Karma has a funny way of repaying you for the childish antics of your youth. My mate Herman is Namibian and I found it quite hilarious over many years of travel to make subtle comments at the immigration desk as to whether Namibia was even a real country. This would often invoke twenty questions from the officials and would send them scurrying for their manual that had the list of recognised countries.
Sometimes countries, like Slovenia for example, have not updated their manual since Namibia was known as South West Africa which compounded the situation, making the following ten minutes increasingly uncomfortable for Herman as he attempted to justify the existence of a country the size of Texas; and increasingly funny to his infantile friends……
I worked out pretty quickly JFK doesn’t like me. In a bizarre occurrence that would be repeated in some shape or form over the next decade I made my way to the immigration desk. The lady behind the desk, unusually polite and upbeat processes my passport and welcomes me to The States.
“Thank you Mr Robinson, have a nice…..”
Then she stopped and gawked at the screen, before her hand reached down and furiously seemed to hit some sort of hidden button. Immediately two men appeared heavily armed and escorted me to another room sitting me down with a bunch of men who looked to be Mexican.
What an adventure I thought. Feeling comfortable I had nothing to be worried about, I sat there in the back room, scanning the men with their massive guns. Slyly glancing at the Mexicans, there were about seven of them. They sat there steely faced, silent. This is great, what a story. After a while I leaned over to the bloke next to me and whispered “what are you in for?” He however was no muy bueno! no muy bueno at all.
In New Zealand they ask you if you have prescription medicines, weapons, ammunition, explosives and narcotics as one question on the departure card. This puts the average migraine sufferer in quite a position by ticking that box. You’d think the Kiwis would separate out the prescription medicines wouldn’t you? Did I accidentally tick a wrong box I thought?
I started thinking about other countries I have been to, where they appeal to the honest jihadist by asking whether the flyer has engaged in terrorist activities. I have felt like asking if they can be more specific but thought better of it as Border Security rarely have an effervescent sense of humour. Why am I thinking about this? What’s taking so long?
Clearly keeping me here for such a long time was a tactic to start to breakdown the most hardened of criminals. I could see cracks appearing in the Mexican mafia next to me. It was probably only then that I started to feel some pangs of apprehension. Maybe this isn’t some exciting misunderstanding. I start to search my mind for some reason why I am being detained.
Maybe I should have paid that damn TV licence in the UK? Maybe I mistakenly left a debit on my Barclays card when I left England and it has caught up with me? Maybe my over stay in the UK has put some sort of flag on my file? My mind starts to race. Maybe the Malawi Gold my mates smoked in Africa has left a trace on my clothes?…. oh shit, maybe someone has put something in my luggage?
I started to sweat. What is my game plan I thought? Could I plead the fifth? I wonder how much a lawyer costs in the states? I’d probably end up with My Cousin Vinny. I wonder if Guantanamo Bay is nice this time of year?
After a while the guards took me to another room. One stood watch with his weapon trained while a man behind a computer started his interrogation. The next hour or so I was subject to the most frustrating interview ever. I will spare you the transcript but in sharing the below excerpts you can clearly see that as a younger man when I got bored or frustrated I had a tendency to get a little cheeky.
“Do you have a drivers licence with you?”
“I don’t intend to drive anywhere”
“How can you prove you are Michael Robinson then?”
“Um, it says it right there on my Passport next to my picture?”
“What nationality are you?”
“How can you prove you are from Australia?”
“It says it there below my picture, also on my Passport”
“Do you have any other evidence you are Australian?”
“I’m confused, it’s my first time to America, you guys do use the whole Passport system here don’t you? I thought that was the generally accepted form of ID”
It was about here that I started overstepping the line.
“Sir, please evidence you are from Australia.”
“maybe by saying something?”
“Baramundi’s a bloody big fish”
“What are you doing sir?”
“Crocodile Dundee, It’s a little obscure a reference I know, but I didn’t want to use the ‘that’s not a knife, this is a knife’ line given where we are. You understand.”
“This is not a laughing matter.”
“I’m not laughing”
“How does this prove you are from Australia?”
“I don’t think it does…. but can you do this accent?”
Probably should rope it back in I thought.
“Have you any tattoos?”
“Have you had any tattoos removed?”
“Have you had any reconstructive surgery?”
“You mean like, was I born a woman?”
Answer the question sir”
“No….. Listen gents maybe if you tell me why I’m here I might be able to help you.”
Eventually, the lads gave in and informed me that the FBI are looking for a man with my name and age. I put it to them there may be more than one person with the same name as me and they accepted I was probably not the felon they were looking for. Also the felon was African American….
They wished me well and sent me on my way to explore New York. Unfortunately, each time I enter the States, I am still subjected to the Spanish Inquisition at the immigration desk. I haven’t been transferred into a back room again but I usually have to put aside an hour and a half on arrival. Lately I start the engagement with “it’s not me but I know I am going to spend the next hour convincing you of that.” It doesn’t work.
Herman finds this hilarious. As I said…. Karma.