Thursday, February 25, 2016

Have Passport, Will Travel

If you need a passport, let me recommend the best place to get one in Austin:  The International Office at the University of Texas on 2400 Nueces.  And I can confidently say I know all about passports and the pain and suffering that can be involved in getting one.

My first passport was as a family.  We must have gotten it the first time we traveled to Europe in 1975.  It had a group picture of my mother, my brother and me.  That's the passport I used to enter the US in 1978 when we moved here permanently.  When it expired, I tried to get an individual one.  By then the Islamic Republic was in power and in order to apply for an Iranian passport 1) I had to submit a picture of myself with a head scarf and 2) I had to declare my belief in the Baha'i Faith on the application.  My application was rejected 1) because I was a Baha'i and 2) the scarf did not sufficiently cover my head and a small triangle on my neck was exposed where I had tied the scarf.  I gave up on trying to get an Iranian passport because I wasn't about to change either of those two conditions and I didn't have any imminent travel plans anyway.  In 1982 I got married and we had hoped to travel to Ecuador for our honeymoon.  I found out that as a permanent resident of the United States I was entitled to get a travel document that would allow me to travel to most places in this world.  However, in order to get this semi-passport I had to claim that I was stateless, that no country recognized me as its citizen.  The idea was just too uncomfortable for my nineteen year old self to accept.  So I refused to get the travel document and we didn't go to Ecuador.  In 1983, I traveled to Mexico, which at the time did not require a passport from US residents.  It was the joy and excitement of that  trip that made me realize I must always be able and ready to travel. I decided that I was willing to be stateless in order to see the world.  By then the Iranian government had made it very clear that the it did not consider Baha'is citizens with full rights anyway.  They were, and are to this day, denied such basic rights as education, employment, freedom to practice and in many cases life itself.  In 1985 I got my travel document so Ben and I could take our first trip to South America. We were able to finally visit not only Ecuador, but Peru, Bolivia and Panama as well.  At about the same time, I started my application for US citizenship. In 1987 when we traveled to Israel I was a full-fledged-US-passport-carrying citizen.  My place of birth will always be Iran, so from time to time I am subjected to extra scrutiny at borders and airports.  That initial passport served me well.  In 1988 we spent six months traveling around the world from Europe to what was then the Soviet Union, to China, Japan and Thailand, before settling in Venezuela.

My children who were born in Venezuela  were entitled to dual citizenship and carried two passports as long as we lived there.  That meant at one point our family of six carried ten passports!  Getting the US passport in Venezuela was not always difficult or complicated.  With the first two kids, the embassy happened to make visits to the town in the interior where we lived, twelve hours drive from the capital.  With the other two, we had to travel to Caracas.  Getting the Venezuelan passport was a whole other story.  It usually involved getting in line very early and staying there for the better part of the day, with no assurance of success.

As a rule and regardless of country, passport officials are not known for their friendliness or efficiency.  I don't know what it is.  Are they jealous that you are traveling and they're not? Are they resentful that you are choosing to leave the country?  I have stood in lines at 4:00 a.m. to apply for a passport.  I have been sent back because the picture wasn't the right size, because both parents had to be present, because I signed on the wrong spot and once because the country ran out of passport booklets!  In the US, certain post offices process passport applications.  Some work by appointment but the next appointment may be weeks from now.  Some are walk-ins but that means you have to arrive hours early to be the first in line.

Last August my two younger children needed to renew their passports.  The day I had planned to take them for the renewal was not the most convenient day.  They had other plans. Why do we need a new passport now, they asked.  We are not going anywhere.  My husband reminded them that no Hansen shall ever be without a valid passport because the opportunity for travel may happen at any moment.  Sure enough that same week my eldest was asked to travel to Canada on short notice and I had to send her passport to her in Boston by USPS.

After thirty some years of painful passport processing experiences I am happy to have found a place that is friendly and efficient; they take your picture right there and make their own photocopies of your documents.  So if you need a passport, go to the International Office at the University of Texas at Austin.  A few weeks ago, I accompanied my oldest daughter to this same office so she could renew her passport before she moved overseas once again.  The very helpful, and very knowledgable-despite-her-youth clerk told us that as long as your passport hasn't actually expired, you can renew it by mail. This saved us money and some time. Now I have to decide whether I should wait for my passport to expire this summer so I can have a chance to go down there and experience their efficiency and friendliness one more time, or should I just renew it by mail?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Last Trip to Hospital by Carolyn

Within our writers' group, Esmer is the only one of us whose default writing genre is fiction. Susan, Andrea, and I tend to write more memoirs, anecdotes, and personal essays. We are rather envious of the ease with which Es cranks out beautifully written fiction, so we decided to stretch ourselves a little with some writing exercises. The challenge at our last writers' group meeting was to grab a nearby book, find a specified page number and count down to a particular line, then to use that line as the beginning of a new piece of writing. We tried it and enjoyed it so much that we tried it again. Here is the piece I wrote in response to the 11th line on p. 116 of Fingal O'Reilly, Irish Doctor, by Patrick Taylor, which happened to be on my coffee table at our meeting:

“And let’s hope,” said O’Reilly, “this’ll be your last trip to hospital for quite awhile.” That was the best he could come up with after hearing the tale O’Bannon had just told him. 

“Well,” the old man had started, “there I was, just minding my own business, settled in with a cold one on the whittlin’ bench outside O’Leary’s Store, jawin’ with MacInness, when all the commotion started. We heard bangs and booms and blaring horns, but we couldn’t see nothing at first. After a while, it hove into sight: a raggedy old tractor, belchin’ smoke, with a crazed bull at the wheel. Our eyes about popped out of our heads, I can tell you! The back tires were flat, shootin’ sparks and draggin’ the fence wire and posts the tractor musta driven across. The fence posts were bouncing up and down, setting the chickens tangled up in them to squawkin’ and fussin’. I guess the front of the tractor had picked up one of them big metal trash cans, cause it were a-spinnin’ along in front, caught on the cattle guard. About the time we thought we had figured out what had happened, maybe the bull trying to romance the tractor, cause that old bull of MacMasters’ has always been purt near blind, the bull hooked a horn through the steering wheel and made a sharp right turn up on to the sidewalk where we were sittin’ and spittin’. Well, MacInness is a mite younger than I am, so he jumped up real spry and took a flying leap out of the way of the incoming tractor. You know that I just got out of the hospital with this dad-burned busted leg I got when I fell off the ladder tryin’ to fix the cistern. It was still in a cast, and I been walking with a cane, so between that and the stitches still healin’ from the hernia surgery a couple weeks ago, I was just stuck there like stone, waitin’ for disaster to strike. And it sure-enough did. The bull was bawlin’, the chickens were squawkin’, the trash can was clangin’, and the fence posts were thumpin’ and bumpin’ as the tractor jumped the curb and plowed through O’Leary’s front window, takin’ me with it.”

“I don’t rightly remember what happened after that because of the concussion, but folks say that the trash can on the cattle guard scooped me up inside itself and flew up over the front of the tractor, hittin’ the bull smack-dab in the forehead. That was a good thing, since the blow knocked him out and the tractor finally stalled out right there in the middle of O’Leary’s soda fountain. The bad part was that the trash can bounced off the bull’s head and impaled itself on his horns, so when he slumped over unconscious, the trash can went with him. We rolled on out of the big hole the tractor had plowed into the wall and out into the street. Normally that wouldn’t be too much of a problem, ‘cause you know we don’t get much traffic around here, but someone had called the sheriff because of all the ruckus, so he was just pullin’ up in front when we barrelled out. The trash can hit the squad car just under the front bumper and rolled on under a little ways. The car high-centered on the trash can and wobbled there for a bit before settlin’ down and squashin’ it. MacInness told me that they had to bring in the jaws of life from way over in the county seat to pull me out of there! I woke up back in the hospital for the third time this month because that gol-darned bull got a little frisky with the tractor!” Old O’Bannon finally took a breath and looked at O’Reilly expectantly.

“And let’s hope,” said O’Reilly, “this’ll be your last trip to hospital for quite awhile.”

Friday, February 5, 2016

Four More Letters from The Encyclopedia of Me! by Andrea

T is for Teacher
From one of my fourth grade boys...
beast or best, I'll take it!
Oh noble profession it is!  Typically within five minutes of meeting someone, they will know that I am a teacher.  Because I will tell them, directly or through an anecdote about life with my school kids.  I acknowledge I am one of the lucky few who gets to do challenging work everyday and absolutely love it!  In the early years, I would be at school or at home working up to 16 hours a day most days. I have shortened my hours significantly in the last few years, with long hours reserved for the beginning and end of the term.  Though I enjoy almost every aspect of the work (NO MORE EMAIL!), my joy comes from reaching to kids' hearts as a means of reaching to their minds. This makes the few unpleasantries of the job insignificant in comparison. I do believe a part of my life’s mission on Earth is to teach.  I am grateful to have a vocation in which there is such an enormous return on my investment.

U is for Useful
When I exit this world, I hope one thing others will note about me is that I made use of my time here to do something good. I want people to say I used the unique strengths, talents and my hang-ups, too, to make an eternal mark on as many endeavors I could.  I am not there yet, but maybe writing this long-standing desire will help me to focus and do all the good things I was put here to do.

V is for Vegetables
Next to chicken wings and apples, vegetables are my favorite things to eat.  And I love them raw.  Give me some sweet bell peppers, cucumber spears, big heaping bowls of salad with ingredients in every color of the rainbow and you will have one happy lady.  I would take a bowl of grape tomatoes and carrot sticks over chocolate cake any day.  The only veggie I have found that I do not particularly crave is sweet peas.  Something about that one just isn’t right. Squishy and sweet are not my idea of a tasty combination in a vegetable.  Cake balls maybe, sweet peas.  Don’t get me wrong I will eat them, but I have to gear myself up and prepare my mind...and my mouth.

W is for Writing (to See Me)
Taking time to analyze the small details that make me me in the confines of the alphabet has been an exercise in divergent thinking. I often think of myself as pretty one-dimensional, not very multi-faceted. Though many of these vignettes, anecdotes and quips are not examples of my best writing, they do serve as small reflections of who I am when I am not looking. If I can see myself a little differently here, maybe during my times of doubt and insecurity, I will be able to remember that I am not without depth and edges or nooks and crannies. As small as they may be, they still are making me ME.

Take a moment and think about the small things in your life, mind and heart which make you YOU. Now go write them down, in alphabetical order.