In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I woke up with a sense of foreboding as I got dressed for my flight to my sister and her family in Norfolk, Virginia. I recognized the feeling of foreboding - but in the past I had a bad habit of ignoring it only to regret it when something untoward happened. I immediately became afraid that I wasn’t going to be able to see my sister.
Weeks before, she had asked me to babysit her children for two nights close to the beginning of my visit so she could accompany her husband on a business trip. I gladly agreed and the children began excitedly preparing for my arrival.
I paused while dressing and decided to pray and listen because I didn’t want to be caught unawares. I felt God say to me that I would get to my sister, yet the foreboding didn’t fully leave me. You could say that at the back of my mind, I expected that something wasn’t going to go according to plan even though I was going to get to Virginia.
You can imagine my sensitivity as I went to the airport, waiting and looking out for what was going to happen. I checked in and faced no issues - they’d accepted my Covid test, no regulations had changed and I proceeded to my gate to wait, forcing myself to eat breakfast even though my stomach was cramped with worry.
We boarded the plane and the Captain announced that all the passengers had boarded, all the luggage was stowed and that we were ready to move to the runway. I fell asleep while the plane was being taxied out. About twenty minutes later, I woke up only to see that we were still on the tarmac and weren’t moving. I was getting hot and reached up to open my AC vent but it was already open and was blowing warm air at me. Slipping off my jacket, I waited as the temperature inside the cabin slowly climbed with the rising of the sun.
The announcement came shortly after: 1 of the AC units wasn’t working, so they were trying to restart the system to see if it would fix the problem. We were almost 30 minutes behind schedule and I didn’t have a long layover before my connecting flight.
Aha! This must be the source of the foreboding.
I messaged my family’s WhatsApp group to explain the situation and ask them to pray. Shortly after, the air inside began to cool, and a few minutes after that, they announced that we would be leaving shortly.
I mentally prepared myself for the rush to get to my connecting flight and hoped that I wouldn’t be kept long in immigration.
When we landed in Atlanta, I progressed through the initial area in immigration and the officer only asked me one question, “How long are you going to be here?”
I moved to the luggage area and as soon as I approached the conveyor belt, my suitcase rolled around - perfection! I grabbed it and checked my watch - I would have time to grab some lunch before my next flight. As I walked to the exit, an officer stopped me and asked to see my passport and asked how long I would be staying. Once I told him 5 months, he escorted me to another area, which is apparently where power-mad immigration officers can be condescending, ask you impertinent questions, shout your business to other travelers, and even search your phone.
Have you ever been in the “blue” folder section of immigration at the airport? I didn’t even know such a place existed - apparently there’s a yellow and red section as well. I’d only ever been detained once in all my decades of travelling (and for a short time at that) and I’d never been treated disrespectfully. Yet, for every question asked I answered calmly and respectfully, even if the question or comments were ridiculous.
At one point during my interrogation, I had a fantasy about wearing a smug expression while being escorted out of the country having delivered a scathing retort to a particularly condescending question.
When the officer at the “red” folder section asked me for my phone, I unlocked it, handed it over and went to sit in an empty reception room. I felt it then; the root of the foreboding - the officer wasn't going to let me stay as long as I’d planned. Regardless of the instrument (the rude immigration officers), I felt God’s hand in it - I was warned, I was a little prepared, so I wasn’t going to fight. I knew the line I’d draw in the sand - I wasn’t going to leave until after my niece’s birthday in November- and I exhaled in surrender and waited until he finished searching my phone.
I watched the time elapse and realised that my connection had started boarding. I still felt the peace God had given me that morning, and I knew I would make it to Virginia. When my name was called, the officer released me after telling me that I could only stay for 10 weeks and I briskly walked to the terminal for my connection. I had arrived just a few minutes shy of the boarding time elapsing.
Once I’d settled on that flight, I became more and more angry as I recalled the entire experience. I thought of more satisfying responses to the questions I’d been asked. All the calm that I’d exhibited during the interviews slowly dried up under the heat of my blossoming anger. Even while I castigated myself for not being quick with retorts and for choosing self-preservation instead of vindication, I was relieved that I hadn’t jeopardised my opportunity to be with my sister and her family. Even while regretting that I hadn’t asked for more time, I was pleased that I hadn’t resorted to begging them to stay longer.
Another effect of that unfortunate interlude was that none of what the officers had assumed about me were far off from what I’d thought about myself since changing careers. Within their barbs were hints of ‘truths’ I had believed about myself during moments of self-doubt. My sister and brother-in-law had been the ones to invite me to stay with them for 6 months, but I still felt like a mooch. My freelancing business was slowly but surely building up, yet I still felt unemployed. God had been reassuring me that He’d provide all I needed, but I still felt poor. My desire to live in Jamaica for the rest of my life remains deeply rooted, yet I still felt like a vagrant. But what was the truth? Does God see my choices this year as a jump to follow Him or as an excuse to be a bum? Was I without vocation in His sight? Was I poor? Was I an aimless wanderer? No! But I needed those officers at immigration to bring those self-destructive thoughts into the light so that I could release them.
Eva Darron of Unsplash