Carroll couple overcome long odds for a merry Christmas

December 28, 2018

CARROLL — Dhananjani “Dhanu” Rondi and Justin Smolek have overcome long odds for a variety of reasons to perhaps have the merriest Christmas season ever.

Their story begins when the former Dhanu Rondi Pahindre came from Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2007. She came to the United States to attend school at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

Justin Smolek was the typical Nebraska young man, going to high school in Battle Creek and then attending Northeast, too.

The couple met at Northeast and attended a movie on a date.

More than a decade later, they are on their way to “happily ever after,” but what a trip it has been.

After attending Northeast, Dhanu had to move back to Sri Lanka. Because of medical issues at home within her family, she needed to go back home and help after her parents had provided her with the opportunity to come to the U.S. for an education.

“I went back home because I had to,” Dhanu said, “but I always knew I would be back.”

The couple kept their relationship alive from a distance.

“It was hard,” Justin said. “I didn’t have the money to go to Sri Lanka and see her and her visa had expired.”

But the expiration of the education green card was just one bump in the road. Another factor was that Justin was injured in a grain bin accident and nearly died.

Through it all, the couple maintained contact through social media.

“Those were dark times when you could almost lose hope,” Dhanu said. “I felt like I needed to be there with him, but it was impossible and very frustrating.”

Finally, in January 2017, Justin made it to Sri Lanka, and asked Dhanu’s father if he would allow a marriage between the couple.

Dhanu’s father’s approval set an entirely different set of obstacles into motion as Dhanu was not an American citizen.

“We were engaged in February 2017,” Dhanu said. “I had to get a fiancé’s visa to come back to the states.”

It took nearly seven months to obtain that visa. It also took the help of an uncle and the U.S. Consulate to get the proper documentation to get back to the states.

“It took a lot of paperwork and it was very tedious,” Dhanu said. “I understand the U.S. needs to be positive about people wanting to come into the country. I wasn’t upset. It was just the way it had to be to get us together.”

Dhanu even set up a blog to help other people in her situation.

“We could share information and help each other on the blog,” Dhanu said. “It was nice to talk to people in the same shoes you were in.”

After obtaining the visa, the couple were married on Sept. 23, 2017.

But the journey wasn’t complete.

Dhanu’s card was set to expire again, and she went back to work to get another green card, meanwhile holding a full-time job and juggling a new marriage.

“After all the problems the time before when we got married, I was really nervous,” Dhanu said. “There was another mountain of paperwork and personal interviews.”

The Smoleks went through the process together.

“I knew I loved her from the moment I met her — the first movie we went to,” Justin said. “This was a long, long process, but it has been worth every step and every hurdle.”

In addition to the time-consuming paperwork, the couple has forked over thousands of dollars to stay together.

Recently, the pair received notice Dhanu has received her permanent green card.

After a decade and thousands of dollars and a lot of anxiety, she feels she’s earned it.

“I don’t want people to think I don’t understand why it is so hard to do what we’ve had to go through. I get it,” she said. “Now we can just settle down and be together.”

And the merriest part of this Christmas?

The couple is expecting a child in May. Good things happen to good people and those who wait.

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