Sunday, October 11, 2009

Last-Minute Changes

If you have traveled on long-term journeys before, you know there are countless things to do in preparation for such a trip. That was definitely true as I prepared for South Africa. I just lived out of one suitcase (and a bin!) for three months, surely I would have no problem packing, right? Maybe... except for that tiny little detail that I was not just going on a trip this time - I am moving.

Something about that word is intimidating and reminds me of the many things to pack that I usually wouldn’t, such as certain books I want to keep on my shelf. It also meant I had to pack for four season, which was not a simple task with the goal of one suitcase for all of my clothes. Somehow I managed, though, so here I sit mid-flight with everything I need to live in a cargo hold underneath me. It is actually a bit liberating to know that I really can live on the things I packed in those suitcases, or even less if need be.

Some of the most challenging things to take care of pre-departure had nothing to do with getting everything into those suitcases, though. The biggest challenge was one that our dear regional executive Gail dealt with on our behalf: Visas.

Less than one week before our flights were set to depart, the three of us going to South Africa were pulled from a meeting and sat down. There was a problem with our Visas. It was unclear where the root of the problem was, but there was some sort of misunderstanding or miscommunication between our office and the South African Embassy issuing our visas. We had a problem, and it required our urgent attention.

While we submitted required background checks with our visa applications, they were now requesting that we have background checks from our state police or local FBI. The problem with this (beyond time, of course) was that to have these reports in time for our visas to be filed, we had to present ourselves in person at said offices that we may show ID and sign for them. It was already Thursday and Monday was a holiday, so this required leaving within an hour or so to get home that evening and get the paperwork filed the next morning. This was not painless but was at least simple enough for Hannah and Rachel who could jump on a train to their homes in VA and PA. I, however, would have to fly home, and there were evidently no flights to get me home that evening. Therefore, I was told I would not leave until Wednesday to go (for I couldn’t miss commissioning on Tuesday, the next business day), and would definitely miss my flight and be asked to reschedule.

Naturally, I was not excited about this plan, so I immediately set to work. My first instinct reminded me of people I know and the great fortune I have of being from a small town/state. So I started making calls, the first to the police chief in my hometown. He was more than willing to help me out and agreed to send the requested letter to our office in NYC. Next I got on the phone with the FBI, who was far from sure what I needed, but were helpful all the same.

Finally, I called our state police office in Pierre, South Dakota, and again they were not sure exactly what I was looking for. I talked to a few different people before finally finding someone who was still uncertain, but who was willing to help me out. It never occured to them that I would need to be there in person to make such a request, they just trusted that with such an unusual request, I was probably who I said I was - thank goodness for being from a small, trusting, friendly state! The officer even called back THREE TIMES to make sure he had the right thing, and to make sure I knew it had been sent next-day air, and should arrive first thing the next morning. THANK YOU!!

The paperwork did come through, and the only difference in mine and the other two girls was that it was requested of them to give fingerprints at the same time. I did not do this, obviously, so I am hoping this does not come back to be a bad thing. Only time will tell, though, as we will find out if what we have is sufficient on Tuesday. The good news is that I didn’t have to go home, but that there is still a good chance I will be able to depart on time on Thursday. We are hoping this is indeed the case, if for no other reason than to save the changing fees on the flight! I’ll be sure to keep you updated - thanks for the extra prayers it will work out!

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