overstaying Colombian visa, Cuban rum, & welcome to USA
In Colombia I overstayed my visa by a day. May 14 was the day I arrived and my sixty days expired on July 12. But my flight was on July 13. I could have taken a flight on the 11, but I really wanted those two extra days in sassy Colombia and decided to take the chance.
I couldn’t any information online and not one of the many people I asked in hostels could tell me anything useful except give gave me grave warnings such as I won’t even be allowed on the plane. There was also the problem of airport exit tax which I had read in the Lonely Planet is $65 for a 60 day stay and $120 for longer stays. I had about $70 left in my bank account and really wanted to spend it on something else. It was only on my last day that I realized it was already included in the price of my ticket.
On the way to the airport, the taxi driver insisted on stopping to give me his email. Something about his manner made me weary and realizing that the only thing of value I had left was my laptop and that it was possible for fate to wink cruelly and rob me off it in my last hour, I sat nervously as he stopped in one of the poorer Cartagena neighborhoods to scribble his email.
Before I was able to check in I had to get my exit stamp from a man sitting at the entrance to the line. He judged the 60 days in a very different way than I expected.
May 14 – July 14, rather than May 14 + 60 days = July 12.
At the check-in, they made me remove a kilo from my luggage. At the duty free I bought two bottles of Cuban rum, which I was told could be taken to the US without problem although I was not 100% convinced. Then I heard my name on the loudspeaker and went to the gate where they had my big bag and wanted to search it…
I’ve never been to such a thorough check in my life. Everything in my bag was removed and probed. The woman to my left had a bag of lollypops. This was torn open and one lollypop shattered on the floor to see if it was candy after all. Then her bottles of medicine were uncorked and wooden spatulas stuck inside. In my bag I had several bottles of Amazonian medicines as well as 2 bags of corn flour. How could I prove that what I carried was actually “blood of the tiger” for healing wounds and corn flour for tortillas rather than cocaine? No problem, my security guy tasted it.
I’d bought some fruits, bread and cheese to take with me on the plane, but the fruits were taken away before I could board. I was allowed to keep just one avocado because the Colombian woman was convinced I couldn’t each two on the 2 hour flight to Florida. I didn’t argue because I was almost the last at the gate and felt the pressure of time…
Sitting in the airport in Fort Lauderdale waiting for my flight connection to NYC…
The woman next to me speaks about the wardrobe she packed in the obnoxious accent I associate with American self-indulgence while the men in front of me speak in Spanish and I can understand only the general gist of the conversation. In my 5 months in Ecuador and Colombia my Spanish improved a lot. I accomplished two eye exams and two pairs of glasses, filing a police report, visiting an emergency room, and the many encounters in the streets, hotels, busses with Spanish speaking friends. But it takes active concentration, which sometimes I’m reluctant to give.
Coming back to the US reminds me how alienated I feel from this country. My first impressions at customs were negative: unfriendly faces chewing gum as if they had not one piece but 10 inside their mouths. And then the security checkpoint with the unfriendly overweight young women, with faces suggesting mental retardation, checked my carry-on.
US is the only country I’ve been to in the last 2 years where taking off your shoes is still required. Although my bag was thoroughly inspected in Colombia it was not an unpleasant experience. Jokes, smiles, a tad of amusement at the situation were there in Colombia. When he took out a certain female item, we laughed together, and he gently put it back asking “personal item?” In the US, this kind of exchange isn’t likely… it’s as if sense of humor and kindness are replaced by some kind of indifference merging on nastiness here.
As I walked from the airplane to the customs area I passed a large banner declaring “Welcome to the US” and a picture of the Statue of Liberty. “Propaganda” I muttered. I wonder what it is about the security officers at the customs that bothered me. They weren’t overty obese, but something in their manner portrayed an arrogance that I associate with stupidity and abuse of power. Maybe they are good men in heart, victims to a cultural language they cannot help but adopt. But I am human and I affected by things like this…. and frankly, I don’t want to live amongst these kinds of ways…
As I stood in front of some kind of machine that scanned me with invisible rays, I asked the woman in uniform, “what is it checking for?” Harshly she replied that if I wanted to know I’d have to check the TSA website. There was nothing in her manner to suggest humility, respect or courtesy, and it’s people like her that symbolize America for me.
A Belgian friend of mine was surprised I do not support welfare policies in the US. “But you talk about charity and volunteering all the time” she said surprised. I explained that I don’t feel American, that I don’t feel connected to the fate of this country, that I don’t enjoy being here, and that I don’t believe that many of the social programs we have (and those proposed) are effective approaches to the problems. If I felt American I would dedicate my life to improving this country, through voting, through social work, through other commitments… but I just don’t want to live my life in this country because besides material comforts and legal rights (which are very important), it has little to offer me spiritually.