub to the last set of a DJ friend of Niall’s, another friend came up and whispered in his ear. I watched his face turn red and of course I asked what had been said. He mumbled at first, feigning nonchalance and said he’d tell me later. (It was loud and hard to have a conversation anyway). So of course the next morning I remembered and asked.
“Damn you and your good memory. He said something to the effect that ‘if you two aren’t in love I don’t know what love is.’” Niall said sheepishly. I just responded with a thoughtful “hmmm.”
After we returned to Jersey, I decided it was time to look into the logistics of getting a job. I mean, it can’t be that hard, right? Niall had informed me that Jersey wasn’t part of the EU and that everyone has to have a work permit. Simple.
I walked into the social security office with my inquiry. The lady at the desk politely directed me to the customs house. “Oh you’re American (as if I was from Antarctica) you’ll have to see if you qualify over at customs.” Not knowing what that meant, I walked over to the customs building. Again with my inquiry. “Just a moment and someone from immigration will call you in.” Immigration?
I sat patiently, dressed nicely in Western clothes, well maybe one scarf from India, but no one would know that. And I do have my nose pierced, but my septum ring was tucked up. I didn’t look quite the bohemian that I normally am. “Miss Psenak?” I was brought into a little room and sat at a desk across from two friendly looking immigration officers.
“What brings you in here?”
Sweet, innocent, and naively me. “Well, I’m not sure exactly. I’m trying to figure out what I would need to do to work here. I’m over visiting my boyfriend who works here. Do I need a more permanent visa? The lady from social security sent me.”
“Where are you from?”
“The States.” (Mostly I say Alaska, but I figured they would probably want to know what country. No sense in making them guess if Alaska is part of Canada, its own country, or part of the States).
“May we see your passport?”
“Yeah, sure.” I pull it out and hand it over.
At this point I start to get a little worried. They are taking notes. Well one is taking notes and one is just sitting staring at me silently, smiling occasionally when I look in his direction. Is he the wingman? Am I being videoed? Is this going to turn into good cop bad cop? Did I do something wrong? Does Jersey like Turkey and India? Am I going to be quarantined? I can’t be stripped searched for asking about a work visa right? Right?
I’m asked various questions. How much money do you have? Why are you here? Why do you want to work here? Where does your boyfriend work? How long have you been together? What color are your panties? (Well not really that last one, but it was beginning to feel as intimate).
I answer truthfully, because that’s who I am.
“So, can I get a work visa?”
The two officers look at each other and then the one in charge turns to me. “Have you considered getting married?”
My face flushes, my stomach drops, and I start to sweat. What!? I know I just read “Committed” by Elizabeth Gilbert, but really, this doesn’t happen in real life.
“Um, uh, what?” I stammer stupidly.
“If you want to stay, your only option is to get married.”
My heart sinks. No way. I’m living in an alternate reality. This isn’t really happening.
“How old are you?”
“I’ll be 24 in September.”
“Ahh.” He looks at me sadly. “I know it’s a bit of a shock (well yeah, just a bit). But it’s the only way you can get a permanent visa because you’re American.” What does that mean?? I’m not a leper. We speak the same language. Granted, we kicked the British out but you can only be sore about it for so long.
He excuses himself and leaves the room with number 2 in tow. I’m left in the room alone. Sad. Now what?
After a short time, (I’m sure if there is a video camera I looked dejected and pathetic) they return and sit down with grim faces. Uh oh.
“So here is the thing, you came in here with a tourist visa asking about work (yeah…) and you’ve stated you have the intention of staying here to work (I was asking if I can…). Now if you had been here for 5 months you would have more clout (but then I would be working illegally..?.) so what we have is your verbal intention to defy your visa limits (my what?! I had a question, just a question!).”
At this point I get a knot in my tummy. A hard, knowing, knot.
“I talked to my superior and we are going to have to shorten your visa. When would be a good time for you to go? You’ll have to leave the UK.” What! I understand leaving Jersey, but the UK? You’re not even the same country technically.
Tears start to well up. Now they are no longer being contained. I’m fully fledged crying in the immigration office. I’m not sure what I did wrong. I very rarely feel like I’m in trouble. I don’t remember the last time. Even as a kid I was abnormally well behaved. This time I was following the rules and I got burned. My love sick heart is worried. What’s going to happen now? Am I going to go back to Turkey? WHAT!? Oh god.
I look up and as soon as I can speak I say “September?” as a question. Just give me the summer, I think, then I’ll figure it out.
They leave the room once again and I cry silently. Eat your heart out hidden video camera. A sickening thought strikes me. What about the wedding Niall and I were going to in Northern Ireland? That’s technically the UK. Will that count? But that’s in July so it shouldn’t be a problem. Hopefully.
When they return yet again, I’ve folded my tissue up into squares and sit tear stained. (I’m disturbed by the question of how many people have cried here, that they would have tissues to offer?)
Officer number 1 looks even grimmer. Now what?
Before he starts, I burst out “We are going to a wedding in Belfast in July. I just remembered. That won’t be a problem right?”
He looks pained at me hopeful face. “It seems we can’t give you three months. We’ve given you a month. I’m sorry.” He pushes my freshly stamped passport across the table. July 12th. One month.
The tears flood down my face. No way. This cannot be happening. I am an upstanding person. Any country would be lucky to have me (I needed the pep talk). Why the hell am I being kicked out?
The officer politely asks if he can phone Niall for me. I mumble that he’s at work (polite me, not wanting to bother him).
“I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. It’s rather important.”
I say thank you yes. I’m told to wait outside and that I’ll have to bring proof, like a plane ticket, before I leave. I nod and leave the room.
It seems like a blink of an eye and Niall is there. He comes striding into the building looking worried and searching for my face. I stand up and he engulfs me in his arms as I sob into his shoulder. “Baby, what’s wrong?” I try to pull myself together as I realize he’s never seen me cry before. It’s all a bit of a shock for him. I had seen him for lunch just an hour or so before I came to the office. I was confident that I was going to figure it out and hopefully soon have a work visa.
I mumble that I’m being kicked out. “What!? What happened?”
I explain in as brief of a version as possible. He’s angry. So am I, under the confusion. Reluctantly I finally mention the married condition. He gallantly responds with what I am sure is righteous indignation “I’ll marry you for a visa.”
“NO!” I’m horrified. There is no way in hell I’m getting married for a visa.
“Well, I guess you could marry my brother then. He owes me a few favors.” He smiles and I know it will be fine. The universe wouldn’t be that cruel. Something will work out. It always does.
Niall takes the rest of the day off and we go home. We make phone calls to embassies and immigration. Irish, British, and American. We look up the laws, the visa requirements, the parameters. Everything. We start to build up a case. Anything. Anything but getting married for a visa.
One of Niall’s work mates calls. Niall turns to me: Do I want to go to the pub? Hell yes I want to go to the pub. I need a drink. A very alcoholic one.
We explain. Everyone is flabbergasted. I’m still trying to grasp the ramifications.
Over the next few days we each do research. It’s bleak. It’s nigh on impossible to get a work visa in the UK as an American and vice versa. I’m still a student and neither an accountant or a doctor which are apparently highly valued jobs here. Essentially I’m screwed. I’ll be lucky to make enough to eat with my degree. Just kidding Dad.
But seriously. How do countries expect people to stay together? You have to prove that you live together for 2 years before you can be domestic partners, but where are you going to live if one or the other can’t get a work visa? The world doesn’t like nomads. We’re hard to keep track of. We follow the whims of the wind and urges of our feet. Mine brought me to a country and place I had never intended. But that’s the beauty. That’s the spontaneity. That’s how I met this amazing new person, who at this moment in time, I really want to spend time with. Cosmopolitanism brought us together, but geo politics won’t let us watch it grow. There is a great line from “Ever After” with Drew Barrymore. She tells Da Vinci “It’s fine for a fish to love a bird, but where will they live?” He responds with “I will just have to make you wings.” Where are my gills? (Niall is definitely the fish. Pisces that he is and scuba instructor to boot) What do I need to do to swim in the same stream?
Life goes on as it tends to do. Even when you think it’s the end of the world. We brainstormed. We fretted. Well I fretted. Niall was still willing to run with the marriage idea. “If you don’t want to marry my brother, we could do a fake one. Something by a tribal priest, you know. Something on paper…..” Ha.
Niall’s mum came over for a weekend after Ascot. I was nervous. First family member introduction and it’s his mom. Thankfully he has a great relationship with his mom. Akin to what I have with mine. I hope I did well. I made dinner the first night. I was nervous. Did I say that already? I must really like him for me to get nervous about meeting his family. We drove around the island stopping at beautiful look outs. Bittersweet. To be on a beautiful island and know soon, days being count down, that I must leave.
Each weekly review came and went with “Let’s see next week.”
Niall bought me a bike. A beautiful bike. A shiny blue one that I named Blue Steel (Niall introduced me to Derek Zoolander). He was worried I was going to get bored and want to leave not being able to do anything in Jersey. My heart is full. He is such a generous person. I don’t know how to handle it. I love my bike. I love that he worries that I will want to leave. I ride around the island. To the light house. To the castle. Up little hills. Around town. Down the beach. There is nothing like riding along the coast with the ocean breeze at your back on a sunny day.
We make a plan. Back to my original intention. I will visit my family in Slovakia when I have to leave Jersey. I contact my cousin Roman who graciously finds me a room for the right dates. We book the flights. It’s set.
The days flow by. One week. Two. Three. Four. One month. One month living together. One month baking bread, rearranging the living room, sunset walks on the beach, afternoon lunches, pub evenings, reading, watching movies, making dinner, shopping for groceries, driving around the island, laughing, doing laundry, talking about everything and anything, playing guitar hero, explaining the benefits of veggies (“it’s vegetable soup babe” “it’s bloody red!”) falling asleep content. Happy. Gloriously happy. That’s what it’s really all about. I am happy. I hope that he is happy too. I have plans. I always have plans. There are places I’ve yet to go and I still plan to, but I also honor the moment. This moment. Here. With a beautiful person who I can’t wait to introduce to my family and friends. A person I respect, I trust, I banter with, I can discuss economics and global politics, and who teases me about vegetables. We laugh. Oh how we laugh. He’s funny. Way funnier than I am. Witty. Intelligent. And incredibly attractive. He kisses me goodbye every morning as he walks out the door in his suit. Me, with a man in a suit. The universe does have a sense of humor. (He looks damn good in one too).
Which brings us to here. One month later. I leave. I fly to Slovakia. Slovakia. For those that don’t know, this has been central to my original travel plans. We found our family in Slovakia last summer. My Grandfather Psenak has cousins in Slovakia, his aunts just recently have passed. No one in my immediate family has been back to Slovakia since both my great grandparents came over to the states. My thesis work at university is on identity. What better one to study than my own? I am terrified. I am exhilarated. I am hopeful. I am excited to go but anxious to leave. We have plans. I will refrain from mentioning them until they come to pass. Superstition let’s say.
I now sit in Bratislava, Slovakia. Two amazing weeks have passed in this country that rightfully feels like home. I leave tomorrow. For where? Just wait for the next chapter. There is so much to divulge about these last two weeks. I had to play a bit of catch up before I can get to this discovery of family. Don’t worry, you won’t have to wait as long for the next instalment. I promise.
Whoa. A long day. I found a lovely cafe that I’ve done my writing in. Sunflowers in the window. On the baby pc that Niall gifted me before I left on this trip. Have I said how amazing he is? His generosity is beyond words. I’ll never know how to properly say thank you. Thank you babe.
After being with family for the last couple of weeks, I am beginning to get a bit home sick. I miss and love you family and friends, scattered over Alaska, Boulder and beyond. Just wanted to say I’ve been thinking of you.
The journey isn’t finished, far from it. Bohemian that I am, nomad that I am there are bound to be twists and turns and hurdles and streams. I’m ready for them. I have a full heart and the ability to laugh. The world may not like nomads, but I sure as hell love the world.