Limbo

I was all set to write a nice account last week of how “Ben,” the African asylum seeker we’ve sponsored since late 2019, has come through the process. I hoped to report that he had been granted asylum. Instead, Ben is still in limbo.

There have been so many hurdles along the way. I won’t say what Ben went through that made him flee his country in the first place or what it took for him to escape and, over many months, make his way to the US border via Mexico, then across the border and into one of the ICE detention centers, where we first made contact with him, via proxies and by phone.

He was in detention for nearly six months. For some it is less, for many it is much longer. For us and for him it seemed interminable, especially as friends he made along the way were released, one by one, until he was the last imprisoned member of a cohort of about 20 from several African countries who were matched with sponsors in our state. The Trump administration was doing its best to stop immigration, one way or another, with a shifting panoply of rule changes and delays.

Ultimately we had to hire an attorney near the detention center and pay unusually high bond to pry him loose.

Then, the weekend after we met Ben at O’Hare airport and welcomed him to our home, the whole country shut down over Covid-19. An already reluctant bureaucracy stopped functioning altogether and Ben fell through cracks that set him back about a year. Social security number, driver’s license, temporary work permit—which he should have been able to obtain within several months–eluded him till mid 2021. By contrast, friends who had been released from detention just weeks before him were legally driving to legitimate jobs as essential workers by the second half of 2020.

But Ben got his social security number. Yay!

He got a job as a patient care assistant. Hooray!

He learned to drive, got his license, and bought a very old car. Woohoo!

And he was able to move out of our house just over a year ago. While we loved the company of Ben and two other asylum seekers during the pandemic, our house is now freed up for hosting frequent visitors.

The last major hurdles for Ben are the actual legal process for obtaining asylum. He is in the hands of pro bono lawyers in a large Chicago firm and the process is more complicated than I can begin to understand, requiring tons of documentation. It is also highly uncertain and subject to potentially enormous delays (often years), depending on whims of overworked judges and a generally overwhelmed system.

So we were delighted to learn that his attorneys were able to obtain a place in the docket for his merit hearing when another case that had been in that slot was delayed. The merit hearing is before an immigration judge and includes questioning by an attorney representing ICE. On the basis of this hearing the judge decides whether or not to grant asylum.

The date was last Wednesday, September 14. The week before, we took Ben to Chicago for a long, face-to-face consultation with his attorneys, whom he had only met by Zoom, to prepare for the hearing. And we took him to Immigration Court on the 14th.

Ben bought a suit for the occasion and was looking dapper. He was a little nervous. We all expected to hear his fate by the end of the day. Could he stay in the USA or would he be ordered back to his country?

He and his attorneys went before the judge only to learn that the ICE attorney had just filed a motion to continue (delay) the case because the government had not had time to prepare. The ICE attorney participated via a bad Zoom connection and I didn’t understand all the legalese but apparently the excuse was that Ben’s case had been misfiled and confused with the case that had previously been in that time slot.

The judge felt obliged to grant the continuance but promised that she would try to find another slot in her busy schedule as soon as possible. Maybe six weeks or so?

Meanwhile, Ben is still in limbo—neither illegal nor fully legal. Maybe it was a good dry run. Maybe the judge will remember him kindly. Maybe the government will get its act together next time. Maybe things will go his way.

And this is just one immigrant story among hundreds of thousands.

My pandemic is over

For me, the pandemic ended last week. Two things happened: 1) I spent a week with a family member who was testing positive and I didn’t get sick; and 2) Japan opened to tourists.

The first event came with a day’s warning before my husband and I took our first flight since 2019. Louise, his oldest sister, who lives in Oregon, said she had tested positive after being exposed to her husband, who lives in nursing care and had just gotten Covid. But Louise had no symptoms except a cough. We and another sister and her husband, who had planned to meet us in Oregon, decided to go ahead with the trip.

We were careful—everybody was triply vaccinated and wore N95 masks most of the time. We spent most of our time outside, walking and talking and eating. The weather was wonderful. The company was wonderful. Everybody felt fine and nobody got sick. End of story. I felt free of pandemic worry and more secure about handling Covid if I did contract it. This seemed like a real bottom line.

Maybe in the same way, Japan decided to ease out of its pandemic worry. It was shut tight to tourists for most of the last two-and-a-half years, then opened to very restricted, small, fully guided tours over the summer. But while it was still all but shut down, Japan experienced a sharp wave of the latest Omicron variety, which may have suggested that foreigners weren’t to blame. So in late August, under pressure from economic leaders, the government announced that on September 7 the country would open to most kinds of non-guided tourism, although requiring bookings to be made through travel agencies.

I’ve been tracking this closely because for the past year I have been planning a trip to Japan—planning, scheduling, and actually booking, with money down. It’s not just me—this will be a Myers Girls trip, with my daughter, daughter-in-law, and two granddaughters, ages 3 and 12. We scheduled it for November 2022, with many assurances that Japan would probably be open by then as well as contingencies for refunds or rescheduling if it wasn’t.

But we’ve been biting our nails because Japan has been the last major holdout, besides China.

Now my travel consultant assures me that our trip is 100% good to go, time to pay the rest of that considerable chunk of cash. And I am going back to renewing my Japanese fluency in preparation for a super, fully planned, self-guided, once-in-a-lifetime blast of a trip with my girls.

The end of my pandemic apparently inspires me to take up writing again.

Is your pandemic over? If so, how did it end? What did it inspire you to do?

Celebrating the end of the pandemic on Mary’s Peak, Oregon. Can you tell which one has Covid?

Thursdays

During the pandemic, which I would like to think of in past tense although it is still going strong—our county has moved from yellow back into orange—Thursday became my favorite day of the week because it was marked by three treats that had become important to me. Three pandemic habits that helped get me through the days of semi-isolation gave me something to look forward to on Thursdays.

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A motivation trifecta

I have come upon a key to what motivates me at this stage of my life—retired, going on 77, and not wanting to struggle too hard against whatever resistances remain in my psyche after a lifetime of conscious living. It is that I now direct my limited energy and put my focused effort into things that are some combination of what I love, what I am good at, and what seems important.

Not everything I do ticks all three boxes. Very few things do, In fact. But two of the three can also be good and call forth some effort though I don’t like hard work, which I define as doing things I am not inclined to do. Continue reading

Bookworm

Fellow bookworms, how many unread books are in your bedside stacks or on your devices? I bought or checked out seven books in the last several days and that is enough to make me feel safe and secure. There are probably more on my iPhone Kindle app if I scroll down far enough. I don’t expect all of them to be worth recommending to anyone else. I may not even finish them all.

Why do some of us devour books? I read for entertainment, pure and simple. The only reason I have for not finishing a book is that it does not entertain me. The books I buy these days are usually ebook specials that cost no more than $2-3, so I don’t feel like I have to read them to the end if I don’t enjoy them. Try Bookbub for marked-down ebooks.

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Soul travel 3

Since those last posts I have scratched my soul travel itch in several ways.

My husband and I flew to Phoenix for the wedding of a delightful young Congolese woman who is like a daughter to us—we’ve known Deborah and her family for ten years. This involved a weekend immersion in Congolese culture and being with Congolese friends old and new. It took me back to the color and joy of Congo without the hassle of Kinshasa traffic jams. It was even hot (much hotter than Congo ever was). Deborah married a handsome American, and he and his family were good sports about it all. Good vibes all around.

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Soul travel 2

When I was a child in rural Indiana in the 1950s I wanted to learn foreign languages as soon as I learned that foreign languages existed. The first one I had the opportunity to study, when I enrolled in a newly established parochial high school, was Latin, so I took Latin for two years. And then a German teacher arrived, so I studied German. For some reason I shunned Spanish but the German teacher had a Francophone wife so I took French lessons from her in exchange for babysitting and enrolled in French and German classes at the local college, which I later attended, when I was still in high school. My goal became to spend a year in Europe in a study abroad but that wasn’t part of Goshen College’s program at the time and my parents said they wouldn’t pay for it; that I would have to wait till I was out of college and could go abroad on my own. Continue reading

Soul travel

Two experiences from yesterday: reading Owls of the Eastern Ice, by Jonathan Slaght, and watching a few episodes of “World’s Most Amazing Vacation Rentals” on Netflix. The former stirred longing in my soul. The latter did not.

First, the latter. The locations  three Millennials bop into and out of are exotic (whether in the USA or in any part of the world), unique, offering beauty and unusual experiences. This is travel as entertainment and consumption: eat, sleep, look, devour this place and this experience. This kind of travel asks nothing of you except your money, your sense of adventure, your stamina, and your need for something new. There is much to be said for it.

I know. I have been there, done that. A lot. I have been a tourist all over the world. However, I do not have a great desire to see more of the world in that way, especially as I am getting older and travel of any kind is more taxing. Continue reading

Don’t. Touch. My. Knife.

The story of the asylum seekers continues to unfold. After a year of pandemic/bureaucratic stagnation and frustration, things are starting to move on some fronts. Jeb, the youngest got a renewed work permit for two years. Reluctantly he had agreed to get vaccinated and now he learns that his employer will reward him with $100 for that. Work requires a car and he is newly licensed, the only one of the three who has made it to that step. In a rush to get back to work he rushed to find a car for himself on Facebook. That did not go well and he is out quite a bit of money. However, kind souls in the Notre Dame network offered our three a 2003 Corolla in good condition, absolutely free. Jeb is the only one who can drive it so it is his for now until the others can drive. The three of them are going places in it.

Gradually they are preparing to fly the Pink Lady nest. Continue reading

Vaccine hesitance

I am having a struggle with vaccine hesitance. Half of Americans have now been vaccinated against Covid 19. Those of us who are in that half are enthusiastic, grateful beyond belief for this gift of science that promises to rescue us from this plague. We are the “low-hanging fruit,” the ones most eager to benefit from this reprieve. Many of us are in the most vulnerable categories—the aged and infirm—for whom the virus is more likely to be a death sentence. Once the scientists affirmed that the vaccine was safe and effective, we pushed to the front of the line, baring our arms.

Suddenly, however, the vaccination rate has slowed and some areas are reporting excess availability of vaccines, while half of the eligible population is still unvaccinated. My struggle, then, is with this phenomenon of vaccine hesitance. I encounter it, internally and externally, almost daily. Continue reading