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The Marriage Interview

Sweat rolled down my back.  Just two days before, the registered mail arrived in my name.  Thankfully, a bilingual friend was at the post office and was able to translate the letter for me: our marriage interview was scheduled in two days.  That night, Stelios made arrangements to have his brother tend the sheep and on Friday we took the now familiar bus route to the big city.

 

Molyvos, Greece

Will this remain my home? Molyvos, Greece

 

We arrived in the city hours early due to the bus schedule and enjoyed breakfast on an outdoor patio.  This was one of the first blazing-hot days of the year and the city was bustling. Refugee families (still some 7000 people stuck in Lesvos waiting for asylum cases to be processed) and locals play with their kids in the park. Vendors sell fresh tomatoes as red as blood from their trucks. Dogs roam freely hoping for a handout.  An old man plays the bouzouki on the sidewalk.  Shoppers move between 1-euro stores and high-end boutiques that cater to tourists.  And hundreds of people sit in umbrella-shaded cafes talking the morning away — a routine for many.

 

Foolishly, we arrived early to our appointment.  My ingrained “always-be-early” conditioning can’t be changed overnight.  We waited in a sweltering corridor so full of people that Stelios and I each stood on a step of a staircase, me holding the iron rail and occasionally placing my head on my arm in an exhausted and dramatic pose.  People came and went through that door, behind which I did not know what occurred, for 45 minutes after our allotted appointment time and sweat just poured off of me like I was knee-deep in magma.  Not a great look.

 

Finally, I was called in.  Alone.  And sweaty.  I would have preferred to run away but I acted like an adult because apparently, that’s what I am.

 

I entered the mysterious room to find four women and two men seated at a table.  With clipboards and notepads.  I was invited to sit and found myself trembling slightly.  That double cappuccino an hour before was a bad idea.  I explained that I did not speak Greek very well (understatement of the century) and fortunately they provided questions in English with one man translating for the others who did not speak English fluently.

 

I was asked a series of questions designed to determine that Stelios and I actually lived together and were truly a couple. So as not to agitate bureaucrats I won’t list them all here but they were sometimes extremely specific to the degree of whether I cooked his favorite dish with red beans or white.  Oh, man.  Some questions forced me to recall events which had occurred just a few days earlier but because every day is like a calendar-less dream I forget easily.  That made me more nervous which helped absolutely nothing. There was a statement made which felt more like an allegation: “You travel a lot” followed by silence and a stare.  As I mentioned before, I can’t explain my life to myself, or anyone for that matter, much less to bureaucrats who are not generally interested in magical serendipity, the pursuit of life-long dreams, or the fanatical collection of frequent flyer miles.  But I did my best.  After ten minutes, I was cordially dismissed.

 

Stelios is called in and I stand outside wondering.  Ten minutes later I hear uproarious laughter apparently when he was describing the way I prepare his favorite white-bean food which by Greek tradition I was preparing ridiculously wrongly.  So wrong that they found it hilarious.  After his questioning, he explained that he married for love and not some sinister ulterior motive.  He oozes sincerity so maybe that was the tipping point.  They suggested he did a good job and then he was also cordially dismissed.  There was no mention of what came next and neither of us asked because we were so grateful just to get out of there.

 

We left exhausted and somewhat scared about what was understood or believed. We compared answers and realized we were completely in sync, but still, it’s so unnerving to have your personal fate in the hands of others.

 

Meanwhile, my ability to travel was still hampered in that transiting back to the EU with only my temporary residency paper might leave me stranded depending on the particular agent or country I passed through.  Not worth the risk.

 

We spent the night in the city constantly rehashing the experience as we recalled tidbits of our time in the room.  By the end of the night, having walked around the harbor with its gorgeous twinkling lights we were resigned: “What will be, will be.”

 

Mytilini, Lesvos, Greece

The twinkling lights of the harbor of Mytilini, Greece.

 

After three weeks, Stelios called and he was told we would have an answer in three weeks.

 

Three weeks passed.

 

I didn’t sleep very well during these weeks and nagging anxiety was my constant companion.

 

Four weeks passed.

 

Five weeks passed.

 

Sensing my stress and feeling of desperation, Stelios called again and got great news. My residency card would be ready in two days.  I couldn’t believe it could be true.  I kept my excitement in check.

 

The day came and after another wait, this time much shorter in that steamy-hot corridor, we entered the office. The woman behind the desk spoke no English but took my temporary paper and handed me a residency card with my name and photo on it.  Surreal.  I glanced at the card and the words “Family Member of a Greek Citizen”.  That’s me!  They are talking about me!  I was bursting.  It’s valid for five years and allows me to stay and live and work.  Thank you, Greece!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

 

It was roughly one year from the time I started the initial paperwork in the United States for our marriage until the day I got the residency card.  It was roughly four months from the time I applied for residency to having the card in hand.  As bureaucratic processes go, this was all actually very quick.  Being in the thick of the waiting, however, with nothing but question marks about your future and unable to make plans, it feels like an eternity.  And I was lucky.  So many people do not and have not gotten any answers as to their future because of their misfortune of being born elsewhere and fleeing war.  I will never take the right to live here for granted or the ease in which my paperwork was processed in comparison.

 

Yes. This is my home.

Yep. This is my home.

 

I am so grateful that this chapter is over and so excited to be able to move ahead freely.  Another bridge crossed.  Now to sowing seeds, nourishing new roots and tending new growth in my life.  What kind of garden can I, will I, grow?

 

 

11 Comments

  1. Congratulations for all of your accomplishments!!! Woohoo!!!

  2. Laura,

    Congratulations! I agree that everything happened relatively quickly but I know it didn’t feel that way. I’m so happy for both of you.

  3. You can always start to put down roots by planting herbs – easy peasy! Orages and grapes might take a little longer!

  4. Congratulations!

  5. Oh JOY!! Thrilled to know the waiting is over…now onto the exuberance of living! My best to you and Stelios!

  6. Those times we “have” to be an adult can be so challenging, right? My husband and I went through something similar 40+ years ago when we married and he became a US citizen.

    Congratulations on securing your residency and best wishes for a lifetime of adventure!

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