Here's where the real battle began! The letters were over and it was time to face the masters of red tape...government agencies.
I spoke to Emelda on the phone and she informed me that her final interview had been scheduled for December ninth at 7 a.m. She said that a package of forms were mailed to her on November twelfth and received by her on November 29th. This news really surprised me for two reasons: #1-I was told that we would have a one-month advance notice of the final interview and #2-I was told that the interview would be in February (at the earliest). We now had to scramble to get Emelda to Manila. I told Emelda that I would check into flight information and call her right back.
I hung up with Emelda and called Philippine Airlines in Manila. They told me that all of the flights from Ozamiz to Cebu were full for the next few weeks (Emelda would have to fly to Cebu in order to connect to Manila). After a few minutes, the airline representative changed her story and told me that the flights might in fact not be full, but that they could only sell a maximum of fifteen tickets from the Manila office. He suggested that I call the Philippine Airlines office in Ozamiz to see if they had any tickets left.
Since there was no answer at the Ozamiz office, I called Emelda back and asked her to go to the office on the following day to check into the soonest flight out of Ozamiz. We were both excited that the wheels were again turning after two and a half months of zero action, but we were nervous about getting her to Manila in time. You see, she had to get her medical check done prior to the interview, so we couldn’t delay too long. I hung up with Emelda and then called my bank’s (Wells Fargo) 24-hour phone line and transferred some money into an account, which Emelda could withdraw from so that she would have money for the trip.
Since I still had not sent in my Affidavit of Support (and supporting documentation) in, I spent the entire morning making photocopies and getting the affidavit notarized. I had not sent the forms in earlier because I was informed that they would not be needed until February and we had been informed that we would get a one-month advance notice. Now, I had to get my butt in gear. I took the big packet of forms to the Post Office and sent them to the embassy via International Express Mail. I was going to send them via Federal Express, but I was late for work and the postal employee informed me that the Express Letter would be there ‘in two to three days.’ Since it had to be there for her interview eight days later, they had plenty of time, even if they took twice as long as they claimed they would.
Emelda booked herself on a flight from Ozamiz to Cebu on December third and another one from Cebu to Manila on the same day. She booked her return flights for December fifteenth. She was able to withdraw money from my account and pay for the tickets. I also transferred additional funds to cover her expenses and a few fees ($85.00 for the medical check and $170.00 for her final interview).
Emelda flew to Cebu where I spoke to her on the cellular phone I had bought for her long ago. She then continued on to Manila where she would travel to nearby Cubao, Quezon City, by bus to stay with her brother Alex.
Emelda went to St. Luke’s Medical Center in Manila to get her medical check done. They informed her that she could not apply for her medical check until she had obtained her passport. She then traveled to the Department of Foreign Affairs and applied for her passport. When I spoke to Emelda that evening, she informed me that they had told her that her passport would not be ready until Monday, December eighth at 6 p.m. Since her final interview was scheduled for 7 a.m. on December ninth, the delay in obtaining the passport would delay her medical check and prevent her from attending her interview.
Needless to say, this alarmed me. I asked Emelda if she had told the passport office about the urgency of her situation. Emelda told me that she had said nothing, but had just accepted what the clerk had told her. Emelda’s passive attitude frustrated me. I told her that I would call her back, hung up and called the passport office. An employee told me that Emelda should’ve mentioned her situation so that they could’ve expedited the processing of her passport application. The employee told me to have Emelda return to the office on the following day so that she could talk to the director and get her passport sooner.
I called Emelda back and told her to return to the passport office on the following day to get things moving. Emelda didn’t want to go, but I convinced her to do so.
I called St. Luke’s Medical Center to try to find out why Emelda would need a passport in order to get a medical check. After being handed off to three different employees who kept giving me non-answers, I had to settle for, "It’s standard operating procedure." My frustration grew.
I spoke to Emelda who informed me that she had returned to the passport office and that they told her that her application could not be expedited. I told her to wait for another call from me and called the passport office myself. I made a nuisance of myself and eventually got the private office number of the Director of the DFA. I sat and hit the redial button over and over until the busy signal turned into a ring. When I spoke to the Director, he informed me that the rush service took three days and that it could not be expedited any faster due to the regulations. When I told him what his employee had erroneously told me, he played dumb. Furthermore, he told me that Emelda’s claim that the passport would be ready at 6 p.m. on Monday was incorrect. He said that the earliest that the passport could be ready was 4 p.m. on Tuesday. I sucked my anger inside and managed to remain humble and respectful to the man. I didn’t want to upset him and delay Emelda’s passport any longer. I thanked him for his time and called Emelda back.
I asked Emelda why she said that the passport would be ready on Monday at 6 p.m. She said that her receipt said so. I asked her to get the receipt, but she said that she had given it to her brother. After I told her about what the director had said (that it wouldn’t be ready until Tuesday), Emelda confessed that she did not in fact read the due date and time on a receipt, but had in fact just ‘assumed’ that it would be ready then. I stressed to Emelda how important it was that she not assume anything but was attentive to detail and asked questions when she talked to these government officials. I confess that my anger was quite apparent over the phone. This put Emelda into her patented ‘quiet mode,’ which makes communication nearly impossible. It was soon obvious that I was upsetting her (although her kind nature would never let her admit it) with my assertive instructions and pleas for her to be more diligent in her efforts, so I apologized and told her that I would call her back on Monday after I spoke to the embassy to see if her interview could be rescheduled. Since one can only call the Immigrant Visa Section from 10 a.m. to noon, I had already missed my chance to call them on that day.
I called the Postal Service’s 1-800 tracking number to see if the affidavit packet had reached Manila and was informed that the computer had not yet registered it as delivered. Since it had already been five days, I began to worry. I quickly calmed myself and resolved to check on it over the weekend.
I called the tracking number again and was informed that the package was still not at the embassy. I got a live person on the line and complained. The guy told me that they would initiate a sixteen-day investigation. When I told them that the packet had to be there by Tuesday at 7 a.m. and that I was told that the packet would only take two or three days, he told me that things sometimes get hung up in customs and take longer. This did not thrill me. I knew I should’ve used Federal Express!
I called the American embassy in Manila and eventually got through to someone in the Immigrant Visa Section who told me that Emelda could simply come to her interview on Tuesday without her passport and medical check, have her interview and then get those two things taken care of later, after which, she could return to the embassy for final processing. This calmed my nerves a bit. I called Emelda and told her to go to the embassy as the lady on the phone had told me she should do. Emelda informed me that she would.
I faxed copies of eighteen documents to the embassy in the hopes that they would reach Emelda’s folder by the time of her interview. When I first tried to use my fax machine, it did not feed the papers through. I discovered that a broken glass had sent shards into the feeding mechanism. As I fished out the jagged pieces of glass, I punctured my right index finger and began bleeding all over the place. Since I had no Band-Aids, I grabbed some toilet paper and wrapped up my wound. I fed the papers through the now-freed feeding mechanism and tried not to get blood on the documents.
I called the Postal Service and kept asking for every incompetent person’s supervisor to try to get action on my late mail. I was transferred from one Washington DC, phone number to another and then to Dallas and then to Los Angeles where I spoke to an employee whose ignorance was stunning. She told me that I could get a refund. I told her that I didn’t need a refund, but needed someone to get the forms to the friggin’ embassy. She told me to speak to her supervisor who was at lunch. When I got through to her, she was rude and contradicted what her supervisee had said. When I eventually discovered that this supervisor was in charge of West Coast domestic Express Mail, I nearly exploded.
I hung up in exasperation and called the 1-800 number. My annoying pestering of these people eventually got me connected to a higher-up who seemed to have a few brain cells. He told me that he saw that there was a note on my case entered into the computers and that he was waiting for a call back from the Philippine Postal Center in Manila. He also informed me that the Philippines had no computer tracking system, so it was difficult to accurately track International Express Mail there. I told the man that I would hold the line while he called the Philippine Postal Center. He told me that this was not something that he was ‘really supposed to do,’ but he promised to call them and then call me back within fifteen minutes with a report.
True to his word, this helpful man did call me back within fifteen minutes. He told me that my packet had been received by the embassy on December fifth, but that it had just not been entered into the computer due to the U.S. Postal Service waiting for faxed documentation. I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the man for his help. That was one battle I had won!
I spoke to Emelda who informed me that no one would allow her to enter the embassy without her medical check and passport. A man had apparently checked her documents and told her to go to the National Statistics Office to have her birth certificate and marriage certificate authenticated (Emelda’s 1976 birth was not officially registered until 1987 and our wedding had taken place a long way from Manila). It was quite apparent that the embassy employee I had spoken to was completely clueless and had given me bad information. Emelda told me that she had gone to the National Statistics office and would return the following day. She also informed me that she waited for hours for her passport but that it was still not ready. The apparent incompetence irked me. Emelda planned to return to try to get her passport the following day and then, to try to get her medical check if time permitted.
I called the embassy and was transferred around and put on hold several times before getting through to the Immigrant Visa Section. I asked if Emelda’s interview could be rescheduled for a day or two after she eventually obtained her passport and medical check or if the interview would be delayed by several weeks. I was informed that she could simply come in on any weekday at 6;30 a.m. with her documentation. I also asked them if my Affidavit of Support had been placed into Emelda’s file yet. He said that it was nowhere to be found. He also informed me that they had no record of Emelda coming to the embassy as she had claimed. I asked them to look for my packet and was informed that I was supposed to have sent that directly to Emelda. Well, since I had been told by an embassy employee to send it directly to the embassy, my frustration grew again.
I spoke to Emelda who informed me that she had obtained her passport and her authenticated documents. She then told me that she would be getting her medical check on the following day. Things were beginning to look up when Emelda told me that she had been informed by an embassy employee that she should attend a seminar on Wednesday, December 17th before going to the embassy. This contradicted what I had been told by an embassy employee. My frustration grew yet again as I began to wonder about our embassy’s hiring standards.
I spoke to Emelda who informed me that she had obtained her medical documentation after having been checked out. When I asked her to go to the embassy in the morning, she brought up the story that the embassy employee had told her about waiting until after the mystery seminar on the following Wednesday. I told her that we needed to play it safe (due to the conflicting stories) and that she should go to the embassy in the morning. She resisted and I spent about 45 minutes cajoling her into complying with my assertion that we need to cover all of the bases in case she was misinformed. After I cried and got angry, she reluctantly agreed and promised to turn her phone on the following day so that I could find out what happened.
I called the embassy again. They informed me that my affidavit and other documents were still nowhere to be found. I let my frustration become evident and the man on the phone got rude and hung up on me. Just for grins, I called the Postal Service’s tracking number and discovered that my packet was still listed as undelivered. I tried to sleep, but a clicking heater pipe kept me awake for hours. Life was hell!
I called Emelda. Her phone was not turned on. Emelda did this when she was not in the mood to talk to me or when she simply forgot to turn it on. Since this was a very important day, I became more and more frustrated as the hours wore on and her phone remained off. I called the embassy to try to speak to someone handling Emelda’s case, but the hours during which they would accept calls in that section had ended. I started to stress out in a big way. I repeatedly called Emelda for five hours. She had not turned her phone on by the time I tried to go to sleep. I set my alarm clock to wake me up every hour on the hour all night. Her phone remained off all night.
My mom came over to help me decorate my apartment and get it ready for Emelda’s allegedly impending arrival. My heart wasn’t in it. Since I had gotten almost no sleep, I had the headache of the century. To top it off, a new problem had reared its ugly head. A new regulation was threatening to erase months of work. In short, I had discovered that on December 19th, a new Affidavit of Support was going into effect. Actually, I had known about this new affidavit for months, but I was certain that I would not have to use it. The INS Website stated that the old form could still be used by anyone whose case was filed by December 18th or sooner. Since our case was filed in April, I never even looked at the new form.
Well, by going from embassy employee to embassy employee, I eventually spoke to one who knew what he was talking about. He informed me that the case was not considered ‘filed’ until the final interview began. In other words, if Emelda could not get her final interview taken care of by December 18th, we would have to use the new form. Since the new form requires that you send the embassy your tax returns for the past three years and since I didn’t have them, this meant that if Emelda didn’t get it together quickly, we would be separated for much longer than expected while I sent away to the IRS for copies of my tax returns and obtained the new Affidavit of Support. Getting the new form was easy. Getting the returns would take six to eight weeks. Who knows how long it would take the documents to get to the embassy?!
Needless to say, the above monkey in our wrench ratcheted up my nerves to an unheard of level of stress. With Emelda’s phone off, I had no way to discover what she had or had not accomplished. Every hour that passed in which I could not reach Emelda increased my stress level.
I repeatedly called Emelda every half-hour, but her phone continued to remain inactivated. I had never been so angry with Emelda. Her insensitivity was blowing me away.
When the embassy's Immigrant Visa Section phone hours began on Sunday at 6 p.m. (10a.m. Monday in the Philippines), I called them. After being put on hold over and over and being transferred to different departments and being told that I couldn't be put on hold by one employee right after I had just been actually put on hold by another employee, I finally spoke to someone on the team that is handling Emelda's case. He informed me that they had no record of Emelda coming to the embassy on the previous Friday. He also told me that the story told to Emelda (to go to a seminar on Wednesday then to the embassy on Thursday) was absurd, would be a waste of time and would only delay her case. He informed me that the seminar was to be taken after the final interview and after the visa was issued. I was humble, calm and thanked him for his kind assistance, but I was a raging sea of anger.
This whole situation led me to the conclusion that Emelda had just humored me by promising to go to the embassy on Friday and was instead planning to just do what she wanted to do. Since her phone was off, I could only assume that she just didn't want to deal with me. I certainly assumed a lot responsibility for her feeling this way. I should've stopped myself from getting so angry with her on the phone, but her repeated refusals to do what was needed just killed me. I wish I could've been more in control. She was totally overwhelmed by the whole process. I was too.
My friend Grace kindly jumped into the fray to help me. Grace is a lady I know via a listserve I run. She is a member of the listserve and lives in Cebu City, Philippines. When I spoke to Grace via an Internet chat, she offered to call Emelda's brother Alex in Manila at his job (he speaks very little English, so It would be pointless for me to call) and explain the situation to him so that he could either get Emelda to go to the embassy, turn her phone on or call me collect. I had already left messages for Alex at his workplace numerous times, asking him to do just that.
When I got home from work, I spoke to Grace via the Internet. Since Emelda’s flight was originally scheduled to depart from Manila on this day, I was just hoping that she hadn't used her ticket and flown back to Ozamiz in exasperation when she was so close to the finish line. What Grace told me dismayed me more than anything I had yet heard. She told me that Alex had told her that not only had Emelda not gone to the embassy, but that she still did not have her passport! This meant that Emelda had been lying to me. At first, I refused to accept this, thinking that Grace must’ve misunderstood, but then I remembered that the embassy had repeatedly told me that Emelda had never gone to the embassy.
It was at that point that I just gave up on the whole affair. I had concentrated all of my efforts for eight months on getting Emelda to America as quickly as possible and it seemed that Emelda was undoing all of my work. With the December 18th deadline fast approaching, it was beginning to look as though I wouldn’t see Emelda for a long time. I felt betrayed by Emelda and my own government. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I vowed to stop trying to force Emelda to do what she needed to do. I had no more anger left. I had no energy left to put into this whole process. I felt completely helpless and at the mercy of the woman I was desperately trying to help. I wrapped my mind around the idea that I would not be reunited with Emelda any time soon. Suddenly, I was at peace. I had gone above and beyond the call of duty and could do no more.
Well, Thanks to Grace's assistance, Emelda turned her phone on. I gently and softly spoke to Emelda without a hint of anger and told her how much I appreciated her efforts, etc. I sucked everything inside and put on a performance to help her feel supported and empowered.
Through Grace calling Emelda's brother at work, I discovered that Emelda had indeed been lying to me. She had told me that she had gotten her passport and medical check and was ready to go to the embassy, but this was not true. In reality, she had screwed up and did not pay for rush service on her passport. She was embarrassed and worried that I would be angry, so she lied about it and shut down direct communications by turning the cellular phone off.
When I finally reached her on the phone, I softly said, "So, you don't have your passport yet?" I could hear her gasp in surprise. This broke the ice and she began to tell me the truth. The only lie that she still clung to was the reason she left the phone off. She said that she was charging the batteries for those five days that the phone was off. Well, that was 100% untrue. The batteries take less than 1 day to charge. I told her that we could just forget about that issue and I apologized for making her feel that she had to lie to me. At the beginning of the call, Emelda said that she just wanted to give up and fly back to Ozamiz. By the end of the call, after I had emotionally propped her up and asked her to be strong for us, she was back on the team.
Here's where we stood: with only a few days left until the day that the regulations changed, Emelda still did not have her passport. She told me that she would be able to pick it up at 9 a.m. Wednesday, December 17th. Then, she would rush to St. Luke's to get her medical check. The results often take three days to attain, so I called St. Luke's and (after being put on hold for 15 minutes) they told me that the tests could be completed and the certificates awarded in less than one day if Emelda were to bring her appointment letter, explained her situation and had a clean bill of health (no irregularities which would require further tests).
Since the embassy still could not find my packet of forms, I asked Emelda to do one additional thing for us. I asked her to find a place where I could fax copies of the documents to her directly.
If Emelda could get this done by the following day (Wednesday in the Philippines), she could go to the embassy on Thursday and pull out a last second victory. If on the other hand, she couldn't pull this off, I would be forced to use the new Affidavit of Support and we'd be separated for a long time. I was at peace with this. As I said, I couldn't get angry anymore. I was 99% sure that Emelda wouldn't pull this off, but I kept praying. I again apologized for getting angry with Emelda and asked her to turn her phone on after she attempted to get her medical check expedited. I couldn’t sleep a wink.
My work suffered greatly after discovering the aforementioned setbacks. A headache ruled the day. I happened to check out my horoscope, which said something pretty interesting: "What was lost seven days ago will be recovered in dramatic fashion." Well, Emelda's originally scheduled interview had been seven days prior, so I marveled at the phrase. Perhaps the stars would shine on us? I usually don’t lend much credence to horoscopes, but I really wanted to believe this one.
That night would be December 17th in the Philippines and, assuming Emelda turned on her phone as she had promised, I would have the final chapter in this saga. I would know once and for all if we would have the chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat or if I would be forced into more months of loneliness.
12-17-97 (in the Philippines)
Emelda’s phone was not turned on at the time she had promised, but I assumed that she was busy getting things done, so I didn’t let it get to me. When I did get through to her, she told me that she was able to pick up her passport and complete her medical checks! She was at a place where I could fax her the supporting documents that had still not reached her file at the embassy. I quickly faxed twenty documents to the phone number she gave me. When I went to call her back, her phone was off, so I feverishly faxed a hastily prepared page that exerted someone to, "Tell Emelda Hollis to turn her phone on!"
The phone got turned on about five minutes later. I sighed with relief and asked Emelda to make photocopies of the documents (she needed to present them to the embassy in duplicate). We were not quite out of the woods yet, but things were looking up! They did not give her the results of her medical tests, but they did give her some documentation stating that her medical checks had been completed and they told her that she could go to the embassy on the following morning and have her final interview and exit seminar. Her medical results would be available after 8 a.m. on that same morning (according to St. Luke's).
If the person who told Emelda the aforementioned information was correct, we would have a good chance of winning this game at the buzzer! On the other hand, having been told many false things by many different people during this inhuman process, I felt nervous about Emelda’s chances. I tried in vain to sleep through the clicking heating pipe yet again.
The moment of truth had arrived. This was the final day that Emelda could complete her interview before the regulations would change and keep us apart for more months. The question of whether or not Emelda could pull of a last second victory would be answered on this day.
I reached her via the phone.
She had gone to the embassy.
The embassy was only open for a half day.
She got there early.
All of her papers were in order.
They conducted her final interview.
SHE WAS APPROVED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia! Halleluia!
YES! SHE DID IT!!! V is for victory! The saga had a happy ending!!! YEE-HAW!!!!!!!!!!!
All she had to do was pick up her visa on Monday, December 22nd (the embassy would be closed on the 19th) and she'd be eligible to enter the U.S. as soon as we could get her on a flight!
I was stunned at Emelda’s news! I had really been resigned to the idea that I would be forced to live without her for awhile. The dramatic final act proved the horoscope to be true. Perhaps there is something to that mumbo jumbo?
I sent e-mails to my listserve, my family and several friends letting them in on the good news. I had kept the struggle secret from everyone in my family except my parents who had been praying hard the whole time. I didn’t want to bring any anxiety to the rest of my family. The members of my listserve had been getting updates on the situation for about a week and showered me with congratulations and kind words. It was nice to have the support that so many men in my position often have to live without. Many men who marry women under my circumstances are ostracized and shunned by family and friends. I thanked God for my many blessings.
I spoke to Emelda who told me of her travel plans. She was not able to get a seat on any flights to Ozamiz, so she planned to take a ship there. The soonest one that was not full (due to the Christmas holiday), was on Christmas Day. She would be forced to miss spending Christmas with her family. We decided that Emelda should spend New Year’s Day in Ozamiz and planned for her to come to America in early January. I also asked Emelda to find a bag, which she could buy to transport her worldly possessions to America. I later transferred more money so that she could purchase one.
Emelda picked up her packet of visa forms. I was not able to reach her on the phone.
I spoke to Emelda. She had purchased the bag and was preparing herself for the 30-hours-plus ship voyage from Manila to Ozamiz. Emelda hates ships, so I felt bad for her. She was in good spirits and wished my family and me a merry Christmas. She tried to guess at the contents of a package that my family had sent to hers in Ozamiz (I had alluded to it during the preparations for her trip to Manila). She was able to figure out that it was a television set. We shared a few laughs and hung up. The previous tension was gone.
I spoke to Emelda in Ozamiz via phone. She sounded ecstatic to be in a friendly environment and we had a great conversation. The plan was now for her to take a ship from Ozamiz to Cebu (all of the flights were full) on January eighth and then fly on from Cebu to Manila on January ninth where she would board a plane to Los Angeles.
My usually competent travel agent had thrown me a curve ball. She had told me that Emelda could pick up the tickets that I purchased (on December 24th) in Ozamiz on December 29th. Now, she had called me and told me that the Ozamiz office of Philippine Airlines had no computer. Thus, Emelda would have to take a taxi to the ticketing office in Cebu after her ship ride. Emelda told me that she would go to the Ozamiz office on Monday, December 29th to see if they could somehow give her the tickets. Emelda said that they could call the Manila office and give them the reservation number and possibly get the tickets there. I promised to call Emelda back the next day with the reservation number so that she could do that.
I called Emelda and gave her the reservation number. Now, it's just down to the logistics of getting her tickets to her and bringing her here.
Emelda informed me that the Ozamiz ticketing office could not give her the Cebu to Manila ticket or the Manila to L.A. ticket there, but that there were open seats on a January 7th flight from Ozamiz to Cebu. I called my bank and transferred money for her to buy a ticket. I then called my travel agent and changed her Cebu to Manila flight from January ninth to January seventh. She had previously told me that Emelda could not pick her tickets up at the Cebu airport. Now, her story had changed again. I was informed that she could pick them up there. Nothing can be easy, can it?!!
I spoke to Emelda who told me that she had not been able to pick up her tickets due to her bank's ATM being out of order. They had told her that she should come back later. I asked if she had made a reservation on the January 7th flight that I had been told was fully booked, but that Emelda had told me was not fully booked. She said that she had made a reservation. I had doubts, so I told her that I would call the ticketing office to make sure.
I called them up. They had no reservation under Emelda Hollis or Emelda Garcines. They also informed me that the flight was fully booked. "Oh boy!" I thought, "Another problem!"
I called Emelda back and asked her if she was absolutely certain that she had made a reservation. She said that she had. I asked her what name she had put the reservation under. She said that she hadn't given her name. Well, right then, I knew that Emelda had failed to make a reservation. I explained to her that you have to give your name out in order to get a reservation. Emelda then told me that she had been to the ticketing office that morning and had been told that there were seats available. I told her that they might have gotten sold and then said that I would call back and see if I got a new story this time. (The embassy kept giving me different stories, so I figured, "What the hell!")
Well, this time when I called back, a different person told me that there were seats available on that flight! UGH! I told her that I had just been told that there were no seats left. She asked me to hold and set the phone down. In the background, I could hear them counting the seats! She came back and said that there was ONE seat left! I made a reservation for Emelda then called Emelda with the good news. The lady told me that Emelda could pick the tickets up on January 2nd and Emelda agreed to do so.
12-31-97 (in the Philippines)
I called Emelda to see if she had been able to withdraw the money for the ticket. She said that she had. Due to my bank making a mistake and charging me a service charge that they shouldn't have (not the first time they screwed up), Emelda would barely have enough for the ticket, so I asked he to make sure and not spend any of the money on anything else, so that she would have enough. She got very quiet and suddenly seemed sad. After about 20-30 minutes of trying to get her to tell me what was wrong, she finally said that her family had no money for Medianoche (midnight on New Year's Eve). I told her to go ahead and use the ticket money and that I would send her additional funds. She perked right up!
I called Emelda who let me know that she had a great Medianoche and had already gotten the money and the ticket. Whew! That battle was over!
I got ahold of my travel agent who now told me that Emelda could not pick her tickets from Cebu to Manila at the Cebu airport but would indeed be forced to take a taxi to one of the ticketing offices in Cebu. I wondered if her story would change yet again! I worried out loud as to whether or not Emelda would be stranded in Cebu (there had been some question as to whether or not the reservation change had actually been told to the Cebu office). My travel agent (who is a Filipina originally from Ozamiz City herself) told me to relax and that Emelda would soon be here. I told her that I probably worry too much and thanked her in Visayan. She said, "Walang anuman" ("you're welcome" in Tagalog) and we hung up. I was still worried!
1-6-98 (in the Philippines)
I had my final phone conversation with Emelda who plans to leave her cellular phone in Ozamiz so she can call her family every once in awhile. I asked her if she had gotten everything ready and she assured me that she had. She sounded very sad on the phone and the conversation was far from enjoyable. She was obviously sad to be leaving her home. I felt a bit guilty, but we both knew that this was part of the equation when we agreed to marry. The upcoming change in her life would be the most radical in her 21 years on this planet. How could she feel any different? She let me know that she needed more money and I vowed to send her more (for expenses). I asked her to give the ATM card to her parents, so that we could send money to them every month (a Filipino tradition). She seemed pleased that I was down with that program and we shared our final telephone exclamations of, "I love you."
Now, I just have to wait to see if she shows up at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday, January 9th. That will be a long day with, I hope, a happy reunion.
Well, I spoke too soon! I called Emelda again and, even though she planned to leave her cell phone in Ozamiz, I reached her in Cebu via that phone. I caught her between flights. She decided to take the phone to Manila and leave it with her brother instead of leaving it with her parents in Ozamiz. Lucky me! I got to talk to her again! Also, if she has problems in Manila, we can communicate easily. She seemed in much better spirits than our previous conversation. She said that she was feeling a mixture of happiness and sadness, but she kept saying, "I'm coming!" with jubilation. I can't wait to see her!
I called Philippine Airlines to see if there would be any extra airport fees for Emelda when she flew to L.A. I knew that there would be a 500 peso airport surcharge but I was concerned that there might be some other surprise fees that would prevent her from getting here. I was informed that there would be an additional fee of 1620 pesos bringing the grand total to 2120 pesos. I called Emelda (after transferring more funds into Emelda's account) to let her know that she would need to have the funds ready. Her phone was turned off all day. So much for taking her phone to Manila! I hope she doesn't spend too much money before she gets to the airport!
1-9-98 3:00 p.m. (in the Philippines)
I reached Emelda by phone in Manila. She would be leaving for the airport at 4:00 p.m. for her 9:40 p.m. flight. It would take an estimated two hours for her to get from her location (Cubao, Quezon City, actually) to the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. We shared a lovely conversation and I informed her of the financial requirements of her upcoming air departure. We were both giddy at the prospect of seeing each other again. Before long, she had to go to take a bath and get something to eat before braving Manila traffic. This truly would be our last telephone conversation before our reunion. Time flew. Now, it's Emelda's turn...
Her flight touched down at 5:46 p.m. Due to a rainstorm and a traffic jam in an airport parking structure, I arrived at the arrival area of the international terminal just after 7:00 p.m. I looked around for Emelda who had told me that she would be wearing jeans and a white blouse. She was nowhere in sight. I used the restroom and then looked around for her some more. After about five minutes, she emerged from the ramp which leads to the arrival area and stood in one place, scanning for me. I walked up from behind her and put my arm around her. She was too shy and demure to reciprocate in front of hundreds of people, so we went across the street to the parking structure and headed up to the fifth level where my car was parked. Alone in the elevator, we stole a few hugs, but she wouldn't kiss me. She was worried about her breath and wanted to brush her teeth before she would award me with her lips.
We sat down in my car and clutched each other for awhile. I cried and cried and she tried to calm me. I had turned the car heater on as well as the cd player and we just held each other while we got warm and listened to romantic music. Eventually, I decided that I had better let go so that we could get home, get her teeth brushed and make out, but when I tried to start the car, the battery didn't have enough power. We had held each other so long that I had run down the battery! I called the Automobile Association of America for a jump start. They said that they would take awhile. I didn't care! I just clutched my bride as closely as I could!
The automobile club had trouble finding us, but it didn't matter because, after I gave the battery a rest, the car started up and we headed home. I said to Emelda, "This'll make a great story for the Website." She agreed.
Well, that’s where the story stands for now. Emelda is now adjusting to life in the big city. I am now trying not to cry tears of joy in front of her, but it is difficult. I'm so happy to have her here with me!
I am still overwhelmed by the magnitude of this whole saga (and the horrible use of my tax dollars that the INS and the American embassy in Manila represent). I am just a regular guy from a small town in central California. (Okay, maybe I’m not regular!) I always thought that I’d go to a big college and meet a girl in my sophomore year whom I’d wed and raise critters with while I directed major motion pictures. I never thought I’d have to wait to be reunited with a woman that I had married and been physically separated from for nine months across sixteen time zones. Whew!
And they say that marrying a Filipina and bringing her to the United States is an easy way to go? It’s far from it, but now that I can hold Emelda in my arms again, I know it was all worth it.
By the way, the 1-800 Postal Service tracking number still says that my packet has not arrived at the embassy in Manila. Next time, I’ll definitely use Federal Express.
To read the next chapter in our story (when we appeared on national television), click here.