Friends and Awareness
Without our friends, where would we be? I have been so blessed by my friends’ offers of help from driving me to the airport, to helping me sell my car, to offering a place to stay after my home became someone else’s, to printing endless documents I needed for my VISA application! Being in someone else’s space and home has been most interesting. It is my usual thinking to not want to interfere or be in the way, and so I soon become familiar with routines and rituals and try to dance among and around them.
I am acutely aware of my “homeless” state of being, and realize that at the same time, I have no idea what true homelessness is about. As of this writing, I know it is time to move on and, by the grace of another friend, take up residence there for a brief time . I am learning to pay attention to the wisdom of my body as it gives off signals, actual physical messages. Sometimes just a “quickening” of my heart, a “catch” in my breath, a “tensing” of my muscles, and even a desire to withdraw from a room. All just signs to pay attention to. If we all could learn to pick up on these signs, especially when it comes to physical symptoms, we might learn to regulate our bodies, our behaviors, our lifestyle, to make the proper adjustments back to balance. Perhaps we could avoid illness this way…stop to listen, rest, be still, take a breath, eat better, take a walk, call a friend, pull back from a toxic relationship…all kinds of things that pollute and restrict our rhythm and harmony. Awareness is the key, and using our bodies as a guide. When has your body given you a message that may even have made a difference in your life?!
The VISA process
A couple of weeks ago, I had my appointment at VFS Global in Washington, D.C. This was to be the presentation of documentation about myself to the French Consulate to show that my desire to live in France is realistically supportable and with good intent (my words!) I showed this in several ways: 1. On the application by answering questions about my intentions and identity; 2. by a letter I write explaining my reasons for wanting to live in France and with a promise that I will not seek paid employment, or work for any compensation for the duration of the VISA; 3. that I have the finances to support my living expenses while there; 4. an “Attestation” or document such as a lease or other contract or letter showing that I have a place to live for a year, an actual address, and money in the bank equal to the amount of rent for 1 year; 5. three months worth of bank statements and proof of any income (i.e. Social Security, etc.); 6. passport photos; 7. Health insurance that will cover me in France, specifically, which requires a new and different policy specific to the Schengen countries in Europe. Medicare and my supplemental coverage will not cover me while I am living in France.
Many had told me that I shouldn’t count on one visit to the Consulate office being enough – often people are sent away to scare up more documents they decide you need, even if it wasn’t on “the list.” As with most things such as this, I was over prepared! Ugh! I had read and heard so many different requirements for this interview that I decided to complete them all. This took weeks of work, sometimes 4 or more hours per day, rounding up everything, from many sources, and then copying every page as they required 2 copies, including every single page of my passport! It required many calls to the help line, which involved lots of waiting, being shunted from place to place, being told I could only complete the application, etc. on a PC, using Internet Explorer version xyz, and Safari! No Apple products!!! Huh???? I had an iPad! So, I went with that, and, guess what? Apple products worked fine! Just FYI. This whole process was recently farmed out to a 3rd party system so the Consulate could concentrate on reviewing everything that was sent to them in perfect order and meeting all the requirements, leaving them to the decision making. So, when I called with a question (sometimes more than once per day), I had the definite feeling that ONE question was all they could handle at a time! The answers were often the same…summarized as “figure it out yourself!” One of the most frustrating requirements I had heard about was that I had to tell the consulate exactly the date I would be arriving, and the exact date, one year hence that I would be returning. I was to have evidence of this by presenting them with my “Official” travel itinerary/reservation specifying dates, flight numbers, times, arrivals and departures!!! When I called to ask how to do this when I didn’t even know when or IF I’d be approved for the VISA, they just said, “Oh, call an airline or ticket agent and tell them to issue you a ‘dummy’ ticket!” Really? I spoke to an Air France agent who’d never heard of such a thing! Nor had my travel agent with whom I’ve been working for years! She, however, said she’d create one for me, and, voilà, soon I had a whole itinerary with all the required information that looked just like the real thing!! She’d pulled all the flights up online chosen dates and times, flight nos., etc., and then just printed it without actually booking it!! I was ecstatic and proudly took it with me in my Application folder.
Finally, the day of my appointment arrived! I was nervous, and timid about driving into D.C. As usually is the case, my nervousness was unsubstantiated, I made it with plenty of time to spare, was admitted to the waiting area without a glitch, and my number was called quickly! I had decided to speak French with the agent in case impressing them with my knowledge of the language would be an advantage! Not sure if it was, but we did speak mostly in French, and I think she stifled a small smile when she spoke English back to me and I continued in French….I actually think she was American!!
Guess what? She never even asked for my itinerary!!! Oh, well, what did I say about “over prepared?” I was still proud to have it, and when I got home turned it into a REAL ticket!!!
ONE WEEK later, by UPS, my passport with VISA stamped page arrived! I was here to sign for it, and I’m sure the UPS driver was not at all interested in why I was so excited to receive this envelope when I explained to him why I was! I just had to share it with someone. This was the “pièce de résistance”, the brass ring, the Holy Grail of France…and I had just received it! Oh, mon dieu, comme c’était formidable!!” And soon, I’ll be on my way!
So, after several folks suggested it, I decided to send a box of clothes for next season to France. Usually, I travel with only a carry on bag and a tote, no matter how long I will be traveling, and since this time I wasn’t sure when I’d be returning, I planned to take a check-on bag (medium), my carry-on bag and a tote. Suddenly, I didn’t think it would be enough room to have next season’s clothes, plus some coats for cool weather, and I didn’t want to have to schlep heavy suitcases around, so a box sounded like a good idea. I found the perfect, sturdy box, not too large, packed it with layers of clothes, stuck some essentials (a stand for my iPad, a wireless keyboard, some notebooks of information, etc.) between the layers, and taped it up! I used extra tape just to make it super strong, and took it to the USPS. There, they taped it some more, had me write a list of contents, weighted it in at 17 lbs. (not too bad, I thought), and charged me $107. which included $500. insurance (above the standard $200.) I left happy that my package would arrive in 10 days.
Well. It arrived all right, but no one knew where it was. It wasn’t delivered to the address I put on the box, the apartment where I’ll be living for the next year. They sent me an email saying a note would be left in the apartment owner’s mailbox, but the French package carrier did not have a key to let them into the building where the mailbox was located. My friend, whose apartment I would be renting, didn’t know where the box would be as it was not at the regular “Poste.” Fortunately, she ran into her mailman the next day who told her where it would likely be, and eventually, she made arrangements for the box to be delivered. And here is what she received:
Hmmm. What do you think I will find when I arrive? Will stuff be missing? Will stuff be damaged? It will be interesting, that’s all I can say. I’m not sure whose handling of my package was so careless, and, before I do this again, I might think of another way to mail my belongings internationally!