The Deportation Story

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Well, in just a few short days, Matt and I will move into our new apartment in Davis. I cannot help but be super nostalgic–maybe superstitious would be a better word— and remember two years ago we were boarding a plane to London, England, getting ready to start a “new life” there.

Yep, I feel like its time to write down this story. Many of you have heard it, so don’t feel obligated to read. However, I look on this story as one of those surreal events that movies are made of. It started on August 15th 2008…

So, the background and peripheral events of this little narrative are interesting, but I’d rather save the bulk of detail for the more exciting part. Here’s what you need to know: Matt and I had a rather ambitious dream, namely, to go to grad school in England. We talked about it for a very long time, and actually decided to pursue it. We both applied to several schools, got accepted, prayed a bunch, and decided we would go ahead and live there for one year–both getting an MA at two prestigious colleges in the University of London.

Then I got pregnant. We re-negotiated everything, and went round and round about what to do. We took a preview trip out there, looked at the hospital, went to our schools, and came home determined to move in August 2008. Of course I was freaked out, of course we had no idea of the scope of what we were willingly getting ourselves into. Nevertheless, we packed up our things and went headlong into the unknown.

Here’s where the story takes an interesting turn. We boarded the plane from LAX to Heathrow, London. I remember Matt and I looking out the window at smoggy LA and saying something to the effect of, “I wonder when we’ll see it again.” Sheesh.

After taking narrative theory I would term that an “anticipation,” or clue to the reader that the brainless characters will probably see it either A.) never again, or B.) very soon. Moving on. It was a long flight–13 hours, to be exact. I was 27 weeks pregnant, and didn’t sleep a wink on the way there. But it was ok, because we were embarking on a real adventure. Our itinerary for the following day included meeting with several landlords and hopefully getting a flat. We had booked a hostel for about four or five days, and everything was just waiting for us to sweep in and settle into life.

And then we descended over London. I can remember seeing the Thames looping all around those old buildings, and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m going to live here.” Dummy anticipation #2.

It really didn’t feel real to me. And then we landed. We got our bags and headed over to customs anxious to get out of our stinky airplane clothes and eat something. I think at this point I had been awake for maybe 20 hours, and I hadn’t eaten for quite a while.

 We stepped up to the counter and looked over the little division at the most evil customs agent the world has ever known. He was of Middle-Eastern descent, tall, trim, and had dark, mean eyes. Really, I made that judgment before we even spoke to him. I had seen the way he handled a previous traveler and thought, “I hope we don’t get him.” Well, we did. And that’s when our fate shifted. He asked for our information–why we were in London, where we’d be staying, and most importantly, when would we leave.

Problem #1. We didn’t have a return ticket. When we told him we would both be students and leave after our term ended he just raised his bushy eyebrows and repeated, “So you don’t have a return ticket.” Matt and I laughingly explained (I think we were hoping to endear ourselves) that we would be students and would definitely leave their precious country once we had our degrees. Then he asked for our student visas.

Problem #2. Back in April, we met with our counselors and they ensured us that once we arrived the Students Union would assist us in getting our visas. We relayed this very important detail to Mr. Mean Customs Man. At this point, he again raised his horrid brows and then walked away. Phew!

After about an hour, two friendly airline workers came up to us and said they wanted to take us to our bags. As they led us to our luggage, Matt and I looked at each other and smiled. We thought we were done with the stressful part. Everything would be fine, so we thought. We got our bags, and instead of going through the exit doors like everyone else, our two escorts led us back into the customs area and took us to another room.

They explained that they would need to go through our bags, and we foolishly thought that maybe it was because we were staying for such a long time. They were still smiling, so we were still smiling. They took things out–underwear, books, photos–they asked about the pictures and I started getting a little freaked out when they wanted me to identify my family members. I mean, why should they need to know my mom’s name? I think the next thing that happened was one of them got a phone call and they sort of lost the smiles at this point. After he hung up, he looked at us and said we would have to board the next plane back to LA.

 WHAT?!!?!

My knees just buckled and I sat right down on the floor, too dumbfounded to even care. They then explained that we couldn’t come into the country without our visas and it was really a “simple” matter. Just go home, get a visa, and come back. But we sold our truck to pay for airline tickets. But I’m 27 weeks pregnant and this is the last possible week I can fly. But…man, the room swam with all the sickness of a lost dream. We both knew that if we got back on a plane home, we couldn’t come back. There was no more money, and I wouldn’t be allowed on a plane again. If ever there was a “closed door,” this was it.

In our marriage, Matt is the strong one…and by that I mean he’s the non-emotional spouse. He’s the guy the holds it together, who doesn’t cry, and who always will find a solution. It was a really really frightening thing for me to see Matt crumble. Unlike me, he didn’t start sobbing on the airport floor. But he turned a greenish-gray, and I saw a look of total defeat. Total vulnerability–complete hopelessness. It scared me to death seeing him like that because it grounded the whole event in a nightmarish reality.
The nightmare continued as the mean customs agent came back and took over. He led us into another room–a kind of waiting room with chairs chained to the floor. I was still crying at this point, so I didn’t really take in the other people that were there. He brought us back through a hallway of cells and took us into a room that was so still, so muggy that it nearly made us vomit. They photographed us–tears and all–fingerprinted us, and again went over our information.

I was starting to get really sick, and felt like I was having cramps. I blurted out that I couldn’t get on a plane again because I was pregnant. Woops. See, they didn’t know I was pregnant—I wasn’t really big and I had been hiding my belly underneath my sweatshirt ever since we first met that customs agent. You would have thought I told them I had a bomb strapped to me the way they looked at my belly. He got all angry and started lecturing me on not withholding that information when I move to another country. I was so done with this individual that I mouthed off, “Ok, next time I get deported I’ll try and let you know how far along I am before you fingerprint me.”

 Not really a good answer to give to someone who holds your immediate future in the balance. Matt begged them to take me to a nurse at least to make sure that I could get back on the plane. Osama (that’s how I will refer to the customs man from here on out) then took us to the nurses station and had us wait outside while he went in to speak to her. I saw the nurse peek through the blinds at me, and that’s as much of an evaluation as I ever got from her. After talking for about ten minutes, Osama came back out and said, “the doctor is happy.”

Stupid British people and their euphemisms. “Happy?” I asked. “Yes, the doctor is happy for you to get back on the plane.” To which I responded, “Well, I’m glad the doctor is happy but they haven’t even seen me so how do they know I’m ok to get back on??!” “Well, you’re 27 weeks so you can still fly.” No crap, you idiot. That was the quote my doctor gave me before I had made a 13 hour flight. There was nothing more we could do. They just wanted us out of their airport and back in LA.

We went back to the detention waiting room and they allowed us to call our parents. It was about 2:30 in the morning CA time, and I can’t even imagine what went through their minds as they heard me bawling, and Matt’s shaky voice explain what was happening. Jack (my father-in-law) uttered the famous lines, “Get the hell out of there,” and we clung to those words for the next seven hours of waiting.
Our waiting room experience had the most classic characters it was as if Shakespeare himself had planted them. There was the worldly-wise South-African traveller, the Nigerian angel, and the Canadian comic-relief. The South-African businessman wore pristine clothes. His story was that he was meeting his brother, a pilot for a major airline, at Heathrow to transit somewhere else in Europe. Like us, he had no return ticket (because he was getting a freebie with his bro), and the fact that his passport was littered with world-wide stamps didn’t matter. He had a suave, but irritated disposition. Unlike us, he hadn’t spent everything trying to get to London, and he was more perturbed about not being able to retrieve his toothbrush than sitting in the detention center.
The woman I refer to as the Nigerian angel was really that. Or at least a corner of my brain wonders…She was middle-aged, dressed in a traditional African gown, and I loved her right away. Being the only other woman in the room, she took on the responsibility of consoling an incredibly distraught pregnant girl. She hugged me, prayed for me, and kept telling me to drink more water. Her story was that she was on her way to a job in Dublin. She had sold her little house for a ticket, and was moving to Dublin to send money back to her family (I think she had a bunch of kids, cant remember the number though). Like us, everything was lost to her by being deported. She would miss her first day of work, and she had no money to purchase another ticket. But she composed herself with grace and dignity that far-surpassed anything I’ve ever seen. For those of you Tehachapi readers, to me she was a black Mrs. Brawner. So comforting, so sweet, and so gracious.
Now the comic relief. Thank you, Lord, for comedy. The third deportee was a short, stocky Canadian, about 28 years old (I’m guessing). He was wound UP. It had been several hours since he had had a cigarette, and he would be missing a cousin’s wedding because of being held. He had a slew of funny, albeit inappropriate things to say about our prison guards. And as the time wore on, his tolerance disappeared. He would pound on the doors and demand a cigarette, and then cuss at the people through the window that looked at him like he was some strange gecko behind glass. Matt and I enjoyed his little performance–it took the edge off of what was happening to us and I think we both knew it would get funnier when we were out of the situation.
Anyways, thats the cast of characters, the plot was pretty much the same for us all. Get out of Heathrow on the next possible plane. Eventually, they got rid of the South-African, and several hours later it was our turn. We were led back through customs and taken to the baggage check. Again, our bags were opened up, but this time in front of a bunch of other people. After sorting through things again, they taped up the bags with orange tape, I think it said something about security on it. Then, they led us to a United Airlines terminal and had us sit by all the stewardesses and flight attendants.

Our two escorts, looking very conspicuous in their orange vests, sat with us the whole time. I was too tired to be embarrassed when people would look at us with distinct curiosity. I remember getting a violent urge to laugh when a pregnant girl and her husband walked up to the counter and explained that she was 25 weeks pregnant and would need to be accommodated with an aisle seat, blah blah blah.

Oh brother! I wanted to scream at her, “I haven’t slept in over 24 hours, I haven’t eaten in 15, and I’m about to fly another 13 hours after being marked as a security breach. I think you’ll be fine!” I didn’t, of course, but maybe if I were writing this as a screenplay I would allow that little outburst. I mean, come ON!!!!

Matt and I boarded before everyone else. We both passed out almost immediately. When we awoke, we had taken off and were surrounded by passengers. Unfortunately, we had only been asleep for like an hour. We sat there and neither one of us had words for the other. We had no plan B—what would we do? We didn’t brainstorm, we just held on to each other. Those long hours on the plane ride home stand out to me as a milestone in both my faith and my marriage. There was nothing else to do but trust God and cling to my spouse. I would feel Cosette kick inside and I knew God was in control of her little life.
I didn’t sleep anymore on the plane. Crazy, huh? And as much as I tried, I couldn’t eat. I felt like every time I swallowed bile would creep up. I know that’s gross, but what’s amazing is that once we landed in LA and started walking to the baggage claim, the nausea disappeared. As the escalator descended we could see our parents–all four of them waiting for us. My dad broke out in a run and I felt like I was four years old again as I hugged him. Oh my goodness—I’ve never been so glad to see our parents! They took us back to Jack and Leann’s apartment in Marina Del Rey and we crashed.
That’s pretty much the extent of my story, except that the next day I was admitted at Saint John’s Hospital in Santa Monica for preterm labor. The ordeal definitely affected Coco, and my body started contracting and getting ready for labor. They were able to stop it, and bedrest was the next priority. I definitely was not allowed to get on another plane.
The following month was incredible as our lives got shifted back into order and we accepted God’s new plan for us. It was a really hard time, but I look back on it and am still in awe at how Matt got a job at CBU, got accepted into CalState LA’s MA program, and I got into CBU again.
Obviously I still do not know exactly why we were taken through that journey. I know that we prayed, I know that God opened the doors, and I know that He closed them. We later found out, via the United Kingdom’s Government website that we could have been granted provisional entrance and been assisted with our visas. We had all the necessary documents for the provisional status, we just had a jerk of an agent. That’s what it boiled down to. So, if we had gone to a different customs counter, we probably would have lived in London. Que sera sera–know the song? What will be, will be.
If you’re still reading this novel, thank you. I have always wanted to write this down, and I think this might be the shortest I could get it.

7 thoughts on “The Deportation Story

  1. hilljean

    That is just INSANE!! I would have cried too, I can’t believe after ALL that traveling you had to turn right around and go back. What a huge HUGE disappointment! I’m glad things worked out but I’m still bummed you had to go through that and miss out on your adventure!

    Reply
  2. randomflair

    that is pretty dang crazy. i mean… how do you know what to take from that? other than … God is really in control – come what may… or
    “Que sera, sera.” ????

    Reply
  3. DGMommy (Tamara)

    Wow! What a trip. I am so sorry things went that way for you, but am immensely impressed with your sense of adventure! Kindred spirits, perhaps! It really does come down to the customs officer you get. It can make or break everything. I’ve always been pretty lucky and we’ve had a few interesting stories (stolen passport, husband’s green card and of course the latest move to UK).

    Reply
  4. Amber Kanallakan

    Crazy story. I’m so glad you wrote it out. I can’t believe you used the word “bile” though. Wasn’t that a least favorite word of yours?? No wait, that was “bolis.” Anyways, God is good all the time. Love ya.

    Reply
  5. Ali

    That’s insane!!! I’m so sorry you went through that..what a nightmare!! I am glad though that I got to meet you at CBU ;)!! What a story to tell Coco when she is older!!

    Reply
  6. Jeanette

    Hysterical! Still laughing about the nurse checking you out through a window and declaring that the doctor was “happy.” Someday, I am using your stories to entertain my grandbabies until then Gus and Katie get to hear me read–Woof (that is dog language for “Great!”

    Reply

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