In love, and finally, on the same soil
By MARY ANN KOSLASKY, Times Staff Writer
HOMOSASSA -- Love isn't always easy. Get the government involved and it becomes almost impossible. Keep that emphasis on almost as you read this tale of long distance love.
In November 1997, Barbara Geer attended graduation ceremonies for a friend, Verlin Hibner. There, she met Hibner's mother, who is the sister of Abdelkhalak Moussa-Oubkou, known by friends as Abdul.
"It was like we knew each other," explained Geer. "She suggested I should meet her brother.
The catch was that her brother lived in Morocco.
Abdul's sister gave him Geer's address and he wrote her a short letter of introduction.
Cupid was hardly at work when Geer fired off a 12-page, no-holds-barred missive detailing "what I hate about men," what she expected of a man, and her other likes and dislikes.
Instead of scaring him away, the letter prompted Abdul to reply with an eight-page letter explaining how much he enjoyed her openness and honesty.
"She was right," said Abdul, 41. "She was direct," which he also liked.
Geer went to her mom, Florence, who had been married to Geer's dad for 57 years before he died. She asked her, "What do you think?"
"Either he's blowing smoke," said Mrs. Geer, "or he's a lot like your dad."
That was enough for Geer.
"My dad and I were best friends," she said.
In December 1997, Abdul made his first phone call, which consisted of "Hello, Barbara. How are you?"
He spoke Arabic, French, and Spanish, but not English.
Abdul had a translator on another extension to help with the phone call and to help him write letters to Barbara until he learned enough "proper" English. Later, he enrolled in English classes.
To defray phone costs, Hibner suggested the couple chat online.
"We chatted every night online," said Geer. Then she found out that Abdul was using a computer at a cyber coffee house which cost him the equivalent of $1 an hour to use. So much for cost effectiveness.
Their love grew with every letter, call and cyber chat.
"He's my soul mate," said Geer, 47. She illustrated the point with the story of her father's death.
The day her father died, "I walked into the house and the phone was ringing," Geer recalled. It was Abdul calling.
"I feel you are in pain," he told Geer. "I feel you need me. My heart is aching. I knew something was wrong."
Abdul proposed and in October 1999 Geer took 12 days off from her job at the Citrus County Animal Control Shelter and traveled to Morocco to meet Abdul and his family in person.
The trip is a story unto itself.
Her first introduction to Morocco came when she needed a bathroom break on the way home from the airport. Abdul pulled to the side of the road at what passed for a rest stop.
Geer entered the small room and was shocked to find "a hole in the floor." The second room brought the same revelation.
She returned to the car and told Abdul, "Somebody stole the toilets!"
His response stunned her.
"That is the toilet," he said. Geer told him she would hold it.
"You'll hold it for 12 days?" he asked. That's when she realized this was not the United States.
After Geer contracted dysentery, he told her, "You can tell your friends you have seen every toilet in Morocco."
Amid escalating political turmoil in the country, Geer "was stuck there for 22 days."
The couple decided to get married and went to the American embassy to determine the proper procedures.
"When we arrived, there were armed guards all around the building," recalled Geer.
She was told, "You need to stay here." But all around her the staff was preparing to evacuate. She chose to take her chances with her fiance.
In the taxi returning to his home in Tetouan, they were caught up in a mob demonstration. Someone saw her and hollered. "American! American!"
Geer was in tears. She was afraid.
They began to rock the car. Abdul jumped out and yelled at them to stop.
"This is my wife," he told the mob. "You are scaring her."
Getting back into the car, he held her.
"I told you I would never let anything happen to you," he said.
Efforts to get married became a process of crossing many palms.
"Because I'm an American, they thought I was rich," said Geer. "Every time we had to get a paper signed, they had their hands out. Thank God for ATM machines."
Finally, on Oct. 19, 2000, they were married in a traditional Moroccan ceremony hosted by Abdul's brother. The entire family was there and Geer was garbed in traditional Moroccan wedding attire, including an antique bib necklace and gold crown that was so heavy it gave her a headache.
After a one-day honeymoon fraught with danger, Geer left Morocco on Oct. 21 . . . without her husband.
Although staff at the American embassy had assured them that Abdul could leave with her, they found that, "the American embassy in Casablanca had lied about Abdul's papers," said Geer.
A spiral of confusion and disillusion followed for the couple. For more than a year, they jousted with government officials, bureaucratic disfunction and loneliness.
Local attorney John Clardy became Geer's knight in shining armor as he battled a plethora of paperwork and bureaucratic befuddlement to make it happen.
Then a friend told Geer about a bill that former President Clinton had signed before leaving office. The bill implemented a special visa known as a K-3 that allowed a spouse or family member to arrive in America in three to six months.
Geer and Abdul filled out more papers. In U.S. Rep. Karen Thurman's office, her aide, Patrick Thomas, worked to obtain approval for the special visa. The paperwork was stamped "approved" on Sept. 11, 2001.
Geer is convinced that the government's reaction to the terrorist acts on Sept. 11 contributed to the delays that held up Abdul's departure even after he received official approval.
Thomas explained to them that Abdul was the first Moroccan to come through the U.S. embassy in Casablanca on the K-3 visa. "They didn't know how to do the paperwork," said Geer. "Everything had to be done in triplicate."
On Feb. 10, Abdul stepped off the Iberian Airlines flight in Miami, but the nightmare wasn't quite ended.
He had been given a large, sealed packet of papers from the embassy to be given to immigration personnel when he arrived. He did.
And then he was detained for two more hours before his papers were stamped and he was freed from the separate room in which he was held.
Another hour was spent searching for a missing suitcase and filing a claim for the lost luggage.
Language barriers didn't make things any easier.
After three hours, while Geer's friends were thinking Abdul hadn't arrived, Geer looked down the long hallway and cried, "That is my husband. He is here!"
Last Monday, Abdul met Clardy. Hugging and kissing the startled lawyer, he told him, "Thank you so much for bringing me home to my wife."
Would they go through it again?
Both answered with an emphatic "yes!"
After all, "She is my life," said Abdul.
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