The nightmare began about seven weeks ago at the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt, Germany...but more about that later.
Set the clock back 6 years. They met (saw each other) at a bus stop near Dartmouth College (in New Hampshire)...both working on the final stages of their medical degrees. New to the area...he asked her if this is where to catch the bus to the campus.
He...a young (soon-to-be...American certified) anesthesiologist born in Dresden, Germany (before the fall of the wall). He...the older brother of my son-in-law. She from Nigeria, completing her studies in obstetrics & gynecology (OBGYN).
I don't know when it actually happened, but somewhere along their journey...they knew that they wanted to be one. There were cultural differences to overcome...not of their own making...but of their circumstance.
Fast forward 6 years...education completed...medical residencies completed! Cultural differences accepted and respected. Parental blessings bestowed! A commitment to be one! In April, a Nigerian wedding ceremony...including gifts to the bride's parents and other Nigerian traditions. From his side...only his parents were able to attend. An American wedding date is set...Sept 5th, 2009! 100+ invitations sent to family & friends around the world!
A job for her...a job OFFER for him!
Notice the word offer! He was in this country on a student visa. To work in this country, he needed a work visa. To get the latter...you need to show proof of a job offer in this country along with other details (of which I know very little). Once you have the job offer (and related details)...you need to leave the United States... and officially apply for the work visa (while outside the United States). Once the work visa is granted...you're allowed to re-enter...and begin work.
Under normal circumstances...there is probably a week to ten day wait. At least this was his (our/every one's) understanding. Most applicants who need to meet this (exit/entry) requirement usually go to Canada/Mexico, have their paperwork processed and return...with little, if any, problem. (I'm taking creative license here...but that's what I'm told). He opted to go back to Germany...to visit his parents/friends during his expected week to 10 day stay. He packed his bag accordingly...a small carry-on.
Shortly after his arrival, he went to the U.S. Consulate in Frankfurt to secure the work visa. He handed over the paper work and his passport and was told...pretty much..."don't call us...we'll call you!" This is early July. Wedding date set...Sept 5th! A few days pass. Anxious...he called the embassy...got the generic voice activated response. (You know the one...if you are calling about blah blah...press one, about other blah blah...press two...and so on). He tried several attempts to speak to a real person (especially the one who worked with him on that 1st visit)...to no avail.
He tried daily. Finally, miraculously, he got a real person. "Sir...there appears to be a problem/exception with your visa request. Since you are changing status from student to work visa...it is my understanding that you may need to remain outside the United States for anywhere up to two years!"
Early to mid August...his mom arrives in the U.S. from Germany (and stays with us) to be followed by his Dad later that month. Of course...this is under the assumption that there will indeed be a wedding! Her parents arrive from Nigeria. Several e-mails & telephone calls back to the groom regarding visa status. No new news! The clock is ticking...anxieties begin to swell. Mid August...letters to Senator & local congressmen...followed up with calls to the local immigration office. Still no visa. Ongoing calls back and forth to their lawyer(s). Still...no visa!
Friday...August 28th...reality sets in...bride loses all hope and starts to contact people to tell them "this is probably not going to happen". She will call church, caterer, florist, etc on Monday to cancel. I call my daughter (also living in Germany...she and her husband (groom's brother) are coming regardless. Can't afford penalty of canceling tickets and extremely difficult to change vacation plans with his employer. We will make the best of it, but still...it was an ugly weekend. Flights were canceled, e-mails were were sent, tears flowed. What was supposed to happen on Sept. 5th was not going to happen!
Monday, August 31st
A call from U.S. Consulate. Visa is approved! "Please arrange to pickup your passport on Wednesday at the U.S. Embassy in Frankfurt!" Text messages fly, phones ring, e-mails sent! Twitter is twittering! Wedding is on...in FIVE DAYS!!!
Groom's sister and her boyfriend arrive at Newark airport mid-afternoon. Picked up by her Mom & family friend (Mom is now staying in New Jersey with said friends). Boyfriend's 1st trip to America. They too decided to come not knowing whether or not there would be a wedding. Expensive and difficult to change plans with their employers. Upon arrival...they learn that the wedding is on!
Wednesday, Sept. 2nd
Groom travels to Frankfurt...no surprises! Picks up passport. Alerts bride that he actually has the passport in hand! Books flight! More e-mails, text messages, twittering, etc.
Thursday, Sept. 3rd
Plan is to pick up son-in-law at JFK via Amsterdam (KLM flt# 3081) at 1:00pm.
Flight is codeshare with Delta flight #81. Website states flight is on time and will arrive at Terminal #3, gate B20. Park in parking lot #3...got to arrivals area. It's deserted. Go upstairs to departure area and ask someone "official looking" about KLM#3081. Am told that I'm in the domestic arrivals area and need to exit the building...travel along and exterior walkway...to the rear of terminal 3 for international arrivals. I hike the recommended route to the rear of terminal 3. Look up at the arrivals display and sure enough KLM 3081 is at the gate...at Terminal #4!
Groom's father to arrive at JFK via Frankfurt later that evening. Will be met by wife, daughter & daughter's boyfriend. Boyfriend is designated driver. Did I mention that this is his 1st trip to America! Have you ever been to JFK Airport??? Have you ever tried to figure out how to get out of JFK Airport??? A nightmare!
Plan to pick up daughter...LaGuardia Airport at 9:30PM (US Airways flight 703...originates in Frankfurt; connecting flight via Philadelphia). Flight from Frankfurt arrives early in Philadelphia. Daughter calls...can catch an earlier flight...arriving at 7:00PM. $50 extra...done deal! Father & daughter back home before 8:00PM.
Groom arrives at Newark Airport at 10:00PM. Exhausted by his ordeal...not to mention the 6 hour jet lag. Met by bride. (Boy...that must have been some reunion!)
Friday, Sept. 4th
Get marriage license. Get fitted for tuxedo. Final fitting for wedding gown. Wedding rehearsal...rehearsal dinner (ended around 11:00PM...and yes...groom is still awake. (Unbelievable..it's 5:00AM back in Germany!)
Saturday, Sept. 5th
Sometime around 4:00PM, in front of 100+ guests from Africa, Germany, Italy, Mexico, England and across America...an incredible mix/blend of races, religions, nationalities... the bride and groom are pronounced husband and wife. Applause & tears!
Nigerian parents and German parents hug and embrace the bride and groom. Nigerian parents & German parents then hug and embrace each other. More tears & smiles & applause!
No doubt...this will be talked about for decades to come. A story for their children and grand-children...and all the family and friends who lived through this with them. Fairytales do come true!