Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
” We are now landing in Heathrow, thank you for flying with us” at these words, I was itching to get out of the plane, it was half an hour delayed, which gave me only half an hour to get to my next flight! I hate when that happens, and transfers always make me nervous so I made a dash to border control wanting to make sure I make my flight. I had never missed a flight in my life and I did not plan to give with without a fight, little did I know, that fight I would have to, but for a whole other reason. At border control, sat a big white man looking stern in the way authorities at borders usually do.
S : (nervously pointing) I have EU family residents permit.
O: (grunts and examines the permit) It doesn’t say family on it.
O: But it doesn’t say it in English now, does it?
O: Not my problem.
10 mins… 20 mins… I’ve missed my flight… 50 minutes later, the man comes back with my passport.
O: You cannot enter the UK.
O: Ah ah, don’t argue, if we made if so easy for Indians to come to the UK, they would all come running here, wouldn’t they?
S: But I have an EU permit, I spoke with the British Embassy and they said it was fine.
O: Yes, but I am saying it is not fine. I have worked here for 17 years, are you telling me how to do my job?
S: I am not trying to do anything of that sort, I was informed by the British Embassy and I have checked a million websites that as a family member of an EU citizen within the EU.
O: But we not part of the EU anymore.
S: I know, but the rules haven’t changed yet, the British Embassy told me so.
O: ( angrily) I am the British Embassy! Who do you think you are? Just because you have travelled all over the world, you think you can enter the UK! We need everybody to know that we are the strictest law in the land. We are going to deport you back on the first flight, ( looking at his watch). It might be tomorrow, you’ll have to spend the night at a centre, we’ll just have to see. Take a seat and wait for further instructions.
Now I was panicking, being deported, spending the night at a detention centre!? Shit was now circling around in the air, very close to the fan.
I calmed myself down, and changed my phone sim card to my Dutch number. My husband was in Trinidad ( taking separate vacations didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore). I called my father in law in The Netherlands to make sure the family knew what was happening. Immediately they set into motion, made a whats app group to offer support in different ways. I informed by friends in Belfast and a few other friends ( if I was going to disappear soon, people needed to know where I was last, I thought, years of watching dramatic movies and reading horrible stories dancing around in my head). Calling the Embassy Indian, or Dutch or British somehow didn’t cross my mind, possibly because I was freaking out and all I wanted was to get home. Anyway, there was nothing else to do but wait.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
After three hours, the officer came back and asked me and the Iranian woman to follow him for further instructions. He took us to some rooms behind giant steel doors, all the while making inappropriate jokes about how we needn’t worry because he was not going to ‘do anything to us’, because there were cameras everywhere! He told us that the Iranian woman would be sent onwards to Dublin that evening ( she had an Irish residence permit) and I would be sent to a detention centre for the night as there were no more flights going to the Netherlands. Shit had officially hit the fan.
After this explanation I was told to follow two female guards into another room where they took my finger prints and picture and made my file. While their lips said the words ” don’t worry you have not done anything criminal, this is just procedure” their actions continued to humiliate and dehumanise me. I cried during this ‘routine procedure’ and they just looked away and continued to talk amongst themselves about where one of them was going on vacation next week. At some point one of them asked the other ” what are we going to do with this one?” and her response was “I don’t know, we need to wait for instructions.” All the while ‘this one’ was sitting right there. An hour later, they had further instructions and I was escorted to collect my bags which had been taken off the plane hours ago. While I was waiting, I tried to talk to them and emphasised how I did not want to go to a detention centre, I preferred to wait at the airport instead, to which they answered, ” we have to make sure you are comfortable, the detention centre has a bed and a shower.” In my head I was screaming – comfortable!!?Seriously!!
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
A few hours later, another person was brought into the detention centre, a white American man. He was there because he had overstayed his work visa for 10 months, now returning from a vacation in Thailand, the border guards realised this and refused to let him enter.
At 12 am the lights in room were switched off and there was nothing else to do but sleep. I did not sleep that night. I lay awake thinking, simmering in my anger and feeling the pain of humiliation, dehumanisation and uncertainty – my pain and that of millions of people around the world who are in similar or worse situations. I was in this situation and yet, I knew that I was privileged. I spoke the language of the authorities, I was highly educated, I knew what they were talking about, I had a network of people around the world who would fight for me and whose support I could rely on. I would get out of here. But everyday thousands of people are dehumanised, humiliated, detained or worse sent back to places that may not be safe for them. What is this world we live in, where borders rule supreme, where an officer on a power trip can deport someone just because he says so, where people become things and things become more important than people?
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.