Do you speak cilantro? I know... it doesn't make sense, but for me the answer is yes. This blog is about more than just food and travel. It's about the human connection between the two and how immersing oneself in different cultures can have a profound effect.
I may not be able to understand your language, but I'm always up to share a great meal as well as your company...
*This is a true account of a travel experience this past summer. I've never published it here on the blog... so here ya go!*
There is a saying that goes “Every cloud has a silver lining.” In shitty situations no one is ever really thinking about the silver lining unless you have master zen-like qualities. So, it all started upon arriving at my gate to leave (my second attempt) for Heathrow.
“Calling all Envoy First Class passengers for boarding.”
I walked up to the desk trying not to look as excited as I was inside, thinking of relaxing for the next seven hours of the flight with plenty of space to stretch. I handed my ticket to the stewardess and she scanned it. A few more clicks of the keyboard and thirty more seconds had now passed since handing over the ticket.
“Now boarding Zone 1 passengers. Zone 1″
I began to wonder why I was still standing in the same spot. More passengers were boarding and a second line of folks were gathering behind me. The stewardess had a puzzled look on her face. Oh no no. That face was telling me that I was about to be disappointed.
“Um… it seems that all of the first class seats are filled. There is a seat available in the first row in economy. Will that be okay?”
If all the seats are filled what other choice do I have lady? I’m not the arguing type and I’ve always felt that there is no point to get into an attitude or cause a scene when it comes to the airport staff. They have a job to do and deal with hundreds of people on a daily basis. At that point I was just glad to have a seat on the plane and I hadn’t paid for first class to begin with so…
“Sure, that’ll be fine.”
I took my seat (with a direct view of the first class cabin) and got settled in. The rest of the flight was uneventful.
Right on time we arrived at Heathrow around ten-thirty in the morning. It had been seven years since I was last in the U.K. and I was excited to be back. After a ten-minute hike from the gate I got to customs with the other speed walkers. Luckily for us there was no one in line. I assumed we were one of the first early arrival flights. Weaving through the line I waited another ten minutes before it was my turn to step up for questioning.
Now beforehand my friend Shannon and I spoke about what we should say. Technically we would be working and receiving a small stipend, but it was considered a managing internship for three months. My idea was that honesty was the best policy. We would say that we were coming over for a volunteer/internship (the truth) and that it was going to be unpaid (the lie… yes, I know). Turns out honesty was the worst policy.
“When is your return date?”
“Do you have your return ticket?”
“Um… well it’s an electronic ticket. I don’t have a return ticket because they don’t give it to you this far in advance.”
“Okay, I’m just going to take your papers and passport and check with my manager. Can you just take a seat over there at the far end. I’ll come and get you.”
I should have known better and I could feel the situation turning on me. I sat there for forty minutes and waited. The customs line was now six rows deep and I watched others going through. Some went through with ease and others were being pressed with questions a little more. Finally, the woman came back and I was told to follow her.
“Unfortunately, we have to do some checks because you didn’t provide us enough information for your reason of visit .”
At this point, I think I was still oblivious to what was going down. If they have to question me I’m cool with it. They’re doing their job. I was escorted by two people from immigration, who were very nice I might add, to get my luggage. After twenty minutes of skirting around the conveyers and no sign, one of the officers put in a lost luggage claim. Then we were off to what was essentially the detainee area of the airport.
Now, I’m still calm and cool and “la di dah” about everything. I was even having cordial and polite banter back in forth with my escorts. Once we got back to the immigration area I was given a thorough check. They asked how much money I had. They checked through my backpack and camera bag. I had my photo taken and was thoroughly fingerprinted, which was a first for me, and then washed the ink off of my hands with this gritty, fake, orange smelling solution. After all of this I was taken into another room that had a bunch of seats, a TV, bathrooms, a beverage dispenser, a pay phone, and a basket full of cookies.
I signed a bunch of papers and then my bags were put in another room, which was locked. I was offered a pre-packaged sandwich (ham and tomato) and then sat and waited. One episode of Judge Judy (I was surprised to find it when flipping channels) a package of biscuits, and PG Tips tea later and I was being taken into another room with the original agent from the customs line. She was really nice.
I was told I was going to be interviewed and she began to write down everything as I told her what I was doing in England and why I was coming to the country. I explained that my friend already arrived the day before and even gave her the address of where I was staying.
“Well at this time we are going to have to refuse you entrance into the country. The reason is that we don’t have enough information to allow you entry and in order to volunteer you will have to have a work visa.”
I was stunned and somewhere inside all of the nervousness I was stowing away burst through. Normally, I hate crying in public. It’s not that I’m ashamed of it, because I think it’s good for a person to let out their emotions, but I prefer to be alone when this happens. However, this time there was no chance in hell that was going to happen. I just couldn’t stop the tears from coming even when I was telling myself to stop, I couldn’t. The officer herself looked as if she was going to cry. I’m not sure, but from the way they treated me, I must of been the most polite detainee they’ve had in a while.
By time everything was said and done it was four o’clock in the evening. I was given my bags back and they told me I would be allowed to leave the airport to get a hotel, but they would be keeping my passport. I missed the last flight of the day back to Philadelphia and so I had to wait till noon the next day. I would get my passport back the next day when I came to check in for my flight. With that I was taken to the arrivals area and left standing stunned, by myself.