How A Half-Hour In A U.S. Embassy Changed A Life NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro talks to an immigrant, Christopher Francis from Sri Lanka, who was looking for the man who gave him a visa to enter the U.S. 45 years ago.
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How A Half-Hour In A U.S. Embassy Changed A Life

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How A Half-Hour In A U.S. Embassy Changed A Life

How A Half-Hour In A U.S. Embassy Changed A Life

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There are times when we can connect surprisingly deeply with someone and then never see them again, a missed connection. A while ago, we asked you to tell us your missed connection stories and let us help you find that person. Christopher Francis emailed us about someone he met 45 years ago. Their encounter only lasted about a half an hour, but it changed the course of Christopher's life. That's because he grew up Tamil, a persecuted ethnic minority in Sri Lanka. In the 1970s, tensions between the Tamils and the majority Sinhalese government turned deadly.

CHRISTOPHER FRANCIS: It's very tough times we went through. Almost everyone got burnt and killed. They escaped and ran.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christopher survived those dark days, but he knew he had to leave his homeland. His dream was to make it to the United States, which, as a child, he'd read about in the local library.

FRANCIS: I looked at the pictures or read about it and everything - well, just fascination about America. That's number one. Number two, I knew that - I can't remember where - in America, sky's the limit. And you are welcome, and you are given every opportunity.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Through a chance meeting, Cristopher ended up with a job prospect in Virginia. But there was one big hurdle, the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, Sri Lanka, was known in his community for denying visa applicants. Everything hinged on Christopher's meeting with the vice consul, a man named David Harr (ph).

FRANCIS: I prayed before I went to see him. It was a 2 o'clock appointment. When I went there into the embassy, I was the only person there seeking visa. I knew before I went there, it was impossible to get a visa simply because you have to be professionally qualified. I did not. I just had a high school degree. You have to be politically connected to get things done, and I did not. I was a minority person. Number three, wealthy person can always buy influence and get things done. And I came from a very poor, poor family. So he looked through. He asked me a couple of basic questions. And then I knew - I was getting a feeling that I'm not going to be approved for a visa. Then he asked me about my family. So I felt that he became very sympathetic towards me, and I felt that because I'm a Tamil.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's OK. Take your time.

FRANCIS: So I felt that he was able to understand me. He helped me to give me the visa. I strongly feel that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Why did you write to us to have us find him?

FRANCIS: The more I reflect on my life here and all the blessings and everything - what I have been given, the American dream, and also the fact that I see folks who are trying to come to this country, and it's difficult for them. Initially, I did not have time. Or I was focused on my career and all those things. But now I feel that I have to find him so I can personally express my gratitude. Thank you for that.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: When you say that you got the American dream, you moved to this country, and what do you do now?

FRANCIS: Yeah, I became a nurse. And also, I climbed the ladder. And when I got my first promotion - when I called my mother, she cried. She said, in your own country, they did not give you any opportunity to do anything because you were an ethnic minority. Here, you come to this country. You had a green card, not even a citizen. But you're a department head. You have 35, 40 Americans working under you. It's a - what a beautiful country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, we did a public record search, and we contacted the State Department. And I want you to know that we found David, and he's on the line right now. And he's been listening to you tell your story. He is joining us from his home in Naperville, Ill. David, are you there?

DAVID HARR: Yes, I'm here. And I must say, I'm just so overwhelmed and impressed. Clearly, during that interview, although he might have been kind of startled by some of the tough questions we all have to ask in those interviews, what must have appeared before me in both documentation and the person was somebody who really had a lot of talent, a lot of promise. And with the documents and the presentation he must have made, it would have been a real pleasure to have issued him the visa. And I very glad it worked out for him. And then, it sounds like he's said a very interesting and worthwhile life since he came to the States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christopher, what do you want to tell David?

FRANCIS: Oh, I'm kind of speechless. Here, I've been trying to contact you and locate you for so many years. And I tell all my family members that I still have my passport right here with you. (Crying).

HARR: Well, as a visa issuing consul, you know, it's - one of our joys is to see people to whom we issue visas come and really make good and have - immigration in any sense is a real life-changing experience. And sometimes, it works. Sometimes, it doesn't. And in this case it's been very gratifying to hear that story.

FRANCIS: I was so petrified to walk into your office. And you were so - such a pleasant - you were so bubbly. You welcomed me, shook hands with me. You were so kind. I was so happy. When I went back and told family, no one would believe that I got the visa. So I'm really grateful, sir.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Obviously, as you mentioned being a consular officer, you have these opportunities. Is this the first time someone's reached out to thank you?

HARR: This is the first time somebody has reached out like this. And I'm very grateful for this - and I do say very grateful - to hear his story and grateful for his success.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christopher, any last words?

FRANCIS: Well, it is still like a dream to me after all these years. I would pinch myself. I'm a very blessed person. Thank you, Mr. Harr.

HARR: Thank you for sharing. And thank you for remembering me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was David C. Harr, retired vice consul now living in Illinois, and Christopher Francis in Virginia. Thank you both.

FRANCIS: Thank you.

HARR: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Christopher and David are now making plans to see each other in person. We are looking for more interesting stories, so if you want help with your missed connection, email us a voice memo with your story. The address is weekend@npr.org.

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