24 Hours Later…
Well, in 10 months of international travel around the world there were bound to be a couple of hiccups and one of these hiccups happened to occur to us last Saturday. The story starts with us trying to fly to London to embark on our Harry Potter marathon and then head to the sheep farm/bed and breakfast to volunteer at! Sounds dreamy right? I’m sure it would have been…. But little did we know we would be involved in 24 hours of something quite different.
*Warning: no cameras were allowed during this time therefore, sadly, no pictures will be included in this post 🙂
Thursday April 6th, 6:00 pm. (New York – London)
After a canceled flight Thursday night out of New York because of weather conditions, we boarded our flight out of La Guardia NYC and flew into Toronto, Canada a day later than schedule. Red flag numero uno. Our flight in Toronto was then delayed another 2 hours. Red flag numero dos. Finally, we boarded our 7 hour flight to London. Looking a little tired and like true travelers. Red flag numero tres.
Friday April 8th, 10: 41 am. (London, Hour 1)
We disembark our flight and head towards customs with our bags, good spirits and passports in tow. As we wait in line we see a number of people sitting in the “what a bummer, I wonder what happened with those people” section and continue onward. Once we head to the custom desk we excitedly tell the immigration officer about our volunteer work in London and how excited we are to be there. Strike one. Dressed as travelers. Strike two. Generally happy and naïve people. Strike three.
Friday, April 8th, 11:00 am. (Hour 1)
Because we mentioned “working/volunteering” and not paying for the work we will be doing we were taken in question because we didn’t have a work visa. We first were taken to get our bags thoroughly searched, where they found a lot of clothes, a journal entry or two and not much else. Mostly because that’s all we could fit in our traveler backpacks for the next 4 months. We were then asked to sit in the “what a bummer, I wonder what happened with those people” section and wait until an officer can sort things out. At this point we were still pretty positive.
Friday April, 8th 11:30 am. (Hour 1)
Eventually, we are asked to go to another room at the detention center, where they take our fingerprints, read us our rights, pat us down and put us into a room without anything to do until we have our first interview. No phone, no explanations, no guesses on when the interview will take place other than 30 minutes to 4 hours.
Friday April, 8th 3:30 pm (Hour 5)
4 hours later we have interviewed separately about our plans to “volunteer” here in the UK. After a very condescending and unproductive “interview” which pretty much is swayed so the officer is asking you only questions that agree with the point he is trying to make, all while making you be extremely “specific” because for whatever reason they are writing everything down manually. So after this wonderful time, we are sent back to wait to see if we are granted access into the country. At this point not even sure if we want to be there.
Friday April, 8th 7:30 pm (Hour 7)
Another 4 hours later we are told we are denied access into the country because of our “naivety”, after being told that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”. Awesome. The next best part is that our flight back isn’t schedule for 12 hours later at 12:00 pm the next day. So the options are this. We can either be separated from each other and sent to a detention center or stay in this jail like room with microwaveable food, uncomfortable chairs and fluorescent lights that stay on all night but stay together. Sounds pretty dreamy right? Being the needy couple that we are, we decide to stay together in spite of the “inviting” shower and bed awaiting us at the glamorous detention center. (Hope you picked up on the sarcastic tone, from what we heard the detention center wasn’t much better than our small room).
April 8th, 7:30 pm – April 9th, 11:00 am (Hour 7 – Hour 24)
I’ll spare you the rest of meticulous details and sum it up the next 16 hours by saying we pretty much were treated like criminals although they repeatedly told us that we weren’t. We couldn’t use our phones because there were cameras on them (weird), we couldn’t leave the room without being escorted, take any medications including Advil, which trust me was MUCH needed, we slept on metal benches and were escorted to take a shower and brush our teeth by 2 officers incase we made a run for it.
April 9th, 11:30 am (24 Hours Later…)
After finally falling asleep from sheer exhaustion mixed with jetlag and stress, we were eventually escorted back to a plane, which funnily enough had the same flight attendants on it, to take us back on a 7 hour flight across the Atlantic to Daniels lovely family and some luxury back in New York. But not without quite a memory imprinted in our minds and a story to tell.
So, what came of this experience other than tears and missed connections, you ask?!? Well……Plenty.
- This Experience is Not Uncommon: After talking to our family members and the extremely friendly security guard that was watching over us through those 24 hours, we learned a couple of things. We learned that this experience that we were having wasn’t extremely uncommon and that this kind of shit happens to really anyone. We learned a lot about how immigration works, crazy stories about celebrities that had to be detained just like us because of charity events they were performing at but with no work visa. As well as the opinion of the Brits who were looking after us and just following rules but not necessary agreeing with them.
- Racial Profiling. The other 3 people in the room with us were people from the Caribbean’s. We talked with them and heard their stories and really started to understand the interworking’s of this so-called “justice” system. One story which was the most ridiculous to me, was a man who had a connecting flight from Gatwick (the airport we were at) to Heathrow (another airport in London) and had all of the required documentation but because he didn’t seem “legit”, as said by the officer, he was detained and then eventually sent back to Barbados.
- US Immigration. We got a small insight into the horror of what the US immigration system must be like and how appreciative we were to be going back to the US without any worry or anxiety and knowing that we would be let back into our country with our family, home and life, which unfortunately isn’t the same for all. We also gained a lot of perspective on how closed off our world is slowly becoming and although as US citizens we have it the easiest out of many countries… the world is slowly closing it doors upon each other and it is a sad sight to see.
When we got home I was angry and frustrated with our situation of the last 24 hours. But as I was giving my dad the mini version of this story, he gave me some words of wisdom…surprise, surprise 😉 he said, “Well, although it probably was terrible, this whole 10 month trip was meant to show you and teach you about different experiences and perspectives … and it sounds like that is exactly what happened”. And of course… he was right.
And I think that in a couple months, maybe even weeks when I’m happily hanging with elephants in Asia I will definitely look back on this day and laugh. Maybe 😉 And right now those words my dad said to me couldn’t be more true… you can’t plan how you gain experiences and perspective in life and if you could … would anyone really plan to get detained for 24 hours at an airport? The experiences that aren’t planned are the ones that you help you grow and mature in the ways that you didn’t even know you needed. And although I wouldn’t choose to do what we did ever again or put it on anyone else and although, I would rather be with sheep right now and walking down Diagon Alley then back to where we started, it would be against our purpose of this year to not acknowledge that I did gain perspective and a glimpse into a world that I didn’t know before. And although, it wasn’t glamorous or Instagram worthy… it was an experience and a perspective that I will take with me and reflect upon throughout my life. And of course never let happen again.
So What Now?
Now we are off to Copenhagen (cheapest flight to Europe) so we can make our way to Munich to catch our flight that takes us off to Asia! Stay tuned for more to come… hopefully pictures of us playing with elephants with a nice tan!