Part 5 — The Saga Continues

How I remember The Statue of Liberty, standing tall and proud in New York Harbor. photo credit: Nurken Aubakir

If you are coming to the story late, you can find the earlier posts here:

Part 1: The Saga Begins
Part 2: So Close and Yet So Far
Part 3: Moving the Money
Part 4: Human Trafficking?

Later that evening (February 1), I get a phone call from the “manager of managers” at the bank, the boss, essentially.

After I give her the story, she agrees that there had been a misunderstanding. “Obviously” I believe she even said. And she promises to look into it in the morning.

Tuesday, February 2, I write Ari early, telling him all this, ending with, “It will be resolved. Hopefully in the next few hours. I’m ready to go down and make the transfer as soon as they call me.” Then I add, “When we use our bank cards here, if the police were looking for me, they would know where I used my card. Will that be a problem for you?” I get his response a few minutes later.

“My contact at the bank gave me a secret,” he writes. “She said if the money enters my account I should withdraw it immediately, it should not stay for more than 3 days. She said I should use an ATM point far from town. There they don’t have cameras at the ATM point and the bank is not even there. The bank has many ATM points at the outskirts of town, where they don’t have a branch yet. So even if they were to track my account online, they will not see me withdrawing the money. I have trusted her all this while and I think she is giving me a useful tip. I will withdraw the money and move to Nigeria the same day, so if they were to see the activity of my account and try to come to that area, they will not see me. … If my account were in a government bank, they would have blocked it already.”

Later that morning, the news from the Commissioner’s office is not good. “The teller retains the discretion to approve all international transfers,” the “manager of managers” explains to me. “It’s her call; even if her bosses would have made a different decision, they stand by her decision.” But she suggests another path, which I explain to Ari.

“My bank is no longer an option,” I write him. “They are supporting the manager who considers what we’re doing too close to human trafficking; they’ll not make an exception, even if YOU WANT it. . . . But the Commissioner’s office gave me good advice: to use a larger organization that has done this kind of transfer before.

So, I call our Association of Africans Living in Vermont (known as AALV). “It’s quite doable,” Michelle tells me. “We do these transfers all the time.” But she needed to check with her boss since he’d be the one doing the transfer. Again, that meant waiting until morning at the earliest.

“I’m writing this up,” I write Ari. “It’s a cliff hanger.”

He responds half an hour later. “It’s OK. I am fine and trusting that we will succeed soon.” Ari must know what cliff hanger means.

February 3, Wednesday I hear from Ari at  6:47 a.m. He had copy-and-pasted an article on the new Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, heading up an inter-agency task force to oversee family reunifications. Included was a statement from President Biden who signed executive orders to review all of Trump’s immigration policies. “We’re going to war to undo the moral and national shame of the previous administration …” it stated. I can’t tell the source of the article Ari has sent me, but still, I’m encouraged.

When I relay to Ari that Michelle has written to tell me her boss has said “No” to transferring the money via the AALV, I ask if he read the Victor Frankl book I sent him when he was still in detention. “About the importance of attitude,” I remind him. “Sometimes it’s the only thing we can control. I’m certainly grateful for your positive attitude throughout this time.”

He replies, “Yes I read the portion that says we may not be responsible for what happened, but we can chose how to respond. I choose to respond positively.”

Then he tells me that Ella has received “all her money from Madeleine through a cousin. She is just now waiting for me. We will move as soon as we complete the transaction.” But that route could another week; Zelle has a weekly cap, which had been reached with the money to Ella.

Two hours later, a new topic arises. “60 Cameroonians will be deported from the US on Thursday, February 4, 2021” the headline that Ari has sent me reads.

“Yes. Biden’s hold on deportations was halted by that federal judge in Texas.” I remind him.

“Texas is always the exception.” He responds.                 

“Yes, I know,” I respond and remember his Texas attorney. “Have you been in touch with Cathy?”

“Yes. I spoke with her about 10 days ago and she promised to continue to file my brief.”

Satisfied that I there was still a possibility that I would meet Ari on US soil, in the role of sponsor, I write him, “I may wind up going Ella’s route. But, I’m going to try something else. Something must happen today.”

“OK. I stay positive as usual.”

That something else involves another Board Member at NEKASAN, one who banks at a different bank in town. I meet her at noon with my check book. We provide the necessary information and when the teller asks us the purpose of our transfer, we simply respond that we’re supporting a family friend. With that, $800 moves from her account to Ari’s bank, via the numbers we provide. I write my friend a check for $860 from my account (an additional $60 to cover the wire transfer fee) and text Ari the good news. Then we walk out. I’m too aware that no one asked us about an Intermediary Bank.

In fact, when I asked the teller about any intermediary bank, she gave me its routing number.

Thursday February 4. I’m up early again, letting Ari know that I’ve gotten confirmation that the $50 test I’d sent him through Xoom weeks ago is in his account.

I write “Is there a safe way to find out?” I ask. “I will feel so much better when this money actually reaches your bank and you can access it. What a surreal experience this has been.” Not just the Xoom $50; he’s not yet been able to tell if the $800 came through.

“I believe we are there already and in a couple of hours we will rest, after such a struggle. You have put in the best of your time and expertise to get this done, and I am grateful for that.”

I ask, “A few hours?” I’m confused. I ask, “How long will it take you to actually leave and arrive across the border?”

“I think about 12 hours. But the guide knows best because they will have to handle all the issues with police and military control. They said if all goes well, we can take 12 hours. Many people in my category are now living in Nigeria, and a friend I knew who worked at the delegation of education also escaped to Nigeria through the same means.”

Then, in response to his expressions of gratitude, I write: “We haven’t finished our good conversations, yet. So what else could I do? :)”

“I think for now you can rest for a while,” he replies. “When the money reaches my account I will let you know. You can also tell XOOM that the money hasn’t entered my account yet.”

“Yes. I told them.” I write. “I will go make my breakfast. I hope you are eating well. And sleeping well. Take care.”

I check back after lunch to see this last note.

“Yes I am eating well, but I do have small problem with sleep, because I am bit anxious to move to Nigeria for safety. I think I also have a bit of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, due to the 15 months confinement”

While I’m a practicing psychotherapist, I’m not Ari’s therapist. Still, I’m curious how he arrived at such a dramatic declaration. “Why do you say that?” I ask, as sympathetically as I can from the other side of the world. “What are your symptoms?”

He writes back immediately. “I don’t even know how to describe it. It is like I was in a dungeon and suddenly came out. That means being in detention was a traumatic experience for me; my body, soul, and spirit was stressed to the extremes.”

“Yes they were.” I reply. “That does not automatically result in PTSD. Much depends on your body’s ability to adapt. And your own resiliency. You have definitely been through trauma, many times. Your initial flight, your trek to our border, detention, deportation, and now these long waits while we see if the money can get to you. You have been through so much. This is the time to celebrate how strong you still are. How resilient you are. And what a survivor you are.”

“Wow this is awesome. I was looking at it in the wrong direction. I should be happy that I am able to resist all these. This is an example of SUCCESS UNDER DIFFICULTIES.”

“Good for you. You are absolutely correct.”

“I am grateful that I have friends who have stood by me all this while. The journey would have been a different story without the wholehearted commitment of you and your team.”

Later that day, Ari let’s me know he’s got the bank’s wire transfer, although with additional fees and the exchange rate, the $800 is reduced to $776. Still, with the $600 he has already, this is enough to hire his “guide.” Once that $50 that Xoom insists is in his account shows up, that’ll be a bonus.

“Good to hear.” I write him. “I wish you god speed. … Safe travels. I won’t expect to hear from you until you are safely settled.”

excerpted from the poem, The New Colossus, by Emma Lazarus:
… Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand a mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightening, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

NEXT: The Saga is Over

What’s your history with the Statue of Liberty? Ever visit it? How important do you think it is to what the United States says it stands for?

6 Responses

  1. Tim F
    | Reply

    All caught up. Such an incredible story. Looking forward to the final installment (I hope)

  2. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I am Canadian so I don’t have quite the same connection to the Statue of Liberty but having said that, my 4-year-old grandfather did enter North America via the Statue of Liberty/Staten Island and I have been able to locate the records and name of the ship. They carried on to Canada after being cleared by immigration. So when I did see it on my only trip to NYC, I cried thinking about how excited my grandfather must have been when he saw it, knowing he was coming to a new country and would be free of oppression. (They were Germans living in Russia and were forced to leave in 1911 due to the onset of the revolution.) I really hope that Ari gets to Nigeria OK. I look forward to the next episode.
    Darlene Foster recently posted…The White Temple, Chiang Rai, ThailandMy Profile

  3. Pamela Wight
    | Reply

    Good. Grief. Holding out hope for good news in the next segment.

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