Becky & Sanne: Ten Trips, a Wedding and a Daughter. Exiled Binational Couple Finds a New Life in Belgium.
One moment has the power to last a lifetime and change the course of a life. September 30th, 2008. I was in Northern India leading a group of young adults on an alternative educational journey. She was there on an art internship. We had both—me, with the group and her solo—registered with an Ashram where we would attend an intensive 8-day yoga course. Introductory evening: she is called Sanne. She comes from the Netherlands. I am Becky; I come from America. We are certain…Our gazes open doors to places that have no borders. The world is small, but the heavens not.
It is India, so we are cautious. Though it is hard to hide what seems to be bursting forth with such gusto and intent. One of my students says to me, in a hushed tone, just three days after Sanne and I meet, “Becky, it seems like you are in love.” It’s true. I am—deeply and in ways I had only dreamed of.
Eighteen days later, Sanne and I part. My group is off to another part of India. Sanne is making her way south to Mumbai, her point of exit back to the Netherlands. We have no idea when we will see each other again. I tell her I will find my way back to her.
I am in between groups, but I must see her. I squeeze sixteen days in the Netherlands. I feel I have known Sanne forever. Her family feels like my own.
I have finished my stint in Guatemala with the next group. Sanne is rooted to her place in the Netherlands as she finishes art school. Even though I know her, I want to get to know her. I have a little less than two and a half months left on my tourist visa for this six-month period. We learn what life is like on a daily level. Again, we are certain; we want to build a life together. I go back to America in May just biding my time until we can reunite. My life feels empty there without her.
I have just seven days left as a “tourist.” I stay exactly the alotted time in order to attend Sanne’s art exhibition and graduation.
It’s Sanne’s turn to be a “tourist.” It is much more difficult for her to come to America than it was for me in the Netherlands. Americans are suspicious: of everyone. Her grandma deposits a lump of money into her account, so she can show that she has enough to stay for the maximum six months. We make some semblance of a life for ourselves in Milwaukee where my twin sister resides. We know this arrangement will be short-lived, and we must come up with a plan if we are to remain together. In the meantime, I have one of those dreams that I know can only be my soul speaking. I am meant to carry a child in Africa. Again, for a fleeting moment, our world is borderless.
This time, together, Sanne and I make the trip to the Netherlands. Now, we feel like partners. We are indeed partnering in our life. We intend to keep it this way. It’s a logistical trip as a result. How can we create a life with one another unbound by visa requirements?
Together, we have made our second trip. We are in Ghana now following our passions: Sanne is learning woodcraft from a local artist, and I am writing. We are both birthing something in ourselves before we take on the conception and birthing of our child. It’s a simple life in form, but complicated in relations. Sanne and I are relegated to tales of us being “real, good friends.” Wink Wink. Of course, we knew that coming into this. Same sex relationships are illegal in Ghana. You can even serve prison time.
A soul has chosen us. I am certain we are pregnant. Now, residency is imperative. Sanne has returned early to arrange details for my immigration. It will be difficult, but not impossible. Thank God the Netherlands recognizes my partnership. We are so blessed that we can create a life together in one of our countries.
I am back in the Netherlands. Those four weeks apart felt like an eternity. I just wanted to share this pregnancy with Sanne. We inform our families of our life, our plans. We will marry in September. We already know that ours is a Sacred Union that can’t be touched or influenced by anything outside of ourselves, but we want rights, too.
I have to leave again, otherwise the paperwork can’t be arranged in time to avoid “tourist”status. With my belly in bloom, I return to America to be amidst family and friends. My community is there. It’s bittersweet, really. I’ve found my life partner and so much is being created, but I must also leave so much behind. I feel heartache and love operating simultaneously. Sanne and I both know we would stay in North Carolina if we could. We both feel a connection to the mountains there and the people. One day, we think.
I am back. Things are becoming clearer, even if they are still tricky. To Belgium, we must go. Immigration law is less stringent there. We have concluded that immigration in the Netherlands is for people with money. In Belgium, you need less of it.
September 20, 2010. We marry almost two years, to the date, of our meeting. It’s simple. It’s sweet. It affirms what we have already commited to with one another. It feels different though, carries with it different implications. We are seen as a couple now— by the law and by immigration officials— a luxury not afforded to us back in the United States because of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a Union between a man and a woman.
Since we are talking about marriage here, I’ll be candid…I never imagined I would get married, at least not in the traditional sense. I had always envisioned some kind of commitment ceremony where friends and family would witness my partner and I sharing vows that we created— vows of conciousness and empowerment. Marriage, in my eyes, was the formality. It still is. Indeed, when Sanne and I got married, everything felt different. We had, after all, stated our vows (still our creation) in front of others. There’s power in that. But there is also power in having our Union recognized by our government. Especially now that immigration is dependent on it.
So, the paperwork is in order. We begin our life together. We find a home in the literal sense. In its figurative sense, we have learned that home is inside of us. But, we are realizing, with each passing day, there is something more to “home.” It’s not unlike a relationship in that way. Sometimes there is but one place (or in terms of a relationship, but one person) that really stirs something deep in our beings. A place (or person) that calls forth the bigger and brighter aspects of who we are because it just FEELS right. To Sanne and I, that place is the mountains of North Carolina. There’s a resonance we feel there that we haven’t known anywhere else. And now, as caretakers of our daughter, Willow, we have an even bigger responsibility to live where our hearts and souls desire. We are models for her of what it means to live life.
So Sanne and I are doing it. We are living life. We are listening closely, and we are placing our hearts out there— our story— with the knowledge that, just as our neighbors, we are humans with an equal desire to love and be loved. We don’t wish to meddle in politics or religion or the lives of others, for that matter. We are not activists. We are people, and all we desire is the freedom to be who we are, to live our life as a family, and in the place that feels home to our souls.
Together, let us work to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. It only serves to reinforce the isolation and division too many of us— no matter the race, gender, creed, or sexual orientation— feel in our insides. Support Unity: family unity. Support Love. Support Life. Let our higher selves be the model we choose and live by— if not for ourselves than, at least, for our Gods and our children.
Thank you for listening. If you feel compelled, share this story: with like-minded folk or differing-minded folk. It doesn’t matter. It is all of our journeys, after all, to be fully who we are. I am called Becky. She is Sanne. Our daughter is Willow.