On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
From Cabo Verde To Coraopolis
By no means has the Footloose Forester been designated to be the family historian, thus his chronicles about family members have been spotty and more happenstance than deliberate and planned. This one has been on his mind for many years, but only now comes to fruition as his daughter and only child has come to realize that her own African legacy matters.
Lucy Pellek for many years resisted looking at the scrapbook pages that showed her natural family in the remote setting in Cape Verde where she was born. Although Lucy is now a well adjusted young adult American currently struggling to make ends meet as a single mother in Western Pennsylvania, she started her life as Lúcia Gomes Aguiar, sixth child of Artur Almeida Aguiar and Alvarina Gomes Aguiar, recently of Flamengos do Tarrafal, Cabo Verde.
During our last visit to our former home in Pennsylvania, Lucy showed clear signs of letting her story be told, without her former hesitation to look on the faces of her mother and father, brothers and sisters. While she was growing up, we reminded her that the photos of her family we had taken while still stationed in Cape Verde were intended for her own scrapbook; and although we had to provide the stories about them because she was only 15 months old when she came to live with us, my wife and I had to be patient about Lucy’s attitude about who they were and who she was. It took about 30 years for her to come around to hearing the full story.
As with so many of life’s stories, this one is bound to be sketchy, out of context and unsatisfactorily incomplete. Many of the memories have already been lost, but some of the most precious ones have been retained. Only when Lucy gave me permission to write her story, after so many years of coaxing her, did the Footloose Forester begin this attempt at the first draft.
Thu and the Footloose Forester were not strangers to the narrow valley known as Flamengos, some 30 miles or so north of the capital city of Praia. Footloose Forester had job assignments in each of four similarly narrow valleys in the rural countryside where his tasks included torrent and erosion control efforts while researching ways to provide hearty trees and shrubs that provided both fuel and forage while simultaneously contributing to erosion control. Thu assisted him more often than he remembers and often enough that she was well known to Artur, Alvarina, and their family.
When Alvarina was pregnant with Lúcia, she asked Thu to be Godmother and Footloose Forester to be her Godfather. In the absence of her husband who was in Washington D.C. for minor surgery, Thu said yes. Thu also invited Alvarina to stay at our house when it was time to give birth so that Alvarina could deliver in the relative safety of the only hospital on the island of São Tiago where we all lived.Lucy was born about two weeks early. Unfortunately, the Footloose Forester was again away on business in Dakar, Senegal, thus was unable to follow up on our plans to bring Alvarina to our home at the anticipated delivery time.Lucy was delivered in one wing of a cement warehouse in the valley of Flamengos, where her father Artur was the caretaker and watchman. That one room wing was also a temporary home to Artur and Alvarina and their five other children: Francesca, Fausto, Maria Jose, Elisabeth, and Sweco. Mom and Dad slept in the only bed, and the children all slept on cardboard panels on the dirt floor. Lucy was lucky enough to share her mother’s bed when she was born.
From left: Thu Pellek, Francesca, Elisabeth, Alvarina, Artur, Sweco, Maria Jose, and Fausto
Flamengos tree nursery and cement warehouse where Lucy was born
A few months after Lucy was born and the Footloose Forester had a reason to return to Flamengos on a work assignment, he asked Artur the name they had chosen for their new daughter. In answer, Artur intimated that it was our pleasure to choose a name for her, since it was customary in Portuguese and Cape Verdean society for the Godparents to choose. The Footloose Forester was shocked and alarmed that we had not anticipated such a custom. Their newest child did not have a name.
It would be 10 long months before Lúcia Gomes Aguiar had a name; and only after the parish priest agreed to baptize her, following a mandatory course in religious instruction on the part of her natural parents. We were relieved when the day for her baptism finally arrived so that we could announce the name we had chosen. Official documents were then post-dated to regularize her birth certificate showing that she was born at Flamengos on 20 February 1983 and baptized as Lúcia Gomes Aguiar on 4 October 1983 in Calhetha do Tarrafal.
When she was 15 months old, Lucy came to live with us on a permanent basis. The next step was a formal adoption in Cape Verde, which took only five weeks from beginning to end. We resided in Cape Verde until our next assignment in Haiti, in 1985. Lucy went with us, entering first into the United States under a humanitarian parole, in lieu of a visa. Our stay at home in Pennsylvania was for only a couple of weeks, then it was off to Haiti for a long-term assignment.
Our attempts to petition for her as eligible for US citizenship in Pennsylvania were rebuffed because the federal authorities claimed that she had to physically reside in the USA for at least three years. That happens to be not strictly true, since there are exceptions for people who live and work overseas. The Footloose Forester had researched the issue, but we were denied, nonetheless. The bureaucrats at the Immigration and Naturalization Service office in Pittsburgh were wrong, but they prevailed.
So, we went on a contract assignment to Haiti for almost five years. In the meantime, the terms of the humanitarian parole into the United States had expired; such parole documents were intended for the transit of individuals. We were unaware that Lucy was thus a stateless person for more than two years.
Things changed when we made arrangements to spend an annual leave in Hawaii in 1988. Lucy carried her humanitarian parole papers, but had no passport. For whatever reason, the Immigration and Naturalization inspectors at Miami International Airport at first hesitated to let her into the United States without passport or visa, but relented and gave her (and us) a huge break by letting us continue our trip to Hawaii with Lucy in tow.
The Immigration and Naturalization authorities in Honolulu knew that she was a stateless person, but they also knew that the authorities in Pittsburgh had been wrong to deny our petition for citizenship, based on the employment category and circumstances of the Footloose Forester. We were delighted that the folks in Honolulu were on our side. At that time in 1988, Lucy instantly became an American citizen. Forget about the customary 3-5 year period of residency. And we changed her name from Aguiar to Pellek; Lucia Nguyen Pellek. She had her own passport less than three days later. Her adoptive father, the Footloose Forester, signed the passport with her new name, allowed because she was of pre-school age and didn't yet know how to write. The photo above is the beautiful four-year-old girl who still lives in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania.
An import update to this true story is found near the end of the tale. The story was published as a draft, with the intention to update but, in this case, it should not have been posted because some of the most important historical facts had not yet been revealed.