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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Still In America

I am writing this post from my parents' house in North Carolina.  If all had gone according to plan (ha), I would have been writing this post from Dushanbe - or more likely not writing this post, only having arrived home less than 48 hours before and therefore in the depths of jet lag.

But, as we learned from Edwin's birth and Joseph's birth, things rarely go according to plan.  Especially this time.  After all, if I couldn't even have William according to plan because of Turkish Airlines, why did I ever have the temerity to think that we could go home according to plan?

Last Tuesday we had already packed three suitcases.  My medical clearance had come through.  William's medical clearance had come through.  Even Eleanor's clearance had come through.  For a family of eight people, that's a lot of medical clearances.  William had been put on Brandon's orders which had gone to budget which had allowed William's ticket to be purchased.  I had even called Air Canada and gotten our seats together for the thirteen-hour flight.  Brandon and I had gone to the temple.  We had reservations for a dinner out with my parents.  The children had said goodbye to their friends at church.  We were ready to go.

We had everything - except William's visa.

Getting a newborn back to post is a very involved process with many steps that start the day after the baby is born.  We have done this three times already and so we started early.  When he was a week old his birth certificate was ready to pick up and Brandon had submitted form OF-126 and received DS-1640 so William could get an official passport.  Everything was in order to walk in to our nearest post office and apply for that baby's passport.  But it seems that in the seven years since we'd had to apply for a passport at the post office things had changed, and you couldn't just walk in anymore.  We dutifully called the appointment phone number, followed the instructions and left a message, and waited.  The next day we got a call back.  The earliest appointment in Raleigh?  That will be on March 3.  I started planning an emergency trip up to the Special Issuance Agency in DC while the helpful lady on the phone started looking around for appointments in cities other than Raleigh.  After some searching she came up with an appointment the next day in Oxford, about an hour drive from Raleigh.  Someone had cancelled and we could take their spot.

So, nine days after his birth, William applied for his first diplomatic passport.  We sent it up by two-day mail (it was Saturday and Monday was a holiday) and it was in Sterling, Virginia by Tuesday.  I have nothing against Sterling, but it turns out that Special Issuance Agency is not in Sterling Virginia - it is in Washington, DC.  Three days later (I know this because I called the SIA every day) it was in DC.  A week later, on Thursday, the passport was done.  Unfortunately I had stopped calling every day by then and didn't find out that the passport was done until Brandon called to check in on Monday.  "Oh yes," the helpful lady on the phone told him, "it's just waiting for you to come and pick it up."  Unfortunately we weren't in DC and couldn't pick up the passport and had called four or five times to make sure that the SIA was aware of this and had the right address to mail the passport to.

So the passport showed up Tuesday afternoon.  Which was too bad as my aunt - who lives outside DC and had volunteered to avoid the Sterling-is-not-DC problem by hand-delivering the passport and visa application - had left Tuesday morning.

I got to work on the Tajik visa application, filling out the online form for the third or fourth time, and called Brandon (who was driving to Missouri with the children to see his parents) with a few questions.  Did he have his diplomatic ID?  And if he did, could I have a picture of it?  I said a silent prayer of thanks for smart phone technology as the picture showed up a few minutes later, taken on the seat of the car by Kathleen as they rocketed through eastern Missouri at ninety miles an hour (speed reported via text by Kathleen).

Next question.  What the heck is a hand-carry letter and did he have one of those?  Unfortunately for our timeline, this was something that had to be gotten from the SIA.  The letter showed up the next day and William's completed visa application was submitted online and his passport dropped off at the post office with a guaranteed delivery date of Thursday morning by noon.

Thursday morning came and went with no passport showing up at my aunt's house.  I cursed my cheap self for not using UPS.  Friday afternoon, right at noon, the passport showed up in Maryland and was in the SIA's hands by that afternoon.

Monday morning I got an email asking for pictures (which I had submitted online), a printout of the visa application (also submitted online) and an email confirmation that the visa application was submitted online (which never showed up.  I'm thinking the Tajik online application system still needs some work).  But, I was assured, once those things showed up, the Tajik embassy was ready and waiting to issue William's visa.  I submitted everything I had ten minutes after I got the email.

Tuesday.  Crickets.

Wednesday Brandon (who had pulled in to Raleigh around eleven the night before) checked in and was told that the digital file with William's visa application wasn't opening.  Could we send it again?  Why yes, we could.  In fact, we could have sent it again on Monday if you had asked.  Which you didn't.

Thursday (one week before departure) the passport got sent to the Tajik embassy.

Friday, after the daily check-in email was sent, we found out that nobody could find the Tajik consul on Thursday.  But never fear, they would look for him again on Friday.  And by the way, here is your UPS tracking number in advance so would you please for the love of everything good in this world please stop emailing us?!?

Later on Friday.  They did find the consul, but the consul didn't like the photos.  New ones being sent after lunch. Later. The Tajik consul says that the visa will be issued Monday.  Great partying ensues.  Plans for packing are begun.  Budget (who has yet to approve William being added to Brandon's orders) is emailed and called multiple times.  Prayers are put up for Eleanor's last doctor appointment on Monday to go well.

Monday.  Eleanor's appointment goes well.  William is added to Brandon's orders.  Post is given instructions to buy William's ticket.  Packing begins.

William's visa is not issued.  Vague assurances are given that 'hopefully' things will work out on Tuesday.  Brandon lets everyone in his office know that plans might change.  He emails everyone he can think of to start leaning on anyone who could get the visa issued in time.  We start looking at alternate flight dates and, after a lot of internet searching, realize that our options are Thursday or Thursday or Thursday.  Turns out it's really hard to get to Dushanbe.  Shocking.

Wednesday, the first day of four days of Navruz holiday and the day before we are supposed to leave, the Tajik embassy is closed and empty.  After a flurry of emails, it is confirmed that yes, we will have to change all eight tickets and leave a week later than planned because nobody in Dushanbe is around to enter William into their system and confirm that yes, he is not an international criminal or any other thing that would prevent him from entering Tajikistan with the other seven members of his family that have been granted diplomatic status.  Brandon calls Dushanbe and tells them to reschedule tickets.  He lets his office know that we'll be getting there a week late.  The children are happy or crushed, depending on the child.  We stop packing suitcases and make plans to go to the zoo instead of unpacking school books.  I sigh and don't let the delay ruin my life.  Brandon despairs of every getting any leave ever again.  My parents swear that they really really don't mind having us for a thirteenth week.  I almost believe them.  Almost.

And so tomorrow is the day.  The new day.  It is the day that the Tajik system will be turned back on, William's visa will be issued and overnighted to Raleigh, and unicorns will eat rainbows and poop butterflies.  I'm not holding my breath.

I imagine that all will turn out and we really will be leaving to go home this Thursday.  And if not, Brandon and the children will be leaving to go home this Thursday and William and I will leave the Thursday after that.  Either way, we're going home.  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Fingers crossed.  And toes, too.