I know it sounds weird - I thought it was bizarre, too - but sometimes you just have to take your blessings wherever and whenever they come.
So, here's the story: I needed to make an emergency trip to Nigeria and unfortunately had difficulty figuring out how to get a visa. The embassy was closed four out of the past ten business days, and, of course, I couldn't get anyone to answer the phone on the other end. Despite a busy schedule, I had no choice but to make the trek to NY to deal with the visa situation myself.
Luckily, a friend of mine (former HSPH alum) needed to go to the embassy as well. So together, at three pm in the afternoon, we made the $15 four-and-a-half hour trip on the Fung-Wah bus from Boston Chinatown to NY Chinatown. In an attempt to make this trip a little less horrible, I spent the night with one of my best friends from high school.
The next morning, I headed off to the embassy bright and early. I was aiming to get there by 10 am (when the doors opened), and by 10:15 am when I arrived, I was already late! All of the "customer numbers" were gone, the little room was stuffed with far too many people, and I honestly felt like I left the U.S. and entered a congested African country. I pushed my way back-and-forth, making small talk and commiserating with the others around me. Luckily, this new-found comradeship got me moved to the 27th slot.
When it was finally my turn at the counter, it was one problem after another after another! First, I printed the "payment proof of payment" instead of the "payment confirmation" sheet. (Apparently, this made a difference). Then, despite that I spent a week having a letter of invitation scanned and sent over from Nigeria to show that I had someone on the other side, I was told to get a new letter of someone who had a Nigerian passport to accompany it. The time slowly changed from 10:30 am to 11:30 am and then to 12:30 pm, at which point I was frantic! There was only 30 more minutes to get my application submitted.
When I finally satisfied all the requirements, the lady told me I should come back another day. I tried to explain that I was a student and that I really couldn't miss anymore school. I was traveling in just four days and REALLY needed this visa ASAP. She was not receptive, I was emotional, and I wasn't getting anywhere. I calmed down and tried to reason with her again, but for the second time, my efforts were proving fruitless.
Then, something magical happened; my prayers were answered! The woman had given me a piece of paper with scribbles on it, and I went back to her to ask what it meant. Somehow, she was much friendlier and chattier (10 minutes really does make a difference!), and I started sharing with her more about the situation. Yes, I understood and respected her job. And yes, I understood that it was nothing personal. But I made the trip all the way from Boston, where I attended Harvard University - and that did it! My friend said that the look in her eyes changed, that I'd struck some kind of a chord with her. She said that she would check with her superior and see what could be done. I had a glimpse of what God - and, oh yes, Harvard - could really do for me in the real world.
The remainder of the day was eventful. My friend and I did some sightseeing visiting the UN Visitors Center for the first time. We met some diplomats from Guinea-Bissau, and I found out that I still have a couple of French words in me! We returned to the embassy that afternoon, and low and behold, two-and-a-half hours later, I emerged with - you guessed it - a Nigerian visa! I honestly can't remember the last time I was that happy (kind of sad, right?).
So, with my new visa (and my friend's passport) in hand, we strolled to the nearest bar for a victory drink. We then headed back to Chinatown where we caught the first bus to Boston. The experience not only strengthened my faith (believe me, if you had one last chance to get this important piece of paper, it would have been a life-changing experience for you too). Moreover, it really gave me a glimpse of the power that Hahvahd can have. I may not always feel like I'm learning what I want to, and more often than not I may miss the light at the end of the tunnel, but at the end of the day, my $40,000 tuition is going towards something, and I really can't complain!
I'll be off for the week due to family business, but Happy Turkey Day to those celebrating. I'll be sure to share about the Harvard-Yale game when I return!!
(see you soon in German)