Thursday, June 18, 2009

In Amrika

I arrived to Amrika yesterday. The flight was very nice, especially that I was given a seat in the Business Class. This Business Class business is very good: I was allowed to use the airport lounge where they give free food and drinks and where people take their shoes off and lie on the couches without being bothered by security. I watched 3 movies on the flight and it was so nice that I made myself stay awake so as not to lose a single moment of Business Class. They gave great food and drinks and I could ask for coffee or drinks anytime I felt like it and the hostesses smiled brought it.

When the plane landed, we, in the Business Class, were ushered out before everyone else and we got to the immigration area before the great rush. There were only 40 or so people ahead of me so within 20 minutes I was presenting my passport to a nice man behind a desk. He asked: "What do you do? Why are you coming to the United States? When was the last time you were here? Where do you live?" I answered everything. And then he took prints of the four fingers of my left hand then of the thumb and then of the four fingers of my right hand then of the thumb. He also took my picture. After that, he crossed the form I had filled in the plane with a yellow highlighter pen, and told me that he needed to escort me to another place for further questionning. He left his desk and walked me to a room at the end of the hall.

The place was smelly and poorly ventilated and there were more than 50 men women and children sitting on plastic chairs. He told me to take a seat and wait for my name to be called. He put my passport into a red plastic folder and placed it into a folder holder, behind many many others. Around me everybody looked poor, sad and tired. There were Chinese, Turks, Moroccans and people from Latin America and Central and Western Africa.

The two officers behind the desk were partly hidden by their computer screens. Their job was to empty the red files from their content on the table and to study them. When they were done studying, they called the owners to the desk and asked them: "What do you do? Why are you coming to the United States? When was the last time you were here? Where do you live?" Many could not speak English, so the officers called a translator.

I learned so much during the next few hours. First, I learned about the preferences and the hobbies of the two officers because they discussed their lives and joked as if we did not exist. We kept quiet, so as to not bother them. But I now know that the tall one with glasses loves lemonade from a place called Bernardo, while the woman has a soft spot for nachos.

Because the interviews took place in front of everyone, I also learned a lot about my roomates of a few hours. The big African woman with a child, for instance, was a most dramatic case: she had lived in Amrika where she had delivered her baby. But the authorities had obtained a hand written piece of paper in which she admitted to have been in employment. She told them she had to write it for the hospital to be able to deliver the baby. One officer kindly explained that she had lied, and that because of that, she will have to spend the night in the custody room and to travel back to Uganda tomorrow.

My turn arrived after about 2 and a half hours. The man asked me: "What do you do? Why are you coming to the United States? When was the last time you were here? Where do you live?" and I answered. He took my fingerprints and told me to go to another desk at the other end of the large hall. I went there, and a man took my passport and asked me: "What do you do? Why are you coming to the United States? When was the last time you were here? Where do you live?" and I answered. He also took my fingerprints and a photo. When this was done, he grinned at me and said: "Welcome to Amrika, how long are you staying for?" and I said: "one week". He said: "on your way out, you have to do the same procedure, so come at least 4 hours before your flight."


akhuk fil-mahjar said...

Welcome to the world of "Special Registration"--it's the same story every time I enter the Great Satan. It takes at least an hour, due mainly to the fact that the officers spend 98% of their time schmoozing about their favorite teams, what they had for lunch, where they're going on vacation, etc. And as you say, you also get to hear all the sad sagas of the wretched of the earth. I think it's part of their job description to make people wait unnecessarily, a specialty of oppressive bureaucracies everywhere.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

I am really, really sorry this happened. Unfortunately it seems to be the procedure now.

with my Amriki passport I had no trouble at customs on my return, but on the way to Lebanon via JFK I was blasted with air in a special chamber while the guards wiped down my camera with rubber gloves and towelettes, looking for traces of something.

I was hoping that these Bush II era controls would be changed with our new administration but it looks like ... not yet. I am glad you got through though. I was worried. Maybe next time you can fly into ... San Francisco? Although I hear they are not so great there either. Oakland? I'll come and get you!

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Seriously, Oakland Airport does have international flights and you would be so close to me! I really would come and get you!