The trip started with a stutter. My flight to Chile was via a transit through Miami. But here’s the problem. Even though you are not entering the US, you still need to get an VISA to transit through Miami airport. But that’s not the problem. The problem is that instead of remaining in the transit lounge you have to go through the whole immigration process. And that’s where the problem started. The thing is, I had been to Pakistan on a backpacking trip 3 years ago (and its on my passport) – I have a name that is of Arabic origin. I am travelling solo and I am a man who falls between a certain age. You can see where this is going…
“What is the purpose of your trip to the US” the burly beef-cake immigration officer asks me at Miami airport
“I am not entering the US, I am catching a connecting flight to Santiago, Chile”
“What is the purpose of your visit to Chile?”
“Tourism, some charity work and to meet a friend”
“Please wait over there sir. Some one will come and collect you”
‘Collect me’ …Oh no…
Will they take me somewhere, shoot me, and then stick my body in a black bag? These are the thoughts brewing in my head.
And so I am taken into another room where my passport is taken from me and I am asked to sit down and wait until my name is called.
Will I miss my flight?
In the room are a cross section of people from around the planet: An African guy from Somalia, Pakistani guy flying in from Italy (who it turns out will have to fly back to Italy), a Brazilian, a gentlemen from Malawai, an old Indian couple – both in their 50-60’s – the women wearing a sari. There is a Mexican with a mustache (national stereotypes? No!), some Venezuelians (I can see their passports), another guy that looks like a Colombian drug dealer… and then there’s Me. A British accountant with a backpack and a wonderful command of the English language in a room full of the people no country wants. WE ARE THE UNWANTED!! THE FILTH OF THE EARTH!! Especially in America. I look around and I see everybody in this room seething with resentment. They don’t like being treated as criminals. And this is the welcome we get? This is a country who’s president’s name is Barack Obama and there are plenty here that have names like him and that look like him and they’re are all being treated as criminals. My connecting flight’s boarding starts at 8:15pm and it is already 8:30 and my flight departs at 9:15.
Will I make it?
I implore with the officials in the room that I will miss my flight but they don’t seem to care. They all seem like a bunch of uncouth semi-literate idiots. This is what it feels like to be treated as a suspicious person. The feeling is not pleasant and I am can sense the anger brewing inside of me. The scene reminds me of George Orwell’s 1984 – a dystopian future world – where big brother is watching your every move. Is this what the US has become?
Eventually I am seen by an official at 9pm.
Will I make the flight?
Perhaps American Airlines will wait for me? Maybe they know where I am and will keep the plain on the ground for me?
Will I miss my flight?
The official – a big dumb stupid man proceeds to ask me questions to fill out the form on the screen. “What do you do?”
“I am a Chartered Accountant”
“How do you spell that?”
‘What job do you do?”
“I’m an accountant”
‘What is that?”
Oh god, please help me. Will I miss my flight?
“What is the purpose of your visit to the US?”
“I’m not visiting the US I am merely transiting and going to Chile” (2nd time I’ve mentioned this)
“What time is your flight sir?”
“In 15 minutes”
He then looks at me and ask’s why I didn’t ask to be seen to earlier
“I did. You ignored me”
“Sir, you will miss the flight – there is no way you can make it down, pick up your luggage, check-in, and then go through security again in 15 mins. Sir, I’m sorry you’ll miss the flight”
My heart falls out of my chest. A heaviness and then an anger explodes inside. I don’t express it, but it is clear that I am profoundly and utterly pissed off. I hate this country. This George Orwell style police state that treats all foreigners with foreign names as terrorists and bad people. I proceed to answer the remaining few questions and after the official is satisfied with my answers he hands me back my passport and then I rush downstairs to pick up my luggage, get it inspected, get it checked in again.
After picking up my luggage I find out that I have missed the flight. What do I tell Maria? How do I tell her? She is supposed to be meeting me at the airport at 8am!
I saunter over to the American Airways desk expecting to be told that they will put me up in a hotel and that I will have to wait a couple of days to catch the next flight to Santiago, Chile…
“I have missed my flight haven’t?” I ask despondently
“But you can catch the next one sir, it departs in 2 hours…”
“2 hours! I can’t believe it! I will make it”
“Yes you will make it sir” the women at check-in says to me and I want to kiss her on her cheeks
So I rush upstairs after checking in, and go through security again to get my carry on luggage inspected, I manage to send an email to Maria about my new flight details and that it will arrive at 10am and not 8am.
And then finally, after a flight of 7.5 hours, I arrive in Santiago, Chile
At Chilean Immigration the immigration women wishes me a great trip and hopes that I will enjoy her country. She says she has given me a 3 month visa but I can extend it easily if I need to. She say’s that I should visit the south of her country and hope that I will have a profoundly enjoyable stay.
Now, that is what you call a greeting. That is how you greet guests to your country…
I loved Chile straight away – it was like love at first sight – and I hadn’t even left the airport yet…