Sunday, January 17, Ari’s “person” will move him across the border to Nigeria for $1300. He has $108 on him.
It’s time to get Nancy.
She and I reconnected on WhatsApp the next morning and felt confident we could raise the money. Thinking it will take a few weeks to come in, we agreed that I’d use my credit card to send the money; it would be quicker. How naive we were.
Nancy wrote to her penpal writers and I sent an email to the NEKASAN board — Northeast Kingdom Asylum Seekers Assistance Network, the group Nancy and I helped to start two years before, just before Covid made everything so much harder — and a few old friends, some of whom I’d not been in touch with for years. But I knew their hearts and their pocket books. I also added my family members.
I gave them all my post office box to send their checks. Silly me. One of the first replies I got from the email introduced me to Venmo. I’d never heard of it. So, I set myself up with a Venmo account. And, while I was at it, PayPal. A new world was dawning for me.
I then downloaded the Boss Revolution app and provided all the information on Ari that they require:
- Name (in the right order) — the “last name” does not always come last.
- Address (just one word in Cameroon. How do they know which house?)
- Country and Region
Ten minutes later, Boss Revolution let me know it does not work in Vermont.
I quickly wrote — texted — Madeleine, thinking she could do it from Texas once again. I’d not hear from her for a full week; I’ll later learn that she was down with Covid.
So I called my son David in Ohio. If Boss Revolution worked in Texas, maybe it would work in Ohio. I give him my credit card information and all appears to go smoothly. Then, checking my email before turning in that night, I see a note from my credit card company needing to know if the transaction was “OK with me.” But, when I reply that “it is,” I get an automatic reply telling me to “try again.” That tells me it had not yet gone through.
It will wait for morning. But I forget that Ari is on a different clock and is expecting the money to appear momentarily.
January 19 Sure enough, I woke up to a note from Air, worried.
“Hang on,” I tell him. “We’re working on it. Maybe another hour.”
But an hour later, we are no closer. It turns out that when Boss Revolution asked Dave for additional information, they wanted his information as the account holder (Ohio address). He’d given them mine. We didn’t realize this until he attempted to send the money again. Then they shut his account down, with no additional explanation.
My other son, Jon, also in Ohio, gets the same request, but on his credit card. Surely that would simplify things.
While we wait for Jon to report back, Ari and I chat. He described the compound where he was living, paying $50 a month in rent plus another $7 for electricity and water. He described the logistics of picking up the money. And he told me how he buys food already prepared (at $2 a plate) because he had no way to prepare it.
“I will eat enough when I get to Nigeria,” he added. Then he sends me photos of his food: “water fufu and eru, pounded cocoa yam with ‘limestone sauce.’ We call it ACHU,” he adds. I don’t ask about the limestone sauce but when I ask why it’s called cocoa yam, he sends me photos showing the difference among plantain, cocoa yam, yam, and sweet potatoes. Each photo is accompanied by cooking directions. There’s even a porridge plantain, he tells me.
At 2:45, my time, Jon calls to say he has an email that the payment is going through.
At 5:45, he gets another note from them: “Your Boss Revolution Money Transfer . . . has been canceled.”
There is no explanation. I send Ari copies of what I just received and ask him for the name of another money app I might try. He suggests Western Union but I explain that Madeleine is still struggling to get back $1500 that was scammed during another transfer and that she was getting no support for it from Western Union, we both know we’ll not be going down that path.
I decide to have Jon try again in the morning. At least his account wasn’t closed. But rather than sending the money to Ari, I’ll have him send it to Eunice. I go to sleep expecting all to be well in a day.
Wednesday, January 20, Inauguration Day and once I’ve talked to Jon, I settle in front of the TV to watch the proceedings while communicating with Ari via WhatsApp. I can text him; I can audio file him; and I can send photos. I’m starting to feel quite the competent technophile.
As President-elect Biden arrives at the Capital Building, I learn that Jon’s attempt to send the money to Eunice gets his Boss Revolution account closed, just like Dave’s. No reason given.
I write Ari. “What is your next step if I cannot get this money to you?”
“I will only wait until we see a way out. I was making arrangements to leave by tomorrow, but I will persevere until we see a way forward.”
“I’m still working on this,” I tell him. “I’ve not given up.”
As President Biden gives his inaugural speech, Ari writes me with a new path. “We will use “World Remit and choose the option for Mobile Money delivery.” He sends the link to their website, which I go to immediately. As I download their app, I wonder what, if anything, will change under this new administration for asylum seekers who see the U.S. as a mecca.
Twenty minutes later I write Ari, “$300 is on the way. I’ll do the rest after that arrives. And, once you are newly settle, I can send more. Can you hire the same person?”
“Yes, I can hire the person, although I may not have any money left to get food or accommodation. But the most important thing now is for me to leave first.” And he repeats all the details I’ll need: name, region, address, account number. He ends with, “You have really put a lot of time and energy to get this money to me. We trust that all goes well.”
Shortly after, World Remit writes me. ” . . . We received your payment. Local partner processing transfer. . . . ” But I get no word that the money has arrived.
I send another $300 through them to Eunice. Just in case. And, if Ari’s money goes through, I’ll send the remaining money directly from my checking account. No need to involve my credit card. Nancy and I have raised all the money we asked for, and then some.
Midafternoon I get an email from World Remit asking for more information. How do I know him? What is the purpose of my transaction? What is my occupation and how do I intend to use their platform in the future? I send off my answers.
The inaugural balls are starting when World Remit tells me the money to Eunice has arrived. Ari, however, needs to set up an “EU Mobile Money” (Express Union). And Ari writes that he’s gotten a similar message, but in French. He’ll activate that account in the morning. It’s after midnight for him.
January 21. I awake in the early morning but see nothing more from World Remit. Given that Eunice’s money went through so smoothly, I write Ari. “Is it possible that your name is on a list to be blocked? Would your government even think to do that? Has your wife been able to get funds to you?”
But I get no response from Ari. All day.
Too early the morning of January 22, it’s still dark out, I’m awakened by a WhatsApp zing. Ari apologizes for not responding sooner. He had to add more time to his internet account and, not having an ID, it was more difficult. I didn’t ask him how he did it. Ari often mentioned going through “the back door.”
He replies to my earlier question. “Our government is capable of doing anything. They may not even notify me of what they have done to make my life more miserable for me.”
He also sends me the link to an article in The Washington Post. The newly sworn in President Joe Biden has issued an executive decree to pause all deportations. Ari adds, “Good news for our friends in detention.”
Once I know Ari has set up his EU Mobile Money account, I resend him the $300 before I go back to sleep. It’s not yet time for me to wake up.
Around nine that morning, I awake to read he’s received it. I quickly send another $700. With the $300 to Eunice, he’ll have the $1300 needed to get him across the border.
Five hours later I hear from World Remit:
We’re sorry to inform you that we’ve made the decision to cancel your transaction and close
This means that we’ve canceled your payment. In the majority of cases, it should appear in
your account within 2 – 3 working days but it can take 7 – 21 day depending on your bank / card issuer.
There are a number of reasons we may need to close a customer’s account: we may have concerns over security or feel that there’s been a breach of our terms and conditions. Sometimes, a customer simply has more than one account in their name.
We’re not legally able to tell you the exact reason for each closure, but we always aim to stay balanced, fair and safe when reviewing our transactions — so if you think we’ve make the wrong decision, we’d love for you to get in touch.
I write them back to say that yes, they have made a mistake. But I’ll not hear from them again. At least they offered an explanation.
I have my husband open an account with them. They close his account too.
Later that day, I learn that my newly acquired PayPal account has an international affiliation, Xoom. With Xoom, I can send money directly to Ari’s bank account from mine. Of course, there’ll be an extended wait — days — while Xoom verifies my account. A wire transfer from my bank to his, though much more costly, would be faster, while the Xoom would be preferable to use when Ari is settled in Nigeria.
We decide that Ari will check an old bank account that he had before he fled. He’ll have a friend make a small deposit into the account to see if it’s still viable. That’ll also take a few days. So, with that in mind, I decide to take the break I’ve needed. I’ve neglected other areas of my life.
I get two days.
Sunday January 24, Ari writes me about two other paths. Neither will pan out. But we continue to chat. He tells me about his trip through the Darien Gap. It’s a dramatic story that involves a scorpion. It’s his story to tell and I hoped he’d be able to tell it, some day.
Monday, January 25 dawned, with no word yet from either his bank or my Xoom account. I ask him about the day of his actual arrival in the US. Who interviewed him? What was their demeanor? As he tells me, I’m appalled at the lack of sensitivity; the seeming lack of humanity towards him by a representative of my government.
And I tell him about The Statue of Liberty, how, as a young child, I was able to climb up into her arm, something no longer allowed. He knows about the Statue of Liberty, standing tall in New York Harbor. I send him another of the photos I’ve been using here.
Monday ends with us still waiting to hear about his bank and my Xoom. But we now have a third possibility, one that Madeleine suggested. A Cameroonian deportee that Madeleine knows, Ella (what we’ll call her), wants to also go to Nigeria. Madeleine hopes Ella and Ari can travel together. She also suggests that I can send Ari’s money to Ella, via her cousin in the US who will get it to Ella. I don’t ask how. It just feels complicated and I much prefer simple.
Still, at day’s end I’m feeling hopeful. We have now three possibilities for getting the money to Ari. And, while it’s been nearly two weeks since Ari walked out of the airport, I fall asleep believing it will be only another few days before he can walk out of Cameroon.
How could I possibly have known just how much longer I’d be involved in this?
NEXT: Human Trafficking?
How you doing out there? This is a long one. Thank you for staying to the end. I hope you’ll let me know who you are and how this story is resonating with you.