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 visajourney.com, 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!