The Narrows

How the immigration process can feel like climbing through the dark and narrow cavern of a cave.

A few years ago, my brother-in-law introduced me to an infamous cave in Kalk Bay, Cape Town, known as Ronan’s Wells.

This is not any old cave as the name suggests, but a cave that literally squeezes the life out of you. A short, steep 45-minute walk up to the entrance gives you little to time to really think about what you are about to embark on. About to enter, we mumble a few short words of consolation to one another and swig down a little Old Brown Sherry to calm the nerves. I am not sure who is more nervous – those who have done the cave before and understand the risk, or those of us who have not, and the fear and hype that follows is purely conjured up in our minds.

We enter and scramble over a few treacherous sink holes, all the while thinking about why we put ourselves through this fear and anguish in the first place. We finally reach “the narrows”. This is where the cave becomes so narrow that once you enter there is no turning back. This is where we convince ourselves that this was a good idea. The entrance is actually hardly an entrance to anything. You could easily overlook it and wonder what the hype is all about. My brother-in-law enters head first. We are now at the mercy of the process that follows, and essentially lose all feeling of control. It requires full commitment to the cause. It’s difficult to describe the turmoil that your body and mind endures once you enter the narrows.

My brother-in-law explains that to successfully get through the narrows one needs to enter head first with one arm in front of you and one arm behind you at all times. Failure to do so will result in your shoulder blades getting stuck in between the overbearing sandstone that engulfs your entire being. We commit to the process, inching our way ever closer to the goal. We endure 45 minutes of contortion, and the mind games that follow are in some way more challenging than the physical discomfort we are experiencing. Will we get out? What if there is an earthquake and this rock moves another inch closer to my face? Who will find us if we get stuck? Is there really light at the end of this tunnel? We are now in survival mode. There is no way out. I become ever more fearful. I try conjure up a way of getting out of this discomfort before completing the process. Maybe I can turn around. I try to twist my body around, but I cannot even move an inch in any direction. The only way out of here is pushing on ahead and moving forward, even if it means one inch at a time.

We finally get spat out the other end, battered, bruised and filthy, but what our eyes are greeted with is an incredible cavern that is enormous and eerily beautiful. We made it, and we quickly forget what it took to get here. We see the light and heave huge breaths of fresh air.

The “narrows” is a lot like life and, in this case, the immigration process. You commit to the process headfirst, but the process is not always fun. You are often in the dark. You get stuck. You are not in control. It is fraught with fear and the unknown. Road maps do not exist here. What if I fail? You have setbacks. You have temporary success. You get stuck again. You begin to question if there is even anything on the other side of the discomfort you are feeling, and wonder if committing to this was worth it, or if you were in your right mind to begin this process in the first place. You are physically, mentally and spiritually exhausted, but the only way out is not giving up and tenaciously fighting to get through. There is no option to retreat now.

The time in the “narrows” quickly teaches you there is no quick or easy way out. You learn patience. You learn tenacity. You learn to trust. However, once you get through it, you find yourself in a wide-open space that is bliss. The narrows was not a detour in your journey, but a necessary step in the leg of the process to get you to where you needed to go. Embrace it, you will need this trying experience to help you in the next step of your journey that follows. If you don’t get though the narrows you cannot complete the journey. There is no way around it and you must complete it to reach your destination. Do not give up. You will soon realise why you began in the first place, and quickly forget the pain and effort it took to get here.

Take heart, we all face the “narrows” in some form or another. You feel squeezed, pressed in from all angles, suffocating under the pressure of getting through. There is no turning back, but the joy that follows once you “breakthrough” is worth all the effort.

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1 v 2 – 4)


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