As of last December, and perhaps even as late as January `02, I did not know that I would be in the US by now. Oh, I was filling out application forms and gathering the requirements for graduate school, but the whole plan to apply and enroll for Fall 2002 had such a hazy and non-tangible quality about it that I had difficulty taking myself seriously.
My perspective shifted somewhat when my place of employment closed down in January, and I was left utterly unemployed and without prospects for the first time since June of 2000. (Until this time, I had been working nonstop; even transitions from one company to another had been no longer than a weekend at most.) The outlook wasn’t completely bleak, as my savings were enough to last me for several months — time which I believed I would spend hunting for a new job.
I checked different companies for some weeks, but one by one, doors were closed to me. This whole time, I leaned upon God, constantly asking Him, “What should I do? What’s your will for my life at this point? Should I keep looking for a job and jump to gradschool in September? Should I make the jump now? Do you even want me to take that MA? What? Huh? Huh?” I tried to be led by one of Oswald Chambers’ core principles in Utmost: that of walking so close to the Lord that one need not even ask for guidance, because one is then so much within the will of God that the guidance of the Spirit comes naturally; but it was too large a task for this wretched, undeserving sinner, and my prayers always broke down to a plea: “Guide me, please guide me!”
Then, things happened rather suddenly. Over Christmas, my uncle invited me to his house in Washington, DC, whenever I was ready to make the jump. Friends and fellow believers were almost unanimous in supporting my making the move now. I started receiving aid: gifts, in the form of pay-when-able loans and other forms of support and advice. I even found a travel agent in our church’s young adults’ bible study group, who could give me a great deal on tickets to Washington.
Well, when the Lord starts pouring a flood of aid and support into your lap, can it be mistaken what his will is?
But at the same time, I had to remember not to presume upon God. After all, the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. This whole time, I clung to Proverbs 3:5-6, leaning not on my own understanding and acknowledging God in all my paths — or at least trying to, imperfect man that I am.
As such, I regarded nothing as certain until the tickets were in my hand. When I finally received the tickets, and when I received on the same day such an immeasurable flood of help in that stead from a much-blessed fellow in Christ, I was moved almost to tears. Likewise when my parents, who had originally opposed my move, lent aid as well.
The wheels were in motion, and I take credit for none of it. In all this, the Lord has been faithful. So very, very faithful.
March 13: The morning of my departure, and because of sleepless nights packing, I woke up late.
I was out of bed and into my clothes in record time, and in the rush to drag my too-heavy bags downstairs, I managed to lock myself out of the apartment once. Fortunately I had my cellphone with me, and I was able to ring up my roommate, who had slept through the noise of my bustling. I said goodbye to him, said a silent goodbye to the apartment complex where I’d lived for three years, and rode off with a kind Christian neighbor who had offered me a ride to the airport.
Even in those predawn hours, the NAIA check-in counters were flooded with people, most of them lined up for the same flight I was taking, to Detroit. (Detroit is the gateway city for Northwest Airlines, so most US-bound NWA flights land there, then transfer their passengers to connecting domestic flights.)
After the hassle of baggage x-rays and inspections, the check-in line moved relatively fast, and upon reaching the counter, I was relieved to find that my luggage — three years of my life crammed into a rolling suitcase and a large sports bag — were actually underweight. The standard questions were asked, “Who packed your bags, when were they packed, have you guarded them since unloading, have you received any packages, etc, etc?” and I was given my boarding pass and assigned a seat: middle of the middle aisle. Groan.
Immigration was a breeze, but the security searches at the terminal and the gate were long and thorough. I passed through three metal detectors and had to remove my shoes twice — at different stations, of course, separately conducted by the airport and by the airline. I’m not Benjamin Franklin, and I’m certainly no libertarian, so I had no problems with these searches. If these stringent measures can deter or screen out terrorists, then I’m perfectly happy to take off my shoes and let them search my person and luggage, so long as I — and my shoes and bags — am intact and secure afterwards.
(Oh, but I did have to transfer my nailcutter out of my backpack at check-in. That was annoying.)
I spent the time before boarding finishing up my prepaid cellphone card with goodbye calls and texts to my beloved.
After that was the flight to the US. I wish I could write something about that, but it was largely boring and uneventful: 4 hours to Nagoya, 1 hour wait there, then almost 11 hours to Detroit. Crossing the Pacific (and a bit of Canada, too), they showed three movies in a row: “Joy Ride”, ““Riding in Cars with Boys”, and “The Princess Diaries”. Having no window to look out of, I contented myself with watching all three till my eyes got red. “Princess Diaries” was probably the most enjoyable of them, a ditzy teen movie. Anne Hathaway is quite cute, but I didn’t recognize Mandy Moore till her name appeared in the credits.
Thanks to good winds, the flight arrived at Detroit almost an hour early, cutting short the intolerable dullness. Then, I was off to the drudgery of immigration and transfer.
Detroit was my port of entry, where I would go through immigration and customs, then transfer to a domestic flight to DC.
I waited almost an hour at the baggage claim, and my bags were among the last to come out. Meanwhile, a federal officer circled among the passengers, checking passports and immigration passes. I had been a bit worried that attention would be called to me for my somewhat Middle Eastern features, despite my passport. But immigration was smooth and quick, and Customs didn’t even need to open up my luggage. It even gave me a bit of a thrill when the immigrations officer muttered to me, “Welcome home.”
After the customs line, transferring passengers were supposed to put their luggage onto one of three parallel conveyor belts, from where they would be moved to the appropriate flight. You can imagine I was a bit apprehensive about that, but there’s not much one can do about it. I piled my bags onto one of the belts — a bit strenuous, as both bags were rather heavy and bulky, despite being underweight — and, boarding pass in hand, headed for my gate. There was one more security check of baggage and body to go through, not quite as strict as the one back in Manila. Then, I took the airport’s cable-driven passenger tram down the length of the terminal to my plane.
At this point, I had been travelling for almost nineteen hours straight. I was not a pretty sight to look at.
After another hour’s wait at the gate — you’ll remember that my flight had arrived almost an hour early — a military officer in fatigues told the waiting passengers that random security checks would be conducted before boarding. Again, I was not chosen, and I boarded the plane (a DC-9, I think). Before takeoff, the pilot announced that, because of new security measures in the wake of 9/11, no one would be allowed to stand up on the plane from thirty minutes before final approach to Reagan National Airport.
The plane flew out from Detroit and over Great Lakes. I got a window seat this time, and I was hoping to catch a good view of Washington before landing. No luck: low clouds, heavy fog, and rain hid the city — and any other features — from view as the plane circled, waiting to land.
It was a long while before the plane actually flew low enough for me to see anything. Since I was sitting on the opposite side from the city, I only got to see the gray Potomac River and Arlington on the other side. After landing, the plane parked at the old wing of the National Airport, an ancient affair of stone and radial 70’s architecture. The baggage claim and check-in areas were not even separated, both being in the same airport lobby.
After I had gotten my bags, I ran into a new problem: My uncle wasn’t there yet to pick me up, I had no change for the phone, and the phonecard machine was broken. I started to panic just a little bit. I asked at the Traveller’s Help desk for some help, but they had no change, and no phone. (And can you believe that the girl at the desk barely knew English? At an airport info desk!) Finally, I managed to speak to a Filipino family, who changed a dollar to quarters for me. With that, I was able to call my uncle and tell him that I had arrived.
Twenty minutes later, I saw his SUV stop outside the terminal, and I was on my way into Washington.
My first impression of Washington was of how pristine and preserved everything was. Coming from a city where spit and trash strewn across the streets are commonplace, it was a bit funny how startled I found myself to look upon a clean urban environment. Buildings were nice to look at, with lots of classic and historic architecture. We also passed by the Washington Monument, and it’s a lot bigger in real life than I thought. The whole structure was just taller, stockier, and more imposing than it looks in the tourist photos, and the spire literally disappeared into the clouds.
This whole time, as we headed for what would be “home” in Northwest DC, a sense of culture shock was growing in my brain. I was only then beginning to grasp how monumental a jump I had just made, and only then starting to come to terms with the fact that I was in a whole new country and a whole new culture. Suddenly the questions began running through my head: “How will I get a job? How will I interact with these people? How will I get medical insurance? Housing? Food? Money?” All those concerns which I had before prayerfully settled in my mind came crashing back down on me.
It was a few days before Matthew 6:25-34 settled my fears and gave me a renewed sense of faith that God would work in my life for the good.
Since then, I’ve started the process of acclimatizing — and, of course, looking for a job. Getting used to this new environment is a lot easier than I had originally feared. It’s a bit startling, how quickly the environment here changes from street to street: one moment you’re walking down the tree-lined 16th Street, surrounded by old buildings and churches by the dozen; the next moment you’re in the ghetto-like gangsta-land of 14th Street, surrounded by Hispanics, Africans, and other minorities. Next moment, you’re in the gay district along 17th Street — and you can’t really tell, because the local homosexual culture is a lot less flamboyant than it is back in Manila.
Well, that’s how the jump went for me. Right now I’m living with relatives near Dupont Circle NW, while I wait for official word from my target graduate school. For now, I will work and earn for five months, and if accepted, I will move to Baltimore this Fall to take my MA in Digital Art.
From here, it’s all up to Him. When was it ever not?