29 Oct '15
Posted in Blog by Eric Shaw
After a lecturing around Bali, I popped back to Perth, Australia on October 14th.
I love Ozzie immigration.
You poke your passport into a kiosk.
It lights up green.
You walk through saloon-door retina scanners toward a guard.
He smiles kindly with a tiny peek at your customs form—then waves you through.
Easiest border crossing on Earth.
But . . . not this time.
The saloon guard took me to the desk guard.
Then the desk guard took me to the office.
There, the office guard started an interrogation—with inexplicable warmth.
(Not kidding. The Ozzie immigration folk are stunningly friendly and fair).
The truth is, I’d been residing in Australia since March 1st
But I’d been exiting the country tons, too.
I was home in Oz (Australia) for 5 weeks, gone teaching in the US and Asia for 5 weeks, back in Oz again, etc.
In spirit, I was “living” in Australia, and to “live” in in the country on a tourist visa is A Terrible Wrong.
I’d found a tiny town in the middle of nowhere where I was terrifically happy. I abided by my 60-day stay limit, but my tourist visa clearly forbade me from doing the onerous act of “living” in The Lucky Country.
I was also teaching a bit of yoga on the side–another clear contradiction of my stay status!
Back in the horrible Now, I sat stunned as the office gendarme carefully laid out the case for my work violations with quotes from my emails and internet ads, showing my labors littered across the web. (Terrific investigative work!) They offered me cups of tea and gave me formal opportunities to give contradictions.
I prayed silently like a madman.
But they had me cold.
Apparently, frantic prayers—and white lies—weren’t slowing juggernaut.
Even as I resigned myself to my fate, they collected two other new-made convicts and me, put us in yellow vests, and stacked us in a van.
We were shuttled to a nearby locked facility that held women and men and from Chad, Saudi Arabia, Germany and elsewhere—honored like guests the whole way.
“Fly you back to America, Mate?” they asked.
“America doesn’t interest me anymore,” I said, sleepily quoting a friend who’d left permanently for India.
“Make it Bali,” I added.
I know. I’m ungrateful.
But I had an appointment in Shanghai in 21 days and zero desire to zip back to the States.
Oz was my preferred home.
But Bali was a good back-up!
They said a flight would come available in 1-3 days.
This was a flight perk!
A chance to fulfill the fantasy of prison!
A yogi by trade, sitting down and doing nothing seemed pretty cool to me.
But prison’s not all meditating and behaving monkish, dear Grasshopper.
It’s got its own work, play and emotional processing.
Once I’d thrown myself on my dorm room bed, then rose to wander through the compound, I got down to yoga book study, notifying the people in West Australia that I wasn’t on my way, and weeping over the loss of connection to an Aussie woman I can’t seem to forget, and my dream to be an Aussie citizen.
In my grief, I watched movies–and played volleyball, poker, and cricket (yes, cricket!) with the boys.
I traded stories with the infinitely decent guards and my somewhat neurotic fellow prisoners-–some of whom had been living there 10 years.
Most—even the German couple gathered from the same Jetstar flight (and who left before me)—busied themselves with bitter complaints.
But I’ve dealt with immigration officials in lots of places and have seen how evil they can be and–till now–always were.
I knew I’d landed in a golden cage.
They gave us a weekly emolument of $25 Australian to waste at the commissary (Socks! Chocolate! Movie DVDS!)–-and tons to do.
Maybe ’cause I knew I’d exit before the decade ended, it all seemed delightful and new.
But all things must pass, the savants say.
At 4am my third day, they woke me—saying they had a flight.
The exit paperwork took 20 minutes.
I grabbed my bags from lock-up, changed underwear, and showered.
All systems were go.
Two guards threw me in a mom-and-pop Ford, and chauffeured me to Perth International.
I sat in the car as they procured my ticket and checked my bags.
They drove me–across the tarmac!–to my gate.
We all bought pineapple juices, and sat down.
And began to gab.
I looked at the rash of travelers waiting for planes.
For a second, I felt shame.
Then I thought: no-one knows if these guys have a detainee or a diplomat on their hands.
So I sat up–and conjured the posture of a well-loved rockstar, a spy stalked from Kiev, or a CEO whose drawers were knit with gold.
As one must do in life’s tests (or jests!), I just relaxed into it.
The guards were sweet as heck.
They told me tales about their families and cultures.
(It seems like most Aussies I meet are immigrants.)
One was born in Pakistan.
His Mom had died back home, and he felt his time in Oz was over.
“There is food there waiting for me to eat,” he said.
I responded, “Uh, what?”
And he patiently explained that in nomadic Muslim culture people are said to travel only because fate draws them to eat food waiting for them where they arrive.
I was touched.
Work stories came.
They told me how they’d flown deportees to Nigeria, Myanmar, and Paris—where they always arranged to stay a few extra days for French cuisine.
I gave them my stories of poking around Mongolia, Korea and north India—eating dogs, bugs and heart-rendingly good desserts.
An hour passed with this sweet talk.
Then, a two-guy-size Maori tribesman showed up-–bald, tattoo-sheathed, and sporting opinions like Archie Bunker–-and relieved my buddies of their 6am shift.
They walked off.
I looked after them, forlorn.
I pushed past the Maori’s opinions to get to know him too, but time was short.
A drop-dead gorgeous groundstaff girl was given my passport as we bused out to the plane.
I made conversation with her, but—paradoxically—she hated flying and travel.
I couldn’t figure out what else to say.
Mr. Maori walked me up the stairs to the plane-door.
He handed my passport, phone, and me to the plane staff.
I fist-pounded him goodbye, then pivoted to the plane.
I strolled past the expectant eyes of my law-abiding fellow-passengers.
It was the first, sad moment of my three-year banishment from Oz, but I glided smilingly to the final row–like a French king to the guillotine.
Despite the sad occasion, the ecstasy of air travel that keeps me a complaisant wayfarer started to search toward my bones.
In no time at all, I was entranced by the burly efficiency of baggage-haulers outside my window.
Then I looked back into the cabin.
The flight was shaping up like the usual Aussie affair: everybody aboard looks the picture of ill-health and happy as sin.
As the seat-belt light blinked off, they popped from their seats, talked garrulously, and generously purchased pasta, sandwiches, and beer. (Hey! It’s JetStar! Nothing’s free!)
“Go ahead and party,” I thought.
I was feeling distant in my new criminal persona, and my no-cost flight had fortuitously gifted me 3 free seats.
I just stretched out to sleep.
Three-odd hours of flying dissolved in a dream.
I woke to the steady tones of a pilot gargling weather stats on the P.A.
The landing was rough, and I wondered if my supercheap airline couldn’t filch for computers, and actually made the champ with the poor oral presentation land the plane.
I gave an emotional exhale as we taxied.
Onto the next chapter!
In Denpasar, The plane’s staff handed me to a smokin’ hot stewardess in a radiant pink company dress, accessorized with dashing black heels.
We marched happily through the concourse.
I felt like I could hold her hand.
Exhausted by my dreams of global romance, I had the overpowering urge to ask her to marry me, join my Americaness, and retire in matrimony to Dust-Thick Nowhere, New Mexico.
But I elbowed the thought away with notions of the ominous logistical and cross-cultural details, and-–despite small talk-–kept my yearning close to my chest.
Two bright-eyed, slightly puzzled, young male attendants began walking at our side.
We paraded past the mass of eager tourists snaking in infinite lines toward their face-to-face with Indonesian immigration.
My I.D. was brought into a room and quickly brought back out again.
My three bodyguards led me to the staggeringly-skylit international lobby.
The beauty in pink handed me my passport and phone like holy relics.
I got a last, mute smile from my loving boy-guards.
I walked toward the light and the trees of the debarkation area.
And broke the calm—phoning my go-to driver to ferry me to a meal!
Bali’s thrillingly-warm air received me.
I was free.