Our story begins before Faith and I first decided to get married. I traveled to the Philippines to meet Faith’s family in February 2005. Faith’s father, Reverend Nathaniel Sanchez, and I had a very long and deeply probing interview. He seemed to accept that I was serious about my relationship with his daughter. Faith’s son Jordanne and daughter Julie also approved of our relationship which made things much easier for us. A few days later I asked Faith to marry me and we started planning a wedding and our future together. We invited her family for dinner at my hotel to celebrate our engagement.
I expected the entire marriage process to take a few months, perhaps a year or so. I had a rather rude awakening when Faith started to gather the documents she needed. She had to have a birth certificate before anything else. Some clerk in a government office managed to spell her name wrong. In Canada that would be corrected fairly easily. In the Philippines you need a lawyer and about 8 months worth of patience to accomplish the same thing.
I had another opportunity to go back to the Philippines in the fall of 2005. I still had some vacation time left and I was able to use some banked time to pad my trip out to 2 weeks. Faith had told me about an island that was hardly known outside the country but was very popular because of its unspoiled beaches and relaxed atmosphere.
Boracay was wonderful. We spent our days wandering the beach and managed to find a secret spot of our own. We walked as far as we could toward the south end of the tiny island. As Faith was wading in the ocean I noticed an opening in the volcanic rock that blocked us from going any farther south. I entered the opening and discovered it was a cave that led to a very small and very private beach. We went there almost every day after that.
Once we had the birth certificate the next order of business was to get Faith’s long defunct marriage annulled. There is no divorce in the Philippines but it is possible to get a marriage annulled under the right circumstances. Since Faith’s husband had been useless as a husband and father and we had an excellent lawyer we knew it was only a matter of time.
Time would become our nemesis. Our lawyer, Merari, warned us that it usually takes 2 years for an annulment to be finalized. We didn’t want to wait that long so we inquired about speeding up the process. Merari said she would find a way to get it done sooner. She called in a few markers and pulled a few strings. She managed to get our case moved up on the court calendar by several months. In the end the annulment took only 8 months instead of 24.
We had great confidence in Merari since she had won quite a few awards in law school and was a friend of Faith’s family. I started referring to Merari as Ferrari because she was beautiful, fast, and expensive. Once we were reasonably certain that the annulment would be final we started planning the wedding. We set Oct 15, 2006 as the date and began to organize the ceremony and celebrations.
Faith’s cousin Vhoy owns a wedding planning business so he was the obvious choice to help organizing. He and his partners made all the clothes for the bride and her entourage including the ushers, flower girls, and ring bearers. They did a magnificent job with everything including setting up an outdoor church for the wedding.
As the wedding date approached our documents slowly came to us one at a time. There always seemed to be one more document to get. I started planning my trip and realized that we needed to do it very carefully. The Philippines requires a 10 day waiting period before issuing a marriage license. This meant I had to be there for 3 weeks in order to have time to get the license and get married.
I had to arrive in the Philippines on Thursday Sept 28, get a certificate from the Canadian Consulate and apply for the marriage license the same day. In order to arrive on the Thursday I had to leave Vancouver on Tuesday Sept 26 to allow for the time difference and the International Date Line. That also meant that after getting married on Oct 15 I would have to leave on Oct 17 to go back home. As I boarded my flight in Vancouver we were still waiting for Merari to get the final decree of annulment.
There was a problem with getting the final decree. As luck would have it Faith’s ex-husband was not available to receive notification of the annulment and we had to give it to his brother instead. The judge would not accept the brother as proxy for the husband and insisted that we serve the husband directly with the notification. That was a problem because there is a 15 day waiting period to give the husband time to fight the annulment, if he chooses. All this was happening as I was preparing to fly to Mactan Island to be married.
Merari pulled another rabbit out of her hat and tricked the judge into signing the final decree. She argued that we had already waited 15 days after notifying the brother and waiting another 15 days served no useful purpose. The judge agreed and we had our precious document.
Faith met me at the airport and, as usual, we ended up at different terminals. On my first trip to the Philippines I was redirected to a different airline and arrived at the domestic terminal. On my next trip I arrived at the international terminal. On the third visit I bought some duty free rum on the plane and discovered that I was flying international but my rum was travelling domestic. Faith was waiting at the international terminal while I was on the other side of Mactan-Cebu airport tracking down my Tanduay rum. On a later visit Faith wasn’t at either terminal to meet me. She waited across the street from the airport to see where I was going to show up. I was beginning to think she wasn’t there until I saw someone frantically waving from the other side of the road.
We picked up Faith’s father as we headed for the Canadian Consulate in Cebu City. We felt we might need his help dealing with bureaucrats. I checked the availability of the consular staff through the consulate’s web page before leaving home. We didn’t need an appointment and could expect to be served during normal business hours. When we arrived at the correct address we were faced with a very high, and even wider, solid metal gate and a painted sign telling us to phone for an appointment. Faith’s dad banged on the one door at the side of the gate. After a few minutes I saw a face peek through a flap in the door and mumble something angrily. A few minutes later the door opened and we were escorted through what I can only describe as a bicycle grave yard.
The consulate was at the end of a junk yard flanked by sheds filled with rusting bicycles, bike parts and old tires. The only thing missing was a snarling junk yard dog. The consular office was very small and cluttered but the consular staff were friendly and efficient. We chatted amiably as they prepared the papers I needed to prove I was not married in Canada.
With document in hand we dropped Faith’s dad at home and headed for the Registrar’s office at Lapu Lapu City Hall. As we waited for our turn to apply for a marriage license I looked up at a chalk board next to the registrar’s wicket. It was filled with statistics from the local population. The numbers told me a lot about the Philippines and how the people lived. During a period of 4 months the numbers were as follows:
births – 725
deaths – 125
marriages – 450
annulments – 1
Those numbers gave me a better understanding of how such a tiny country could produce 100 million people. I was living in one small part of Canada which is 3 times the size of the entire Philippines and has a population of about 4 million.
We went to pick up the marriage license on the appointed day. I got to witness more of the incredible bureaucracy in the Philippines. The marriage license is titled “License to Marry and Receipt of 2 Pesos”. The 2 pesos is a trick since there are extra charges for copies and certification of the copies. The total bill came to 350 pesos which was about $8 CDN. We were also required to take a marriage preparation course which we avoided by making a ‘facilitating payment’ of 1000 pesos to the official in charge.
We rented a house for the 3 weeks I spent on Mactan Island. Faith was still going to school during the day so I had a lot of time on my own. I went grocery shopping every couple of days and wandered around the neighborhood when I got bored. The street we lived on was one of the main tricycle routes on the island and they would be lined up at the end of the street waiting for passengers. After a few days the tricycle drivers began to recognize me and my camera and started greeting me as a friend. I got lots of pictures of them and discovered that tricycle drivers everywhere want their picture taken.
The house was furnished but the kitchen supplies were minimal. We had nothing but salt and pepper. I had to buy a chopping board, cleaver, oven mitts, sugar, coffee, even drinking water. With buying all the basics I was spending an average of only $4 every second day.
When you buy fish in the Philippines it isn’t cleaned and wrapped. The fish come straight off the boat and into the market. I was amazed at how fast Faith could clean a fish. If you know any fishermen they could take lessons from her. I can clean a small fish in less than a minute, Faith can do it in about 10 seconds.
Faith took me to school with her a couple of times and I got to sit in on some of the discussions which were done in a mix of English and Cebuano. I had the privilege of watching their school end celebration which consisted of a series of skits, dances and songs done by the students. I can’t imagine a more talented or creative group. Every part of the show was done with perfection. The skits were hilarious, even if I didn’t understand the language. Four of the men in the class did a dance. Their outfits included some strategically placed eggplants that had the women screaming and left me in tears of laughter.
I got to meet all of Faith’s local relatives at the rehearsal the day before the wedding. We gathered at the White Sands Beach Resort and checked out the area where the church would be set up. It was on a large putting green next to the pool. Everyone was taking pictures and having a good time talking and eating the snacks we brought with us. One little girl kept hanging on to my arm or grabbing my hand. It was Faith’s niece, Cydrale, who would be one of the flower girls. She had never seen anyone my size or colour before so she was quite fascinated.
Everyone used our hotel room as a dressing room. Filipinos are normally quite casual so seeing them in formal attire was a bit of a surprise. I had never seen Faith in anything more formal than blue jeans. She looks good in anything but in her wedding gown she was absolutely stunning. I kept telling everyone I couldn’t believe how beautiful Faith was. I wore a Barong which is the traditional formal dress of the Philippines.
The ceremony was a great success but had a few surprises. Vhoy went a touch overboard since this was his cousin’s wedding. Try to imagine a wedding ceremony that includes bubble and smoke machines and to top it off, fireworks for spreading the confetti. My shoes still had bits of confetti lodged in them 2 years later.
We didn’t get much of a honeymoon since our timing was so critical. I had to head back to Canada when we had been married for less than 2 days. I didn’t feel too bad because I expected Faith to be in Canada in just a few months. We had passed the biggest hurdle in getting married so now it was all downhill. I was going to learn how wrong my estimate was.
After I went back to Canada Faith began gathering the documents we needed for immigration. She noticed an error on our marriage certificate. In the Philippines virtually everyone uses their mother’s maiden name as their middle name. Whoever filled out our marriage certificate didn’t look at my name and just wrote what they expected it to be. Getting it corrected would take a while.
The other problem was the annulment. Since annulments are so rare, very few officials get to handle the documentation for one. I estimated that each person in the registrar’s office would see one every 2 or 3 years. They kept sending the forms off to Manila only to have them returned for corrections. The weeks stretched into months as we waited for the corrections to be made. Meanwhile I was gathering my own set of documents to send to the authorities in Canada.
Finally, in March 2007 we had almost everything we needed. We had documents, applications, pictures of the wedding, and visa photographs. All we needed was to get medical clearance for Faith and her children. I sent in my application to sponsor Faith to immigrate to Canada. A couple of months later they approved my application and sent the immigration forms to Manila for processing. Faith received instructions on when and where to go for the medical check.
We got our next bit of bad news after the medical report went to Manila. Faith had to undergo 6 months of therapy to clear up some inactive TB. After that we could get the visa fairly quickly. Unfortunately for Faith she was allergic to one of the drugs that was prescribed. After suffering terribly for a few weeks with constant headaches and other allergic symptoms she had to be taken to the hospital. Faith spent about a week recovering from the bad reaction and the doctor switched her to a different medication. She was an item of curiosity to the hospital staff and other patients. The name White isn’t usually associated with someone with skin closer to a cinnamon colour. People kept coming by her room to see the ‘foreign’ lady.
By this point we had not seen each other for almost 10 months. We didn’t want to spend our first anniversary apart and we knew there was no visa coming any time soon. I booked my entire 3 weeks of vacation around Oct 15th so we could be together for our special day. We wanted to go back to Boracay where we had such a good time two years before. I wanted to see one of the many festivals so we planned a trip to Camiguin to see the Lanzones festival. Camiguin is also the site of 7 volcanoes and some interesting diving areas.
We spent the first few days in Cebu so we could have our anniversary celebration with Faith’s family. Boracay was a bit of a disappointment. The island had become much more developed and commercialized. The secret beach we discovered on our first trip was being developed into a resort. The hidden cave that led to the beach had been destroyed. I was happy to leave after 5 days of dodging adults and children selling jewellery, sun glasses, and toys along the beach path.
The trip to Camiguin involved several forms of transportation. We had to take a tricycle to the jetty port on Boracay, a boat to Caticlan on Panay Island, airplane to Mactan Island, taxi to the ferry terminal in Cebu City, ferry to Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao, taxi to the ferry at Balingoan, ferry to Benoni on Camiguin then finally a multicab ride to the Paras Beach Resort. The entire trip took 26 hours, most of it traveling from Cebu to Camiguin.
I was standing on the beach, looking north and I could see some islands in the distance. I asked which islands they were and was told they were Cebu, Bohol and Leyte. I asked how long it would take to get to Cebu from there. The answer was – 2 hours if I could find a fisherman willing to take me. I was astounded that we had spent the better part of 26 hours to accomplish the same thing. The worst part was we had already booked our return trip by the reverse route we had taken to get there.
Camiguin was a dream in spite of arriving the day after the Lanzones Festival ended. I got the wrong dates from a web page. We had a wonderful time diving, swimming and just relaxing around the hotel. We hiked up the side of one volcano and spent an entire day touring the island. Camiguin is so quiet that the local farmers use half the road for drying rice. All too quickly our vacation was over and we had to head back to Cebu so I could catch my flight to Vancouver.
I still expected Faith to have her visa in a few months and I started dreaming of seeing her in Canada in January or February. After the 6 months of treatment were over the doctor wanted to do another bacterial culture to make sure everything was clear. That test would take 8 weeks to complete. Once that was done he would send his test results to the embassy in Manila.
While we were waiting for the test results I found out that some friends of ours who live in Seattle were getting married. They had already been married in the US but since the bride was from the Philippines they wanted to get married there too. It was another good excuse for me to travel. Faith and I were to take a special part in the wedding ceremony. Our job was to wrap the ceremonial cord around the couple signifying their being joined together.
Faith planned for us to have a day at the beach with her family. This was one of the best days I have had in a long time. It took 2 buses to carry everyone along with all the food and drinks for the group. We all had a great time swimming, playing volleyball, and doing a little karaoke and dancing after sunset.
After I returned home we got the results of the test and another bit of bad news. The medical check for a visa is valid for one year. The one year had long passed so Faith and her children had to have another complete medical. I figured it would take another 6 months after that before we had any hope of getting a visa. That meant we might get Faith into Canada some time in January or February of 2009.
I had a chance to go to India on business in August 2008 so I jumped at the opportunity. I saw a chance to get away and not have to think about how much I missed being with Faith. I knew I would be busy working and taking pictures of an interesting and exotic country. India didn’t disappoint me. My travel itinerary also sent me completely around the world from Vancouver to Seattle, Frankfurt, Hyderabad, Visakhapatnam, Bangkok, Hong Kong, and then back home.
Faith and I started planning another visit to the Philippines. I wanted to be there around Christmas and I could stay for a month. I still had 2 weeks of vacation remaining for 2008 and I could use 2 weeks of my 2009 vacation in January. We found a house to rent so I could save money on hotels. By staying for a month I was certain to be there for a festival of some kind, especially around Christmas.
I found a Canadian government web site that gave information on visa applications. I was able to track our application status every week to see if there was any change. Every week I got the same status – ‘In Process’. After checking every week for almost 2 months I finally got a different result. The status was now ‘Decision Made’. Of course they didn’t say what the decision was but I was able to find out the embassy would be sending Faith more instructions.
I assumed they would be asking for more documentation or more copies of some document they already had. This had been the pattern for the past 2 years. I was quite discouraged by the entire process and expected more of the same events we had experienced. I was seriously thinking of going to Mactan Island and never returning to Canada.
On one of our scheduled chats Faith told me she had a surprise. I thought she had finished some project or maybe bought her niece a new dress. She held something up to the web cam and slowly moved it back until the image was clear. In large red letters I could see the word ‘VISA’. My first reaction was “No way!”. I was sure it must be a trick Faith was pulling on me. Then I began to see that this was the real thing.
We started planning when Faith could travel. Her family wanted her to stay until after Christmas but we had waited so long for this that she wanted to leave as soon as possible. We figured 2 weeks was long enough for her to get ready. She had some matters to take care of and I needed some time to clean up my house which had only one person living in it for 4 years.
Her planned arrival date was Oct 31, 2008 which was a Friday. I booked the day off work and the following week as well. I knew we would need to get Faith some warmer clothes since the cold weather was coming. I spent a feverish 2 weeks trying to get the house into some reasonable kind of order. My recycling box and garbage can were unusually full every week. My spare bedroom became a storage room.
We had to skip our usual chat session the day before she would arrive in Canada. We would be out of contact for more than a day. I spent the entire time trying to get images of plane crashes and nasty immigration officials out of my mind. Anyone leaving the Philippines has to fill out a form and I had visions of problems in Manila and in Vancouver when she arrived. I kept myself busy on the Friday to keep myself sane until she was safe at home with me.
I decided to leave myself enough time to be at the airport about the same time as her plane landed. That would leave less time for me to wait while she went through immigration. I thought it wise to check the arrival time which was scheduled to be around 2 pm. To my horror I found out they were going to be 45 minutes early. That meant I had to leave immediately or possibly get there late. Being late would not be a good way to welcome Faith to her new country.
I got to Vancouver International Airport with a few minutes to spare. As I walked into the terminal I noticed I had forgotten my camera in the car. I had to run back to get it and then had to go back again to get my glasses. I stood nervously in the arrivals area and watched the monitor that showed people leaving the baggage and immigration area. I decided to get my camera ready to take a picture of Faith arriving. As I was busy attaching the flash and checking my exposure settings I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around to see Faith, looking more beautiful than I remembered, standing there with her luggage.
I finally got to live the dream I had of driving home with Faith beside me. I thought about it every time I came home. I would imagine Faith was with me and what I would say as we drove down the street and into the garage. I did the same thing any time I went hiking or shopping or visiting. I would think about all the things I would tell her about; the trees, the animals, the stores and our wonderful country.
Faith was too tired to go shopping the first day so we just went home. I had my daughter’s cats staying with me for ‘a few weeks’ which began in May and was still happening in October. The cats decided Faith was their new friend and followed her around all day. As a surprise I bought a new bedspread that was in the pattern of the Canadian flag.
We took a few trips to places I had talked about. We hiked in Tynehead Park and Redwood Park so she could see the autumn leaves in all their colours. We went to the Serpentine Fen to see the water birds and back to Tynehead for the salmon run. We spent a day traveling on the Sky Train and Sea Bus to Lonsdale Quay and back.
We went shopping on Saturday morning and got Faith her first pair of socks and a winter coat. In the Philippines she was used to wearing shorts and flip-flops along with tops with spaghetti straps or maybe a t-shirt. Those clothes would be good for a week or two in the summer in Canada. I turned the temperature up a few degrees in the house so she could make a gradual transition.
The Sky Train and Sea Bus were not very exciting since transportation of any kind in the Philippines is much more of an adventure than anything we have in Canada. The exception to that might be recreational vehicles like snowmobiles. I had a window seat on a bus trip to San Remigio and a few times my arm brushed against palm leaves as we sped along the road. We passed a few taxis and some trucks loaded with sugar cane along with the slower tricycles and motorcycles. I’m sure there are no rules about driving as well as no traffic lights or stop signs. Any intersection with a traffic light needs a police officer to make sure the light doesn’t get ignored.
Lonsdale Quay was more interesting than the trip there. We wanted to have some lunch but Faith was overwhelmed with the variety and strangeness of the foods available. Faith had never seen Greek, Russian or English food and knew about Thai and Mexican but had never tasted either. She asked me to pick something and she would try the same thing. I decided fish and chips was a safe bet but when we got our lunch we couldn’t find a table anywhere inside. The temperature was 3 degrees so I was reluctant to take her outside to eat but we had no other option. We found an outside table that had a heater above so Faith wouldn’t freeze. I was surprised that she wasn’t complaining about the cold. In a couple of weeks things would change.
Vancouver experienced a cold snap in the middle of December. Temperatures stayed below freezing for more than a week which gave us some snow and frozen lakes and rivers. Faith and I went walking in Guildford Heights Park after a snowfall. This was her first real experience with snow and ice. We saw a duck that looked like it had dived under the water and come up in the wrong place. It was frozen, upside down, under the ice. A few other ducks were paddling around a small patch of open water.
After a few more days of freezing temperatures we went for a walk in Green Timbers Forest and saw the lake frozen over. The trees are always beautiful after a snowfall and some next to the lake were covered with ice crystals. Faith found a picnic table that was covered perfectly in snow several inches deep. She wrote our names in the snow with her finger. I explained how Canadian men write names in the snow and warned her not to eat the yellow snow.
Through all the waiting and many disappointments Faith and I have endured we never lost sight of our purpose. All we wanted was to be together and live in a home filled with love and laughter. The sense of humour we have as a couple has carried us past every obstacle.
I told Faith about my dream of driving home with her. She asked if it was still a dream now that she was here. I told her that now it has become a nightmare because every time we drive home together it means I have just spent a lot of money shopping.