Leaving Home: Sculpture by Frances Bruno Catalano
USA: Thanks, but no thanks.
I got caught for a sucker. The marketer was just too good for me, and today I am poorer and surprised at myself, but I don’t know about wiser.
Seems the USA is looking to increase the diversity of its immigrants, and South Africa has been allocated nearly a thousand green cards in a lottery. I saw some of this on Facebook and started applying on the site of Global USA Green Card almost absent-mindedly. At one point the screen flashed that I was eligible – big deal, why not? I thought – but before I had completed the form, I quit, thinking I would just be wasting people’s time. I got a reminder or two, asking me to complete the form, but ignored them.
Then, yesterday, my phone rang and I could see it was a foreign number. It was the marketing lass, calling from San Francisco at 4:30am her time. I immediately said that I had abandoned the application, and she confirmed that, but said she was calling because I qualified. Maybe it is a kind of a big deal. Before the call was over I had the distinct impression that they were struggling to fill the quota of SAfricans. She let slip that a number had said they were healthy and had no criminal record (the two provisos) and when this turned out to be untrue, they wanted their money back. I grinned into the receiver – sounds like my fellow citizens. Of course I would never do that. They liked my MA, evidently.
What I really loved was that she really wasn’t ageist at all –my being 70 elicited no comment; that was fine. It was all reassuring talk about how they would help me and that I would have six months or even a year to go over. They would even help me find a job. I was trying to think fast enough, but one part of me was saying, Don’t close this door. You never know… She asked me where I’d like to stay in the States, and the first thing I thought of was my lovely friends Jo and Roger Gilbert, so I said Fort Wayne. She was clearly taken aback. “Have you ever been to Indiana?” she asked. I didn’t admit that I had no idea it was in Indiana, and just said that they hadn’t been there too long. Jo and Roger are going to have a good laugh at this!
Then, of course, came money time. Good grief but they have powerful access! And I’ve double-checked – I haven’t been scammed. With just a few prompts from me, like the first six digits of my card, they were there and I did, I said yes, they could take $249. In moments I heard the click-clack that was my money being taken off.
For a few hours I saw myself pioneering a way into the States and had daydreams about the huge market for my books. I remembered the lovely people from the States that I have known, especially those I met in Korea. As far as generalisations ever go, it’s true to say that they were caring, helpful, involved people – I happily imagined being surrounded by them. I went to look at a map and thought I could be happy so close to the great lakes. I even wrote to my new contact, Niki, and asked if I could change my mind about the location – I could. I was mentally scurrying around, raising funds and making plans
The first of my sons I spoke to was Julian, and he had a melt-down before saying he would support me if I could really see myself doing that at this stage of my life. The next one, Kurt, said I had been scammed and promptly found examples of such scams online. I was sure this was legit, and referred him to their FB page. I didn’t have the nerve to tell Philip or my sister, Melissa. I wondered why, and started asking myself questions.
Reality crept back. I remembered what it was really like being an expat. Yes, it’s exciting, a challenge, and it forces you to grow, BUT the loss of your familiar framework is a kind of trauma. Did I really want to make those adjustments again? I remembered how long it has taken me really to feel at home at home again and how glad I still am to be here. I had to admit that I preferred the problems I knew to ones I couldn’t yet imagine. I remembered my hero Noam Chomsky. I thought about the health system, and here I must digress to make my point.
Derek is a Malawian who comes to help me once a week. He developed a strange swelling on his throat, so we went to our local provincial hospital. We didn’t wait too long, and the upshot was that they did tests, and then he went back a week later, and they operated and removed the (benign) growth. My point is that he was not South African. It cost us a total of about R50 – less than $4. If I got into medical trouble in the States, I don’t think Obama Care would do that for me.
Most of all I remembered my friends and family and my determination to write my historical novel next year. I’m just about ready to get going. Eventually I realized that I didn’t want the green card that the whole world is supposed to drool over. It’s good to know that. I am happy and settled. I wrote to them and they kindly refunded 75% of the fee, which is a lot in Rands these days.
So to the US of A – thanks, but no thanks. I surprised myself again when I got a kind, warm letter saying that they would still help me if I changed my mind. Why did I feel relief?