Yesterday, I was reminded of both the fallen and the beautiful characteristics of nationality.
First, I had a bit of immigration frustration. Every three years or so, I must renew my residence permit at that stalwart bastion of Hungarian government and culture: the immigration office. Because of the excellent service of my mission agency, the process of stopping by to pick up the completed permit is a smooth one. I can briefly relax and enjoy people-watching in this very international place. Not so this time.
I came into the 11:45 "pick up" appointment feeling flustered as I rushed back into the city in the middle of a busy school day. I was also antsy to get going, because I was to meet a couple of my senior girls afterward. My stomach was tied in knots and my mind was whirling, but the crowded room was air conditioned (!) and there was an open seat next to unexpected friends of mine. These friends are headed to a new country soon, so I was thankful for the time to talk with them. Not too shabby.
As the two little boys played at our feet and Juci from my mission agency worked with the immigration officials on my behalf, my friends and I had a nice talk. Slowly, numbers were called and various parties of expatriate types walked through the double doors. One at a time, my friends, too, were called back while the other stayed with the kids and me. Occasionally, I caught a glimpse of Juci as she scurried back and forth doing all sorts of productive and official Hungarian things. Or so I thought until about 1:00.
Time passed, and I had to contact my student to let her know that I would be late. I was stranded at Immigration. More lucky parties disappeared successfully through the double doors. My friends loaded up the kids. The final cluster of strangers came and went. Silence settled over the rows of empty chairs. A stern guard with a huge ring of keys locked the front door and stood there staring me down. But no Juci and no residence permit.
Finally, at 1:45, I was called through the double doors for the brief interlude with an immigration official. "Sign here, and here, and here. Your residence permit has been approved by the judge, but we don't have the card for you. Come back in another ten days. Goodbye."
While I must keep in perspective the comfort and safety in which I waited, the relative ease with which US citizens can get through immigration processes like this one, and the faithfulness of God in all situations, I was frustrated because of the futility of today's efforts, my missing school today during the busy end of the year, the prospect of missing again, and the dangerously last minute nature of "ten more days" as I leave the country in twelve.
In case I had any doubt, I am not a citizen of Hungary. I don't really belong here.
Quick as I could, I ran through a sudden thunderstorm to catch a bus and meet my students across the river. These senior girls were going to take me around the Asian Market in a totally new neighborhood of Budapest. We all had odds and ends to find before our senior trip!
What a fascinating place! In the area of about two city blocks, hundreds of wholesalers hawked their wares to Chinese and Vietnamese businesses in the city. Down the other side of the street sprawled tents and sheds selling individual items to the public. Colors, fragrances pleasant and off-putting, and languages spiraled up into the now-clear afternoon sky.
My lovely senior girls confidently navigated the crowded shops and met friends from their youth group here and there. We laughed and chatted in a mixture of English, Chinese, and Hungarian. (Well, I mostly listened.) We negotiated with vendors from all sorts of faraway places who had somehow come to Budapest, Hungary.
I was sorry to realize that I had never seen this part of the girls' lives in the four years I had taught them, but I was so thankful for the chance now. Qian Lin, Bai Jia, and Claudia, too, were sweetly thankful that I joined them on a shopping trip in an area of town into which few ICSBers venture.
In this moment, my earlier frustrations with international living and the complicated nature of nationality faded for a moment as I enjoyed time with these lovely girls. I marveled, though, that even while they seemed so comfortable here, they, too were oddities. Qian Lin and Bai Jia have grown up here in Hungary. Claudia has an Italian passport, is of Chinese ancestry, and lives in Hungary. Citizenship, nationality, residency, and identity are strangely fluid ideas to Third Culture Kids like these.
We are all a little odd and don't really belong here. We do have a permanent home where our identities are clear, though.
"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ," Philippians 3:19-21