On the night of Chinese New Year’s eve, we headed off excitedly to the airport to embark on our two weeks adventure in South Africa. This trip has been a year in the planning and we were thrilled to be finally on our way there!
Upon arrival at the check in counter, the South African Airways lady asked me: “The birth certificates for the boys please.”
Automatically in defense mode, I replied. “Why do we need their birth certificates? We have traveled all over the world with the boys without the need to carry one.”
The reply came: “Sorry mam, it is a requirement by the South African government that all children travelling into the country must present a full unabridged copy of their birth certificate to immigration.”
Notably distressed, I started swearing: “F#@k! You have got to be kidding me! We didn’t bring any birth certificates!”
My brain immediately went into overdrive; my hands started shaking in obvious panic; and my heart couldn’t stop beating hundreds miles an hour!!! “What do you mean unabridged? I may have copies though…..”
I quickly grabbed my laptop and hard drive where I’ve saved important documents, including birth certificates. Jeff called home straight away to see if we have original copies kept and filed at home.
Apparently, the South African government implemented this birth certificate requirement for children under 18 years to combat child trafficking. Even though we bought our tickets over a year ago, I wouldn’t have thought to check other country entry requirements such as the one imposed by South Africa other than the normal visa requirements!!! Do we look like we are child trafficking our boys that look just like my husband?
In the end, we only had certified copies of the birth certificates for the boys. We keep our original birth certificates in a safe deposit box inside our bank’s underground vault. Given the Chinese New Year public holidays, the earliest we could go and retrieve them was 6 days later!! That was like half our holiday gone!
The airline manager, familiar with these problems, was extremely helpful and accommodating – obvious to our panic and attempt in finding a solution. She told us that certified copies were still a risk as the requirement was for original unabridged versions, but if we were willing to take the risk, she would let us board the plane.
Worst case scenario was that if immigration rejected us, we would have to take the next flight back to Hong Kong. Our friends in South Africa to whom we had sent an SOS message also told us that here was a 50/50 chance with certified copies.
Armed with only a glimmer of hope, we took the risk and boarded the plane and prayed desperately that the immigration officer would be open-minded and would see the very clear resemblance of Jayden and Joshie being each an offspring of Jeff. There should be no argument that these boys are not our children!
For the next 13 hours on the flight, I went between panic, stress, freaked out to relative hopeful calm – on constant repeat cycles! I couldn’t get any restful shut eye. Given my day job, I also ran through my head all the persuasive arguments I could make to the immigration officer to convince him/her to allow us to enter South Africa for our much anticipated holiday.
By the time I got off the plane, I was tired, high strung and overly stressed. The key moment was approaching and we were all apprehensive.
Obviously, the boys had no idea what was going on! They were just super excited that we have finally landed in Africa and soon, they were going to see all the wild animals they dreamt about. Their contagious energy and excitement turned out to be a great distraction. The lady immigration officer was responsive to our friendly greetings and the boys’ charming enthusiasm of what they expected to see in South Africa. She smiled and chatted with the boys. She only cited our certified copies and proceeded with stamping our passports!! It was the longest few minutes of my life – I was holding my breath while attempting to smile and put on a friendly and relaxed face!!
It was only until we had passed through the gates and well into the baggage claims area did I let out a long relieved sigh. All that worry, anxiety and fear in the last 13 hours of having to fly back to Hong Kong, cut our holiday short, forfeit our booking payments and perhaps buy new tickets to return to South Africa dissipated into pure relief. To us, it was a miracle – the chance was slim, we were at the mercy and discretion of the immigration officer and we made it! Praise the Lord! We were so grateful for all our friends and family who prayed for our safe journey and smooth entry into the country!!
While waiting for our onward flight to Cape Town, we sat down for some well-earned coffee where I could finally calm my nerves. We were finally in South Africa – let our holidays begin!
Miracles twice over!
A few days before we were due to farewell this wonderful country of South Africa, my mother happened to be handling our passports. She noticed that Joshua’s passport was to expire May this year! It was certainly an oversight on my part as I didn’t think to check. I forgot that children’s passports only have a 5 year validity as opposed to 10 years for adults. As Joshie was approaching 5 years old, his passport was due to expire soon!
Critically, what this also meant was that on this holiday, Joshie was granted access to travel and entrance into South Africa with less than 6 months left on his passport! Normally, airlines and immigration would have denied him travel. But perhaps, in the panic and craziness of the birth certificate saga, it may have masked this even more problematic truth.
Whether Chinese New Year public holidays or not, it would have taken us a lot longer to get Joshua a new passport to travel, and it would have been my own fault that our much anticipated holiday was ruined due to my oversight.
There really is a God and He truly picked up the slack from this Silly Mommy and saved her an even more substantial and severer distress and heartache. There is no other way to view this other than that it was purely a Miracle!
Miracles twice over – first birth certificates then expiring passport. We now look back at our wonderful South African vacation as a gift.
You bet I will be double checking passport expiry dates and arming myself with the boys’ original unabridged birth certificates on our next trip to South Africa!