Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sitting Still

I'm back in England, at Julie's house, attempting to sit still for a while.

Last summer I traveled a lot. Too much.

This summer I planned to travel less, and be at peace for long stretches.

I traveled too lightly on the way back from France. I had my passport, but no travel documents except my boarding pass from Geneva to Heathrow. I answered routine questions awkwardly. I chose the worse option on ambiguous questions. I said I had no money. It was a cavalcade of failure to give simple answers, on my part.

For nearly four hours, I was detained. I was finger-printed and photographed, and finally got to explain in my own words to someone sympathetic. I had asked for a couple of hours whether they could look at the schedule on my webpage. That didn't happen, but I was sprung, with an apology, after a while.

From now on I will travel with printouts of all flights, dates, times, and when asked if I have money, I will say I have plastic access to lots of money. That was the right answer. I was thinking of cash, of which I honestly had none. I had left my the pounds I got from a cash machine in the UK when I left. I left the euros I had gotten from a cash machine in France when I left, rather than change money in an airport. I figured if I wanted to buy something in the airport, I could use a charge card.

The questions are outdated, though. Plastic both is and isn't money. Having a return flight booked doesn't mean one has a ticket.

I would love to show you photos of me in the immigration detainment center at Heathrow, with their free food, with their shelf of books of all religions and the loaner prayer mat. I wouldn't mind sharing the mugshots, but I didn't get to see them, either. They took my iPad away from me (politely, but still...) so I didn't have phone numbers and I didn't have my FlipPix game, nor my Plants vs. Zombies. I tried to read Bill Bryson's At Home: A Short History of Private Life, but realized I wasn't able to understand what I was trying to read, because I was worried and agitated. But they don't let people take photos, and I'm not a good sketch artist, so I can't show you the waiting room, the locked doors on either ends, the interview rooms with glass windows, the lack of tissues for people who are crying... Yeah.

I was unique among detainees for being a native English speaker. I had lighter skin than others (the Brazilian girls weren't much darker).

I'm nearly recovered, but still somewhat spooked.

1 comment:

  1. What a scary experience. I'm sorry that happened to you.