Sunday, December 30, 2012

an ye furu siri! (we're married!)

With our wedding license in hand - ready to be signed!
Walking into the H. Carl Moultrie Courthouse in Washington, DC, Abdoulaye and I emptied our pockets and took off our jackets for scanning at the security station.  “Take off your hat!  Take off your belt!” the woman behind the X-ray system barked at Abdoulaye.  He followed her instructions and I repeated them to him again in French just to make sure everything was out of his pockets.

“Why are you two here?” the woman asked us, looking between Abdoulaye and me, her curiosity piqued by our back-and-forthing in French.  “We're applying for our marriage license!” I replied.  “Where'd you find him?” she asked, gesturing toward my handsome fiancé.  “The internet?”  I laughed out loud and translated for Abdoulaye who understood and was already laughing. 

We collected our things and headed upstairs to apply for our license, heart-shaped Christmas decorations hanging from the doorway and Charlie Brown Christmas songs playing softly over the sound system.  Four days later, we returned to the office and picked up our license – ready for signature for our ceremony on the 22nd.

Abdoulaye came to the United States on a K-1 fiancé visa, which stipulates that the beneficiary (him) and the petitioner (me) must marry within 90 days of the beneficiary's arrival to the US.  Since we were not sure how long the fiancé visa process would take (ours took almost exactly 7 months from applying in May 2012 to Abdoulaye's arrival in the US in December), we decided to plan our wedding, which will be in May 2013, for a date generously in the future.  I am excited about our May wedding (and all the planning involved), and also that we got to plan a mini-wedding for our civil (and religious) ceremony.

Lindsay, Abdoulaye and me at the Omni Shoreham lounge
When the consular officer in Dakar approved Abdoulaye's visa application on December 4th, we celebrated and then emailed the family in Virginia Beach – were they available for a wedding sometime before the end of the year?  While 13 is a great number (that is, 2013)– and Taylor Swift's favorite – I not-so-secretly harbored a wish to get married in an even-ending year.  When everyone was available (including our Baha'i officiant) on December 22nd, 2012 – I was thrilled!  My sister, Lindsay, and I picked out infinity wrap dresses and Abdoulaye and I shopped for a new suit for him in Georgetown – we were ready for the day.

While we planned to share our vows, and listen to prayers and readings from our family, at the Rosedale Conservancy near our apartment, the whipping winds and near-freezing temperatures kept us snuggled in our cozy abode.  Cassie sent Abdoulaye and I a gorgeous lavender wreath, which was the centerpiece of our decorations, and we covered our radiator cover with a piece of wax fabric that Abdoulaye's family sent me as part of my wedding gifts.  

Our ceremony consisted of prayers and readings from Memaw, my Dad, my Mom, my sister and John Haines, a Baha'i officiant in Washington, DC who is also a good friend.  We exchanged our own vows, said the Baha'i prayer that seals the deal and celebrated with dinner at 2 Amy's around the corner.  
We spent the night of our wedding at the Omni Shoreham hotel, a gorgeous establishment not far from our apartment and where my grandparents spent their wedding night over 65 years ago.  Memaw, my mom's mother, came to witness our vows as well and shared a prayer for Abdoulaye's and my marriage.  I asked her when she had last been to the hotel and she looked at me and smiled.  “My wedding night.”  I am so thankful we were able to share our wedding ceremony (round 1!) in a meaningful way with my family.  I also can't wait to celebrate in style with our friends and extended family come May!

So here I am with my lovely spouse in Washington, DC – planning our grocery list for the week and putting away Christmas presents from our generous family and friends.  We're thrilled to be able to celebrate our nuptials again with family and friends on May 26, 2013 in Norfolk, VA and thankful everything worked out so wonderfully for us to get married in 2012 for Abdoulaye's visa to remain valid!

**Valerie Demo, of Val & Sarah Photography, came up to photograph our little ceremony – she and Sarah will also be capturing our May wedding.  Keep your eyes out for a sneak peek soon!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

I am with you kid. Let's go.

what's not to love about this eastern market brunch shot?
On the train back from Charlottesville this past weekend, Abdoulaye turned to me and asked if I was ready to hear his first impressions of America.  I smiled and nodded - since arriving in the US on December 8th, I've asked Abdoulaye about every five minutes what he thinks of all that's going on around him - after two weeks, he had a little more to reflect on.

Since his arrival, Abdoulaye has visited four cities - Washington, DC, Roanoke, Charlottesville and Virginia Beach.  He's been more impressed with the landscape of Virginia than the buildings of the city though we haven't gone monument visiting yet (he did a bit on his own on the Mall).  He's found folks to be friendly - many smiling or nodding and mumbling a 'how you doin'?' even when they don't have time to stop and properly greet and has found many to be patient with his English (granted, he's spent most of his time around our family and friends who of course would be patient with him. :)  He finds the city clean and organized and he's puzzled by the homeless people he sees in this land of plenty.  Abdoulaye posits that many Americans are overweight because there are so many options for things to eat - how could you stop??  

Interestingly, he noted that he's so used to the disorder of West African capital cities that the order of DC has been a little disorienting.  While he misses everything from back home, he also feels at home here thanks to our network of loved ones and his ability to be in touch with folks at home and abroad via Skype and phone.  He's also thankful he can read so he can use his little black book to get around since there are so many streets to get lost on.

Walking to the grocery store I'll notice a string of crooked Christmas lights on a balcony or a woman walking her dog in a stroller - what do you think, Abdoulaye?  I'll eagerly ask him.  He smiles and half chuckles, it's good! he'll say.  When we see other people and they learn how short of a time he's been here they'll similarly ask for his impressions of the US and, like him, have this underlying tone of - isn't America incredible?  Aren't all of these things around you wonderful?

While Abdoulaye's adjustment and integration to the US is something I think about, I'm not worried about him adapting to life or people here because it's something he does so well.  I admire so much his ability to make people feel at ease and the way he devotes his attention to others in that special way that makes you feel so important.

I know we're just at the beginning of our American adventure and I'm excited to see where it takes us and all the other impressions and observations we'll share together.  I love this quote by Maya Angelou that sums up how I'm feeling these days: "Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told: 'I am with you kid.  Let's go.'"
some of my favorite feet
eastern market meets west africa

Isn't this song just achingly beautiful?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Munirih Sparrow and Gustaff Besungu

On Friday, my friend Katharine invited Abdoulaye and me to a show by Munirih Sparrow and Gustaff Besungu at the Coffy Cafe.  Wow - what an experience.  The music was uplifting and the company delightful.  Our first concert together in the US!  :)

WRI Week in Review

It's another week to be thankful for at WRI!  Before I left for Abdoulay's interview in Senegal, WRI and The Access Initiative (TAI)  won an award from the Sustainable Brands London Conference for an environmental justice film our Communications team put together.  It's only two minutes long and gives me chills every time I watch it (especially when the music shifts!).  (Remember before Thanksgiving when TAI hosted a viewing of The Power of the Poor - yeup, it's them again here!)

Last week, I had my mind stretched yet again as I learned more about a soon-to-be-introduced tool from the World Wildlife Fund that "monitors protected area downgrading, downsizing and degazettement," which is " the legal process through which protected areas become smaller, weaker, or are removed completely."  Read here to learn more about this incredible tool (very user friendly) and to learn more about the definitions of the words PADDD with relation to forests.   My concern is that these tools, while useful, are sometimes slow to download with my internet - what is it like in places like West Africa where the connection isn't as good as it is here? 

Here are five articles I've read recently and some thoughts on them:

Doha, Forests and the Production Tax Credit: On Track to Burn, Baby, Burn

It's frustrating to read about these huge conferences (this most recent one on climate change held in Doha, Qatar (and also like Rio+20) where the general takeaway is that there wasn't much progress and everyone was underwhelmed.  I'm also curious about tree plantations in West Africa that are exporting to the UK for their wood-burning needs - do they really have expendable wood?

Central Africa: Regional Countries Meet Over Forest Conservation

Looks like they need some Interactive Forest Atlases to improve communications here!  Central to many of these articles about forest conservation (and any conflict, really) is a need for clear communication.  Noted here: "conflicts are common among those in the forest department, mining and the agriculture sector basically on land use and who takes responsibility of effects caused by their joint activities."
I was especially interested to read this article since I just finished reading Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, which addresses many of the topics brought up here.  There are so many different factors influencing the current fighting going on in the DRC and I'm just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding them.  

Ben Affleck and Theo Chocolate Collaborate on Congolese Jobs 

I'm curious what kind of an impact Ben Affleck and Theo Chocolate will have on Congolese farming if only 3% of arable land is currently farmed - how many thousands of acres are they planning to put toward Cacao plantations with their fair trade choclate?  

Also, apparently the Tintin comic books are not racist (at least, according to the Belgian judiciary system) - what do you think?  I never had them around as a child and I don't know much about them.

Mali has a new prime minister, Diango Cissoko, after somewhat of a second coup last week.  Please keep her in your thoughts!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

finding our way in washington

Image Source  (I paid $10 on Amazon)

Ready for Ruhi
I'm about to head to work for the second day after having spent the past week with Abdoualye in both Senegal and now in DC.  It's been a busy few days - on Monday we applied for our marriage license (if you're looking for how to get married in DC, the address for the marriage bureau is 500 Indiana Avenue, NW - 4th floor room 4485) and registered Abdoulaye for English classes at Language, ETC - conveniently located one street over from the Guinean Embassy!  

On Tuesday we visited two veterinary clinics near our apartment (Palisades Veterinary Clinic and Friendship Hospital for Animals) to see about volunteer opportunities while waiting for Abdoulaye's work authorization papers to come.  The volunteer opportunity I'm really hoping will come about is wearing a panda costume (with me as an escort for visitors) at the National Zoo during the lights festival.  Fingers crossed!

Today, Abdoulaye will come visit the office and join us for a building holiday party.  He's going to explore the town near my office using the book above, which he really likes.  Do you have a favorite Washington, DC guide? 
Christmas tree farm near the apartment :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

this will be our year!

With all his bags (and mostly gifts!) and holding a rice cooker from my Mom :)  Ready for America!
It's Day 4 of Abdoulaye's and my new life together in Washington, DC - so far, so good!  We've unpacked all the bags seen above and are settling in nicely to the city.  Here are some of my favorite pictures from Abdoulaye's arrival - we're so blessed that my Mom, Dad, step-mom Sheri and sister Lindsay were able to make the journey up to DC to greet us at the airport.  Cassie made us a fabulous banana bread cake and we toasted to our new beginning!
May the roof above never fall in and the friends below never fall out :) 

Yesterday, we registered Abdoulaye for English classes at Language ETC.  I'm excited to see how it goes
With my sister, Lindsay
With my wedding dowry fabric from Abdoulaye's family :)
See more pictures from our trip to Dakar here!

We are also thinking of Mali as always - more dramatic news coming out of Mali last night with the arrest of Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra...

Friday, December 7, 2012

Operation K-1 fiancé visa: Part 2

Walking from the airport to the taxi and the taxi to the apartment, dust and sand from the whipping winds of Dakar had already coated my feet, hands and hair with a fine layer of grit.  On our ride to the apartment, I was greeted with the sound of pounding mortars and pestles, morning calls to prayer and the sight of women in brightly colored wax print fabric.  If my boarding pass wasn't proof enough, the sights and sounds around me told the tale:  I was back in West Africa.  

After settling in at our friend's apartment, who graciously allowed us to stay with him, we lunched on hamburgers and caught up with Abdoulaye's brother, Youssouf, who I had never met and who is training at a soccer camp in Dakar.  I was more curious than nervous to see what it would be like to be with Abdoulaye after seven months apart.  A few hours together in Dakar reassured me that our emails, daily Skype sessions and/or talking on the phone every day was worth the effort.  While we certainly had to get used to one another again, the transition was brief and we quickly fell into our former routines.  

On Monday morning we sat on the living room floor, piles of papers, folders and pictures with the date scrawled on the back spread before us.  I opened the K-1 visa instructions sent by the embassy and carefully paper-clipped our forms together in the order they were requested.  Thanks to a friend who had recently gone through the process, and the incredibly informative site, we felt adequately (maybe above?) prepared.  Satisfied Abdoulaye's documents were sufficiently in order, we ventured out of the apartment to visit the neighborhood, aptly called Les Mamelles for the two nearby hills resembling a cow's udder.  We walked the winding path up to the lighthouse and took pictures of the setting sun while debating former Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade's controversial statue symbolizing the African Renaissance across the street. 

Neither Abdoulaye nor I slept well and when the alarm went off at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, we were already awake.  I made omelettes and Abdoulaye prepared tea after checking his packets of documents one last time and putting the final touches on our outfits.  With the sun not yet risen, we sleepily loaded into a taxi and headed to the American embassy.

 We arrived by 7:30 a.m. and joined the already long line of West Africans waiting for their own visa interviews.  After taking the SIM card out of my camera and leaving my passport with the guards at the door, Abdoulaye and I settled in to wait for his number, 320, to be called.  I read parts at a time from Dancing the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa and talked with Abdoulaye about what I am learning about the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I did my best to keep the mood light but Abdoulaye's face, which doesn't betray him, showed how he really felt.  Normally a bastion of reassurance, Abdoulaye was visibly nervous and I did my best to quell his anxiety with my good jokes.  :) 

The walls of the waiting area were open to the outside – save for heavy iron bars – and it sounded like a dance club was testing their speakers not too far from the embassy compound.  Rihanna lyrics pulsed over the air waves while men in bright boubous with prayer beads and women with large head-wraps prayed on benches in front of us.  Finally, Abdoulaye's number blinked onto the small screen at the front of the room and we collected our papers and my bag and headed in.  Abdoulaye handed his folder over to a woman behind the counter and she scattered all of our carefully arranged documents before her, pulling the ones of interest out and handing us back the rest.  We went to sit again for a couple more hours until, with only three other people waiting, Abdoualye's name was called.  

While I felt confident Abdoulaye would get the visa, it was a bit unnerving when the only other couple in the waiting area trying for the K-1 fiancé visa was denied for insufficient paperwork.  As I sat on the hard wooden bench, trying not to imagine how it would feel if the consular officer asked Abdoulaye for more documents and thus delaying our timeline, Abdoulaye peeked out of the interview room and waved me in.  The consular officer asked me how long I had lived in Mali, when Abdoulaye and I met and then handed a green piece of paper to Abdoulaye.  He said everything looked good and to come back on Thursday to pick up his visa.  After seven months of anticipation, the wait was finally over.

Once outside, we took turns calling our parents to share the good news.  Abdoulaye's mom brought him to tears when she said how much she wished she could be sharing the news with her recently deceased husband and promised to fast for two days to thank God for his benevolence.  My mom squealed with delight and said how much she had prayed for us, too and how excited she was to see us at the airport.  Dear friends and family sent sweet messages after learning about our good news – we are truly blessed!  

As I write this, Abdoulaye is sleeping next to me, his back gently rising and falling in time with his light snores and the sound of crickets is coming in through our window.  In less than 24 hours, we'll be in the United States, ready to embark on the next chapter of our adventure together.  While the past seven months were difficult, we both know the road ahead will have its own challenges in store for us - at least we'll be together while facing them!

Operation K-1 Fiancé Visa: Part One

This has sort of accidentally become our pose (see Morocco and Guinea).  Next on our list?  Virginia Beach, VA!
When I felt the plane begin to make its' descent toward Dakar, Senegal, I pulled out my cosmetics bag, a gift from Kate's wedding, and began to freshen up.  In the airplane bathroom, I traded in a floor length skirt for a knee-grazing strapless dress.  I put on a cardigan and belted it around my waist before slipping on a pair of high heels.  After picking up my suitcase and passing through immigration, I took a deep breath and rolled my luggage cart out of the airport's sliding doors.  Seven months of waiting to see Abdoulaye in person was about to be over.

Over a year ago, Abdoulaye and I got engaged in my boss's living room (and again on a hillside in Fes, Morocco).  After a stint in the US in the fall of 2011, when I began a low-residency Master of Arts degree in International Education, I returned to Mali in February with intentions of staying until December 2013.  The coup d'état in March changed those plans.  After a brief evacuation to Ghana, and a visit to Guinea to meet Abdoulaye's family, I returned to the US at the end of April and submitted the paperwork for a K-1 fiancé visa for Abdoulaye – a process that is estimated to take 6-9 months.  In June, I packed my bags again and moved to Washington, DC to begin work at the World Resources Institute – this time for what I hoped would be a more permanent move!  

Spring turned to summer and summer turned to fall before we heard from Immigration Services again.  Then, as I waited out Hurricane Sandy with my family in Virginia Beach, I received a text message indicating that our case was en route  to Senegal – the West African regional processing center for K-1 (and immigration) visas.  Abdoulaye was in Guinea assisting with preparations for the 40-day celebration following the death of his father.  We scheduled his interview for December 4th – almost seven months to the day after our case was processed by USCIS.  Life has a funny way of hiding blessings – Baba's passing meant Abdoulaye went to Guinea much earlier than previously planned and allowed him to spend much more time with his family than he had intended.  Had he already been in the US and his father passed away, it would have been much more difficult to do so.
With Abdoulaye (left) and his little brother, Youssouf (right).  Me in the middle!
As I stepped out of the airport, the cold morning air sent chills throughout my body.  The sun was just about to rise in Dakar and the sky was filled with soft blues and pinks, the low-light forcing me to strain a little bit to discern the faces in the crowd of people before me.  Thankful for the cart's handle to lean on, I tried to walk slowly in order to not trip on my heels and carefully scanned the sea of expectant faces in the pre-dawn light.  After rolling a few steps I heard Abdoulaye's voice before I saw him, “Jenny!” he called and I saw his lanky form behind the iron barriers – flanked by his younger brother, Youssouf and another friend from Guinea, Michel.  Seven months of waiting to see Abdoulaye in person was over!

Part II detailing our visit to the American embassy and our time in Dakar on the way!

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