Habibi Love

When my visa to visit my long-distance girlfriend was rejected, I realized how so much of my life wasn’t in my control, it was at the dead hand of bureaucracy.

On my way home from the US embassy, I received a message from my girlfriend Salma, who lived in Florida. She was standing next to an empty shelf in her closet, with a full grin on her face. “Can’t wait for you and your things to be here,” her message said.

I left the embassy that day, a thick folder of paperwork in my hands that detailed my entire life from birth to the present day, with the nauseating knowledge that I had to break the news to her. I had spent time filing out the forms, making sure my handwriting was both neat and confident. I made two copies of every document and took two sets of photos with me. My face looked stern in my first set of photos, and I didn’t want the officer at the consulate to think I was ‘too scary looking’. So, I took a second round of photos, one where I tried to make my eyes look brighter and more innocent. That obviously didn’t matter, my chances of getting my visa had nothing to do with the way I dotted my Is or softened my facial features.

I was sure that I had left no stone unturned in my quest to prove my eligibility. The questions, probing and personal, delved into my connections to Egypt, my job, and my reasons for visiting the United States. With a fervour in my voice, I spoke about Salma and our hopeful love. When the consular officer pronounced the fateful words of rejection, hope crumbled into heartbreak, and my dream of moving to the US to be with the woman I loved was suddenly marred by the harsh realities of international bureaucracy. Yet, the rejection did not sting from a lack of preparedness, but rather, it bore the bitter taste of prejudice, a reminder that even the weight of paper could not dispel the shadow of bias.

No explanation was offered, and no appeal was possible. I wasn’t an ‘ideal candidate’, even though my record was spotless. It was a cruel twist of fate. Salma’s work was in Florida, where she was building her career and had roots too deep to be displaced. Our love was strong, but it was entrapped in a web of geopolitical restrictions – love knowing no boundaries felt like a sick joke.

We had decided early on that our love was worth the hurdles. A romance that ignited across oceans deserved a chance to flourish, even if it meant navigating the complex corridors of immigration laws and visa applications. We envisioned a future where we could be together, where our love could find its physical form, free from borders and barriers.

Our story, like many modern love stories, rested in the serendipity of social media. Salma had seen a video I posted on Instagram that a friend of hers had reposted. She sent me a message, telling me that watching my videos made her laugh out loud in public, a sign of true comedic genius. We began a simple exchange of words that would alter the course of our lives.

Our messages were a combination of banter and pep talks. Conversations evolved rapidly from casual exchanges to heartfelt confessions. The initially light-hearted messages became my lifeline; the very thing I eagerly awaited and found the utmost happiness in each day. We shared dreams, ambitions, and the intricacies of our lives, fostering an intimacy that transcended physical separation. But the truth was undeniable, and our options were limited. We faced a heart-wrenching choice that many international couples find themselves grappling with. Our love was undeniable, but the world, divided by powerful nations and rigid immigration policies, had other plans.

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I got home and waited a while before calling Salma. My heart, which had already sunken down to my waist after the news of my rejection, was now resting lowly near my feet. I didn’t want this news to taint the rest of her day, which in hindsight wouldn’t have made much of a difference, considering that it would have tainted the rest of our relationship. I decided I’d give her some time to start her morning as she usually does.

Salma makes tea in a small silver kettle her mother gave her. She likes to keep objects from home in her modern Miami apartment. She is Egyptian, born in Cairo, but grew up in the U.S. – food and home objects were her main link to our shared birthplace, a place I was eager to leave. Salma drinks her morning tea outside on her balcony to watch the nothingness of the sky, as she would call it. “It’s the most pleasure I’ll get all day,” she would say, “because something always ends up happening, I love the nothingness of the sky in the morning.”

Something did end up happening that day — an event that underscored the barriers that govern our lives. I dialled her number; my heart was beating so loudly I thought she might hear it. She picked up, her voice a warm embrace through the phone line. “Hey,” I began, my voice trembling with the weight of the words I had to say. “My visa application was denied,” I confessed through words laced with frustration. “I was prepared, and I answered every question thoughtfully, but I guess he just didn’t like the colour of my passport.” There was silence on the other end, broken only by a soft, disbelieving gasp. Her shock turned to sadness, and I could hear the fear in her voice as she whispered, “What do we do now?” It was a question that hung heavy in the air, like a dull, silent ache that we both knew was growing, a stark reminder that our love might not conquer the vast distances that separated us.

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Eventually and with heavy hearts, we made the painful decision to let go. It was a decision that brought tears and sleepless nights, but it was also one that spoke to the injustice of a world where privileged nations dictate the course of love and lives. Our love, beautiful and genuine, had to end not because it was weak, but because the world was too strong in its resistance. Our story isn’t just a story of heartbreak, but a reminder that love, pure and enduring, can be constrained by the whims of governments and the realities of international politics.

As our love story came to an end, we were left with the hope that one day, the world would be a place where two hearts from opposite sides of the globe could be together without fear or prejudice. Until then, we would carry the memory of our love, a love that defied distance, but couldn’t overcome the confines of an unjust world.

(Edited by Zineb Zebdi)Author is Anonymous