After a lecturing around Bali, I popped back to Perth, Australia on October 14th.
I love Aussie immigration.
Your poke your passport in a friendly kiosk.
It flashes a welcome green.
You stroll through saloon-door scanners.
A guard smiles warmly there, peeks carefully at your customs card and waves you through.
Easiest border crossing on Earth.
But . . . not this time.
The saloon guard walked me to the desk guard.
The desk guard walked me to the office.
And there, the office guard interrogated me with inexplicable warmth. (Not kidding. Ozzie immigration is stunningly friendly and fair.)
The truth is, I’d moved to Australia on March 1st (my birthday!) seven months before.
Yet, I’d been flying beyond Australia’s borders every month, too.
I was home in Oz (Australia) for 4 weeks, gone teaching in the US and Asia for 4 weeks, back in Oz again, etc.
But, in spirit, I was living in Australia, and to “live” in in the country on a tourist visa is an Immigration Sin (and I had more sins, besides . . . ).
I’d found a tiny town in the middle of nowhere that made me terrifically happy.
I abided by my 60-day stay limit, but my visa status clearly forbade me from “living” in The Lucky Country.
It also forbade me from earning local cash (from teaching yoga, in my case)–a temptation I’d surrendered to all too freely when small-town studios began to invite me in.
Oz’s good gatekeepers were de-tangling my little pretty web.
Back in the Horrible Now, I sat stunned as the office gendarme laid out a clear case for my work violations using internet ads littered across the web. (Terrific investigative work!)
She offered me cups of tea and formal opportunities for contradictions.
Bad yogi that I am, I prayed madly to the Gods while offering a rash of half-truths—which they initially believed.
But I was nailed.
Frantic prayers and white lies weren’t going to slow this juggernaut.
I turned toward it squarely like a man.
But my inner boy needed a good cry.
As I leaned into my fate, they collected me and two other new-made convicts, put us in high-vis vests, and stacked us in a van.
They shuttled us to a nearby locked facility that held people from Chad, Saudi Arabia, Germany, and elsewhere—treating us like honored guests the whole way.
“Fly you back to America, Mate?” a warm-hearted guard asked.
“America doesn’t interest me anymore,” I answered, quoting a friend who’d gone permanently to India.
“Make it Bali,” I added.
I know. I’m ungrateful.
But I had a Shanghai appointment 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 ain’t all meditating and behaving monkish, dear Grasshopper.
It includes work, play, and emotional processing.
After collapsing onto my bed out of existential angst for an hour or so, I rose to wander the compound and direct myself to the business of yoga book study, emailing the people in West Australia that I wasn’t on my way, and weeping over the loss of an Aussie woman I can’t seem to forget.
In my grief, I watched movies and played poker and cricket (yes, cricket!) with the boys.
I traded stories with the infinitely decent guards and my somewhat neurotic fellow prisoners-–a number of whom had been there nearly 10 years.
Most—even the German couple gathered from the same Jetstar flight (and who exited jail 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 provided us with a weekly emolument of 25 Australian dollars to waste at the commissary (DVDS! Chocolate bars! Socks!) and heaps of things to do.
Maybe because I knew I’d exit before the decade ended, it all seemed delightfully new and intriguing.
Still, as the savants say, “All things must pass.”
At 3am on the third day, they woke me—saying they had a flight.
The exit papers took 20 minutes.
I grabbed my bags from lock-up.
Donned fresh underpants.
Nothing can stop me now!
Two kindly guards threw me in a mom-and-pop Ford, and ferried me to the airport.
They locked me in the car, secured my ticket and checked my bags.
Then they drove me—across the tarmac!—to my gate.
We bought a few pineapple juices, plopped down, and began to gab.
I looked at the rash of travelers waiting for planes.
For a second, I felt shame.
But 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 with drawers knit from gold.
I relaxed into it.
. . . and learned my lock-keys were pretty sweet dudes.
They told me tales about their families and cultures. (Most Aussies I meet on my travels are immigrants.)
One came from Pakistan.
His mom had just died back home.
He said his time in Oz was near done.
“In Pakistan, there is food waiting for me to eat,” he said.
“Uh, what?” I answered.
Then he patiently explained that nomadic Muslim culture says people 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’d always arranged to stay a few extra days for French cuisine.
I told stories of poking around Mongolia, Korea and north India—eating dogmeat, bugs and heart-rendingly good desserts.
We spent an hour with this sweet talk.
They stalked 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.
Then the monster Maori walked me to the plane-door.
He handed my passport, my body, and my phone to the flight attendants.
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 last row—like a French king to the guillotine.
Despite the grim occasion, the ecstasy of air travel that keeps me a complaisant wayfarer immediately seeped toward my bones.
In no time at all, I was entranced by the burly efficiency of the baggage-handlers outside my window.
Then I looked back in the cabin.
The flight was shaping up like the usual Aussie affair. Everybody on board was the picture of ill-health and happy as sin.
As the seat-belt sign blinked off, everyone stood, talked garrulously, and generously purchased pasta, sandwiches, and beer. (Hello JetStar! Nothing’s free!)
“Go ahead and party,” I thought.
In my new criminal persona, I was feeling distant, and my no-cost flight had gifted me 3 free seats.
I stretched out to sleep.
Three-odd hours of flying dissolved in a dream.
I woke to the firm murmer 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 Mr. Mummy Speech land the plane.
Onto the next chapter!
In Denpasar, the attendants handed me to a smokin’ hot stewardess in a radiant pink company dress, accessorized with dashing black heels.
We marched happily down 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 retreat with me to Dust-Thick Nowhere, New Mexico.
But I elbowed away the thought with notions of the ominous logistical and cross-cultural details, and-–despite small talk-–kept my co-habitational thoughts to myself.
Two bright-eyed, slightly-puzzled, young male attendants joined us as we paraded past the mobs of eager tourists snaking in infinite lines toward their face-to-face with Indonesian immigration.
My I.D. was taken through what seemed like a janitor’s closet door, then quickly brought out again.
My consorts led me to the staggeringly-skylit international lobby.
The pink beauty passed me my passport and phone like holy relics.
The boy-guards smiled mutely.
I walked to the light and the trees of the debarkation area.
I broke the calm—phoning my default driver to wheel me to the neighborhood of my friends—and a meal.
Bali’s thrillingly-warm air received me.
I was free.