Tag Archives: United States

I’ve Been Gone For A While But Wait Until You Hear Why…

Since my last blog I received my UK visa!

Wait.

Even with that exclamation mark this sentence doesn’t begin to reflect the monumental nature of the event: Receiving my UK visa …. And  I will not stoop to a double exclamation mark. I have way too many English Majors in my life, who keep tabs on me, for such faux pas….

Perhaps my blogs should come with a disclaimer; something along the lines of the one on my rearview mirror: Images in print appear much smaller than in my reality!

Okay let’s start over.

In April of this year, I received a UK visa after Egils and I worked towards that end for 3 1/2  long years of our lives.  UK law requires that anyone coming from beyond the European Union borders (that would be me) must have a sponsor (that would be Egils) who can adequately (financially) support him/herself as well as the person being sponsored. The UK government is unaware that people coming from the former Soviet countries (namely: Egils and I) can live on air, so the amount of financial stability that they required was um… ridiculous, by our standards.

Screen goes wavy then white and we fade into a backstory…. I’ve been dabbling in video recently.

It’s July, 2009, I’ve lived in Latvia for almost a decade with my Latvian partner, Egils. Both of us received slashes in our, already pathetic, salaries prior to all paychecks ending, a few months ago. We have gone through most of our savings. Every day one of our friends or associates leaves Latvia. The grocery stores’ supplies are dwindling. My close American friend of more than 40 years, Bette, says gently, during a Skype talk, “You have to leave. You don’t really have a choice. I’ll help you, but you must go. Now.”

I’ve been denying this obvious fact for almost a year. But within this moment, I know she’s right. We must leave.

I apply for a UK visa, based on what’s left of our paltry savings,  123 online job applications that Egils has submitted for jobs in UK, and a heartfelt plea to return to the land of my great-grandparents.

A week later I receive my visa application back with a “WTF Woman! You can’t seriously think we’re going to let you reenter the sacred land that your ancestors  abandoned 100 years ago, based on a few bucks in an Eastern European bank account and some auto-response replies to online job applications!”

The official wording is “Visa Denied” but in retrospect, I totally know what they wanted to say.

We spend less than a month packing our small car, renting our home, and finding keepers for our cats, before fleeing our home in Latvia, in August, and arriving in Scotland one week later.

Egils enters the UK workforce on the bottom rung of the ladder, trying to make enough money to sponsor me. His masters degree, rich work experience,  fluency in multiple languages, and strong work ethic are of almost no value. He has an accent. He’s unfamiliar with local culture and traditions. He’s come here, uninvited, from a poverty stricken country, at a time when local people are scrambling for the few remaining jobs in the midst of their own recession.

He takes any and every job that comes his way: he works with disabled people, hangs banners over kiosks, scrapes old signage off walls and applies new, drives people to and from the airports…. I help when I can but have no legal rights to work without a visa.

Our time together, in Scotland, is spent in a rented room with the Syme family in a small village in Stirlingshire—the gateway to The Highlands. The Symes become our Scottish family. On good days they are our safety net; on bad days, our guardian angels.

In spite of the Syme family’s boundless hospitality and our endless efforts to make money, I am forced to leave UK 6 months after we arrive because I am an American without a UK visa.

This  6-months-in-UK-6-months-in-USA  requirement continues for 3 1/2 years. Ultimately Egils and I live separately for more than 2  of those 3 1/2 years—him working odd jobs and looking for full-time employment in UK, while I live in the USA with my dear friend Bette ( yes, we are still best friends!) and her husband, Mike.

This gave me more than 2 years of time in the USA to visit with my adult children: Morgan, Debra, Jonathan and Jessica, as well as my grand-babies. I had months  with my brother Tim, his wife and my dear friend, Mia, and their clan—more time than we’ve ever shared in our adult incarnation; what a blessing! I had time with my dear sisters Jeannine and Heather and their clans. I traveled from Coudersport, PA—where I spent time time with my physically and mentally declining mother and her amazing, young-at-heart, sisters—to Cocoa Beach, Florida where I reunited with my dear friend and boarding school roommate, Brenda (and her man, Bert). Brenda and I also cruised to Alaska, walked the ship’s deck in the (nearly) midnight sun and witnessed the birth of an otter on an iceberg.

Many aspects of these past 3 years were miraculous— rewarding in so many ways and on so many levels of my being…. But they were also years of separation from my beloved partner; they were years of incredible insecurity; they were times of learning the true meaning of faith. They were times that taught us the essence of what it means to be an immigrant: A person with many homes, while lacking a real home. They were times that challenged me—challenged us—to the core.

I have many  other visas and each picture tells a story: I’m over-the-moon to be going to Russia and experience a country I never thought I’d see, in early 1993…. I’m trying to smile, as I have finally succeeded in getting an Estonian visa, but my eyes are bloodshot. It is the week my father died … I have a lopsided smile in my next Estonian visa. I came straight from the dentist’s office with a numb, paralyzed jaw (but the appointment with the photographer had been hard to get)… I’m smiling like I have a secret in my first Latvian Visa. I am in those first days of new love with my partner….

My UK visa picture is quite different from any of the others. I am looking pleadingly, at the camera. I look exhausted and like I’ve been crying for years… I’ve been through heart failure. I’ve been away from my man for… it feels like forever. I’ve been living on the edge for way too long….

There were good times in these past 3 1/2 years. In fact there were great times that I wouldn’t exchange for anything. But there were some godawful, I-can’t-believe-I-lived-through-them times as well.

But now they live only as memories.

Because…

I got my UK visa!!

Now let me address the above statement: I’ve been dabbling in video recently…

After 1 & 1/2 years of working on a video, I’ve now completed it and posted it on YouTube! I am pleased and honored to share this with you.

In Search of Home: A photographic essay of our journey from Eastern Europe to Scotland. I really hope you’ll enjoy it and pass it along to others.

http://youtu.be/Ov8nyg8g8CY

I have also pretty much set up my online store where, should anyone desire to own prints of—or products containing—some of my best photos, just click below and voilà!

http://www.cafepress.com/BonnyScotland

So that’s what I’ve been up to since January and my last post (shame on me!). I hope to be blogging more regularly now that I have ended my regular commute between USA and UK.

For now, I’m nestled back in my wee village in the foothills (or hellfits as it sounds when the Scots refer to them) of the Ochils.

I will end this blog with a few pictures I took this week on the moor. Sheriffmuir, to be exact.

Gorse on the side of a hill

The gorse is blooming; the heather is next!

Cemetery

An amazingly colorful cemetery as I entered the road up to the moor …

Ewe and Lamb

Once on the moor, the ewes and lambs welcomed me!

Sheep scratching

Snow capped mountains, blue skies, sheep scratching their necks. Life is good on the moors

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The Insanely Fluid Ramblings Of An Optimistic… no wait, Pessimistic… no wait, Optimistic Storyteller

After breaking with my pattern and writing the emotionally difficult blog about my mother, in May, I had a revelation: Prior to that post I had been blogging about experiences and events in my distant past; it was easier, less painful, less personal. It was also less authentic because it didn’t include the raw uncensored aspects of my journey. It’s not that I intentionally bend the facts, later; it’s just that during the time that lapses, between the experiences and when I relate them, I have ample opportunity to soften the edges of the memories—or sharpen them, given my sporadic vacillation between drama and comedy—because first and foremost: I am a storyteller. So regardless of the chosen direction—waxing philosophical or breaking cynical—the recollection of events experienced months or years prior to my telling, are not raw and real. They are tainted and reconstructed with humor, irony and goodwill; whatever makes them easier to live with. But I fear that ultimately these stories become like “easy-listening” radio as opposed to full-on Leonard Cohen… Okay, I’ll never be Leonard Cohen… But hopefully you get my drift.

From here on out I resolve to be more honest—by being more current—when blogging.

Here and now I want to relate a not-too-distant-past event that I survived, but chose not to blog, because it was and is still painful. I realized a few weeks ago that I’d avoided almost all mention of this enormous, life-changing event—even on Facebook.

A short backstory for anyone just entering this blog:

I’ve lived abroad for the better part of 17 years, during which time I raised two amazing daughters and chose a lovely partner, Egil, to share my journey with. Three years ago, after the girls left home, Egil and I relocated from Latvia to Scotland. The reason for relocation was the collapse of the Latvian economy. The reason we chose Scotland was our love for the country.

Reinventing our life has been maximally challenging for many reasons—being people of a certain age is one; conducting a job search in the midst of a terrible recession, as immigrants, is another… The list goes on from there.

Americans are not permitted to live in Scotland for more than 6 months at a time without a visa or living permit. I couldn’t acquire a visa /living permit until Egil—my sponsor—was able to generate enough income, on a regular basis, to support me. Being a European National, he had the right to live and work here in Scotland; finding work was another matter altogether.

So every 6 months I traveled back to the US for 6 months, while Egil worked diligently on finding a niche here in Scotland.

I am now approaching the aforementioned event.

I returned to the US for 6 months in May, 2011. About a week into my visit I contracted an upper-respiratory infection extraordinaire. I was ill for almost 2 weeks. Being one of the 50 million uninsured Americans—and certain I would recover with enough vitamin C, chamomile tea and rest—I did not see a doctor.

Shortly after recovering from this flu I went on a cruise to Alaska; this had been a high priority on my bucket list and was a gift from my cherished friend, and former boarding-school roommate, Brenda. I had said, repeatedly since the early 1970’s, that I would cruise to Alaska before I died. When vowing this, I had no idea how these two events—an Alaskan cruise and my death—would almost simultaneously occur.

In early June, floating off the Alaskan coast, I had an anxiety attack; or so I believed. By the end of July I was having these attacks regularly but believed they were asthma. By the end of October, instead of packing my bags to return to Scotland, I was so ill I could not raise my arms above my head without losing my breath. My feet were swollen and I was coughing up blood…

On October 29th, one day after my 60th birthday, I was hospitalized—insured or not. To my horror I learned, very quickly, that I was in congestive heart failure.

It turns out that almost any flu, if it feels so inclined, can attack any organ of our body after it completes its initial mission. In my case, the bug that attacked my upper respiratory system in May continued its onslaught, well into June, only now it targeted my heart.

I will interject my non-scientific personal beliefs here: My heart was deeply saddened as I watched the sudden and terrible decline of Latvia and was further burdened when Scotland ejected me every 6 months; it was broken a bit more with each prolonged separation from Egil. My heart was weak and vulnerable—an easy target—by May 2011. That flu saw me coming a mile away.

For five and a half months I struggled to move from room to room in my friend, Bette’s, house. For the last two of those months I struggled to breathe even while sitting in a chair. Bedtime was a nightmare; I awakened every hour or so bolting upright, gasping for breath. My dreams were of suffocating and being strangled…

I need to write about this event to get it outside of me… I need to relate how dark and murky that place is—that place that we go when our heart is broken and malfunctioning and we have no medical insurance and no idea where to turn for help. That place where I went. I felt completely helpless and frightened out of my mind for months, with nowhere to turn. I wish I could break philosophical here and tell you that I learned a huge amount and I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to_______. You fill in the blank space with your choice of great learning experiences that you’re pretty sure you would have had. Make up all sorts of reasons why this was a gift from the Universe. Go ahead. I dare you… Because the way I see it is this: I got ripped off of more than 5 months of my life (time that I now recall as one muddy, ugly snapshot flowing into the next) followed by another 8 months of recovery time. Factually, I do believe in a divine plan and that all is well. Somewhere. But here, in my little corner of planet earth, I lost months of my life to illness and more months of time with my partner: Time I will never get back. Then there were the thousands of dollars of medical bills racked up—after trying with all my might to avoid getting help—because my country doesn’t believe its people have the right to healthcare.

I am so pissed-off…

Wait a minute… As I wrote that last sentence I realized how ungrateful I sound.

Okay, let me clarify: I know I’m fortunate to be alive. Of course, I’m blessed to have received the help I needed—albeit in the nick of time because of the lack of healthcare thing… I’m incredibly fortunate that I was born in an era when the medications necessary to save my life were available… I am blessed with good friends and family who hosted me for months while I was immobile and later while recovering…  I know all of that! But that’s not the point; is it?

Wait a minute I need to sort through my feelings in order to stay real.

Okay, I’m back…

Something just hit me: I’ll bet you that if blog about this event in the future, I’ll be disgustingly upbeat about it. At least I’ll have turned it into a black comedy of sorts—smoothing down the edges and fine-tuning the humor… I will have philosophized this event up one side and down the other until it’s hardly recognizable… I’m slipping into it—that saccharinely sweet Pollyanna place—already…

That’s me. That’s how I roll. Damn it all!

It’s not that I’m actually disingenuous. I’m just an incurable optimist—probably bordering on being a romantic—who needs to put every memory into a tidy happy, aesthetically pleasing box, prior to filing it away; that way, when reflecting back on my life, I smile if not laugh.

Now to the present:

Welcome to Scotland!

I always get a lump in my throat when approaching Scotland and seeing this “Welcome” sign. But this trip was even more emotional.

I returned home a little over two weeks ago. I’m now back in Stirling, Scotland with the Symes (my Scottish family) and Egil. As I write this blog, Egil is on the phone, interpreting and working with other immigrants who also fled dire economics. Yes, he found his niche and we’re heading towards a normal life again…

And oddly, as frustrated and angry as I was when I began this blog earlier today, at some point I began remembering other aspects of this horrible, amazing, eventful, year: Because of my illness I was in the states when my mother fell and broke her hip—a story that ended with her in a nursing home. I was able to visit her as she made that transition and I was there to support my sibs at this most difficult and important time. I spent months with my dear brother, Tim, and his wife, Mia, (my sister of choice not birth) and their children and their children’s children—more time than I’ve had with that branch of my family in… well, actually more time than I’ve ever had with them. I was there when my namesake, Holly, gave birth to her beautiful baby, Trey, and I watched him become a toddler. I had time with my sister, Jeannine, who battled breast cancer for the better part of this year and had the privilege of seeing her beautiful baldhead defiantly sprout brand new, soft curly hair, declaring her victorious over the disease. I spent time with my devoted sister, Heather, who walked herself into blisters this year, to raise money for breast cancer research and hovered over Jeannine and me like a mother hen, at every opportunity. I enjoyed time with my children and my beautiful blessed grandchildren. I was present for my daughter Jessica’s graduation from University and proudly cried through the entire day. I had months of quality time with my old and dear friend Bette, who never once commented that my 6-month visit had turned into 15. And Bette and I reconnected with Donna, another friend from childhood… I experienced an earthquake, survived a derecho and had the opportunity to say goodbye to a beloved uncle. I turned one of my children’s books into a musical with the great jazz artist, Heidi Martin. I practiced yoga with my precious friend Mary Lou, who became a certified yoga instructor during this most auspicious and terrible year. I spent time with two of my wise and beautiful, aging aunts…

Damn it, I’m glad I wrote about how pissed off I was with my ill health, and the US lack of healthcare, before I began reflecting on all of the wondrous and beautiful happenings of the past year and a half…

I feel the sharp edges of my memories wearing away as I write, replaced with gratitude that I’m alive, I’m loved, and I have so many beautiful people in my life to love.

My man in the heather

Egil coming out of the heather after a photo op.

I’m sliding into a smile… because I really am incredibly thankful to be alive and writing. I am also supremely grateful for my partner, who waits patiently for me no matter where I go or how long I stay…

Loch Leven

Loch Leven… What can I say? One of the many beautiful lochs in Scotland that welcomed me back.

How can I hold a grudge against my life with all of its perfect imperfections when the bottom line is: I am alive, living in Scotland and loving it, with all of its midges, mountains, rain and lochs? The fact is: I see unicorns and rainbows in my rearview mirror. I can’t help myself. But I will blog about current events and experiences more often—if for no other reason than to travel through the raw painful honesty of it all.

And that’s me, tucked safely back in the arms of my life here and signing off for now~