Monday, 17 October 2011

The journey to NC

I suppose I should start my US posts proper with an account of the journey from Birmingham to Charlotte, NC, which is where I left off in my last full blog post. I wanted to write it when it was fresh in my mind but, unsurprisingly, the whole event of leaving the country and seeing Ben again rather took over and left me with little energy/time/desire to want to sit in front of the computer. Now, though, I find myself sat in our - our! - apartment, managing to feel reasonably accomplished after six days of living here for real, and with a bit of time by myself while Ben is at a class. So, this would be an ideal time to write, just before I start cooking dinner in anticipation of his return. I am actually loving being at home, making food and keeping house, which isn't a huge surprise, as I like to care for people I love, but it is a big change for me. So far, so good.

So, I ended up hardly sleeping at the Novotel, although I made myself go to bed at 10PM, just to try to capitalise on the hours I did have available for resting pre-flight. I think I managed about 4 or 5 hours, which isn't too bad, and I didn't need my four phone alarms or three hotel wake-up calls to rouse me, as I was up and about by 3AM. I took my time getting ready and, after a quick discussion with the gentleman on reception, had a lot of help getting all my bags together and sorting out a trolley to transport them from the lobby to the terminal (just a quick walk across one road, but somewhat harder with six bags). Once I'd manoeuvred them down the ramp, across the zebra crossing and in through the departures door, I checked in on the computers, printed my boarding passes, and then checked my bags. I was quite nervous about this bit (I will find anything and everything to worry about, in any situation), but it all went fine and there were no objections to my extra hand luggage of my wedding dress. I had to cross over to a separate desk to pay for my extra two checked suitcases, and the lovely lady on that desk opened early so that I could pay and go through security. Add to that the fact that the bags cost about £70 less than the fees stated on the airline's website, and I could have hugged her!

Security was easy enough - standard bags-through-scanner, laptop-in-tray, walk-through-metal-detector - and I was quickly in the departures lounge, now with about two hours to kill. So, I settled in to Pret a Manger, grabbed a coffee and a juice, and mucked about on the internet for about an hour. It was a bit difficult to browse the shops with three bags (laptop, hand luggage, and wedding dress), not to mention pointless as I needed to minimise what I was taking with me, so other than a quick trip to WH Smith for an easy-to-read murder mystery to keep my mind busy, I stayed put until my flight was called.

There was a small amount of drama once we'd all boarded the plane and the doors had been closed: the flight's landing slot had been put back an hour, due to the weather conditions in Germany. This resulted in a rather nervous (again!) me, insulting Frankfurt over the interwebs, and texting my Dad with my concerns about making the connection. A quick chat with one of the flight attendants though, as per my father's advice, calmed me down a good deal, as not only would I still have ample time to make the Charlotte flight, but if anything else changed, they would put on a bus shuttle service to expedite our transfer. Phew!

As it happened, the flight was a little later than first estimated, so I had just over an hour to make my connection. Apparently, Frankfurt airport guidelines suggest you need a minimum of 45 minutes to make connections, so no one was panicking and no bus was put on for any of the passengers on my flight. This resulted in me pretty much legging it across what felt like the entire length of the airport (which is huge!) to reach area C, gate 9, to board the CLT flight. It was a little stressful, but having to keep going, well, kept me going, and it was all not only very smooth, but resulted in the fastest boarding time I've ever had between arriving at the gate and actually being allowed on to the plane. Result! To add to that, the security staff (I had to do all the security stuff again, both verbal questioning, twice - once for general travel checks, once for the address I'd be staying at, at two separate desks - and another bag/person scan) were not only friendly, TWO of them got very excited when they saw that I was on a K-1 visa, and even asked me about our wedding plans. Hee!

On the plane, one of the flight attendants saw my special wedding dress travel box and immediately came up to me, smiling, and asked what it was. She was so excited when I told her, and offered to take it into business class to put it in the area where the crew store their things, showing me as she did so. Wonderful! So, I was relieved of that weight until the end of the flight, and this allowed me to settle into my seat, get my laptop tucked away and my hand luggage above me. I was lucky enough to have a seat by a delightful woman called Miriam, who was about to turn 28 and travelling to Ohio to surprise her father with a visit (she is half German, half American). We chatted a lot during the flight - which was a ridiculous 9 hours and 40 minutes long! - and had great deal in common, which was so lovely, and so lucky! We swapped contact details and I hope we will keep in touch.

All the paperwork needed for entry to the US has to be done on the flight to the first port of arrival so, along with fishing my sealed enveloped containing all the documents for immigration out of my hand luggage, I had to fill in a landing card and an I-94, another landing card for those coming in on visas. These aren't too complicated, and doing them on the flight itself saves time when you're queuing for border control. Once we had landed, and I had retrieved my wedding dress from the grinning flight attendant, who called out, "You're going to be a beautiful bride!" as I left the aircraft (so sweet!), I was faced with a choice of three queues: non-US citizen green card holder, visa waiver/visa holders, and US citizens. Of the three lines, the first seemed to be the shortest and also quickest to be processed, which might be an argument to stick with a green card rather than going for citizenship, although I'm not sure whether that is always the case. Obviously I joined the middle queue, as I had the K-1. I was a little confused as to whether the officer on the desk would do everything there and then, as the queues were huge and my visa would take some time to process - not helpful for every other traveller behind me. As it happens, though, the basic details are taken at the desk here, with fingerprints etc., and then your documents and passport are put into a clear plastic envelope and taken to a separate US customs holding area. I was given a reference number slip to carry with me, and instructed to pick up my baggage as normal, before following signs to the waiting area for visa processing. I was again pleasantly surprised by the jovial nature of the officials I spoke with: the gentleman on the first desk even joked with me about how I looked far better now than I did in my passport photo (cheeky monkey!).

In the waiting area, I was asked to leave my luggage at one side, by some more security scanners, and then sit down in what looked like a large doctor's waiting room, with a TV and some random magazines, plus a pile of flyers showing off the US customs' success statistics. There were only two other people in the room, and none of us seemed to be kept waiting too long (but one of the women was an Albanian lady, and they were having trouble finding a translator, but everyone was still very helpful and regularly checking in on all of us). Although I was the last one in, I was the first out, as I think K-1 visas are pretty easy to process. I actually saw none of what they did with the paperwork, though, as it was all done at a desk out of sight. All in all, I think I was there for around 25 minutes. You're not allowed to use phones between getting off the plane and getting out of customs so, although I had sent Ben a message to tell him I had landed safely, I couldn't advise him of the time I might still take to have my visa processed. This was easily - but surprisingly! - solved, though, as the other young woman in the waiting room, to whom I got chatting when I first arrived, was soon taken through for questioning, and called out, "Have a wonderful wedding!" to me as she left. One of the security staff there smiled at me and asked about what our plans were, I explained that I was on a fiancée visa, that we would be married in December in Kannapolis, and that I couldn't wait to see Ben as he was already here, waiting for me at the airport. At this point, this brilliant bloke asked me if I would like for him to go to the exit, find Ben, and advise him that I wouldn't be much longer, as I couldn't contact him via mobile phone. HOW fantastic?! So, I gave him a brief description of what Ben looks like and, lo and behold, off he went and did exactly that. In fact, by the time he got back, my visa had been cleared.

When I was called, I simply had to walk out to the place where my bags were again, speak to one of the officials, who advised me both that we needed to marry within 90 days, and to file our Adjustment of Status forms as soon as possible after we had done this, and then showed me where in the passport my visa was approved. I then took my bags, and the lady reassured me that I would only need my passport from now on - relieving me of all those forms, and the responsibility of that bloody envelope! Apparently they will be stored until the AOS is filed, and then married up (hee!) at the central bureau of records to link with my green card/citizenship status as and when those things are issued. Phew!

As per my first post here, I then got to see Ben. Due to weight of baggage, I couldn't run towards the exit, but I was certainly marching! Words cannot express my - our - utter joy at being reunited, without fear of separation; the knowledge that we have permission to be husband and wife, to share the same space and time, to build a home together. And that's what we have started doing this week - which is a whole other post.

2 comments:

  1. Just found your Blog via Shermeen..I am an ExPat from Oxford..moved to the states back in 1983...

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  2. Hi Lyn! Have only just seen your comment. Thanks so much for stopping by! So you've been in the States almost 30 years, then! You must like it...? :)

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