The only thing that’s kept me sane for the past few days has been composing this post. I probably should have known the second my mom said, “I hope your flight gets delayed and you get stranded in Iceland,” that my trip was about to go horribly wrong.
God, what an intro. I sound like a YA author: “Hi. My name’s Marian, I’m 12 years old, and this is how the British government ruined my summer.” (Note: I had a layover in Iceland and my mom has always wanted to see the country and was hoping to live vicariously through me. This wasn’t a malicious comment.)
Basically, Boyfriend Sam and I did some research and found that I could stay in the UK for 6 months as long as I wasn’t working or studying. Nowhere did the website say there was a physical visa I needed to obtain, and since I’m broke, I figured I’d be good without one. Strike one, Britain.
As I (hand) write this, I’m being held in Gatwick airport for the second day in a row. At around midnight yesterday I was transferred to a women’s detention facility (Yarl’s Wood – see right) three hours outside London. Meaning I probably got around 2 hours of sleep before being shipped back out to Gatwick.
I use the word “sleep” loosely. My bed consisted of a cot and unwashed sheets and it’s kind of hard to sleep with giant beetles scuttling around the floors. And when I say “shipped” I mean “transported in a bullet proof van with tinted windows and a cage inside.” I’m being deported back to Iceland at 7:30 tonight. It’s been a good 24 hours.
I’ve been treated like a criminal because I didn’t have a ticket back home, so right now I’m waiting for Sam, his lawyer friend, all his roommates, my mother and a family friend to pull some miracle out of their collective ass.
As I write this I realize how privileged I sound. Oooh! My prison didn’t have clean sheets! My daddy’s hot shot friend hasn’t bailed me out yet! Half the people here don’t speak English and at least I have a home to go back to. I shouldn’t whine, but I’m scared. I’ve spent 6 of the last 24 hours in a cage. I’ve been locked in a room for the other 18. An immigration officer read my diary and interrogated my boyfriend. Yeah, it’s been a GREAT day.
Despite being freaked out and tired and hungry and bored, the worst part has been the frustration. It’s obvious the officers here were bullied as kids and get off on making us feel small. Reading my diary? Really? Plus, my reasons for being deported are ridiculous, and every time I ask for more details or information on an appeal or how to apply for a visa I get a different answer. No one seems to know anything, or if they do, their answers all contradict each other.
The airport holding center is stocked with fruit, biscuits and store brand chips. They’ve got a pay phone that doesn’t call out, bathrooms with no locks, hotel pads of paper and those mini pens, one of which I’ve already used up. The news is on in the background and the bookcase is filled with everything from the Bible and paperback romances, to a five-year old guide to Brazil and a few children’s books written in Urdu. I did, however, find a recent issue of Wired, which is like gold in the Big House.
I’ve made two friends – an Australian and a Brazilian – both of whom were detained under suspiciously similar circumstances. I’ve spent most of of the time here bawling, and when Sam was finally able to call I was sobbing so hard my eyes were throbbing. A very tall pregnant Nigerian got me a tissue and said, “You stop crying now.” I think it was meant to be comforting.
There is so much more to this story, but I know how ADD blog readers are, so I’ll stop at 800 words. Check back tomorrow for the ending, but keep in mind that I’m terrified that writing this means immigration officers will barge in and put me back in that damn van (hi guys!). But this isn’t just my story anymore. The past few days have been horrible, but it’s a small part of a much bigger situation. That Nigerian woman didn’t have anyone fighting for her. Being trucked off for 3 hours to the middle of nowhere with no idea what was happening must have been beyond traumatizing. I can’t even imagine what it was like for the children involved.
I was lucky as hell, because one (incredibly nice, handsome, wonderful) officer actually took the time to review my case THREE times and was instrumental in my release. I owe him my sanity, the insane amount of money I would have spent appealing in Iceland, and probably a dozen cupcakes.