The Heathrow Experience
I thought this would be the best way to tell those who are curious about what happened about my London trip. For those who know me personally, you all know I always have a story to tell. And this is one interesting story. I guarantee I will add humor and sarcasm to it because gotta make a traumatizing situation funny, right?
So where to start?
I was going to be in Liverpool 8 days. Out of those 8 days I was to teach 3 yoga workshops at a dance studio. A couple months before I left I started hitting a few speed bumps. Nothing too bad just had to sort out some details. About a week before things were still changing with just the tourist part of my trip, I stressed about it and rolled with it the best I could. A difficult task for me because I love planning everything out and set in stone.
Flight took off at 7:35pm. As we were taking off I was completely nervous. Kinda like when you ride a really scary roller coaster and as soon as they check the seat belts you just go "ok well no turning back now, it's too late. Hopefully I don't pass out or cry, let alone get stuck upside." Yes, slight exaggeration there but pretty much what I was thinking about the whole trip. I luckily passed out on the flight, waking up a few times but at least got some rest to what was going to be a very long day, little to my knowledge.
We land at Heathrow airport at 1:30pm local time. I looked at my connecting flight which wasn't for another 5 hours. Plenty of time to find out where the hell I was going. I misread it and thought I had to go to another terminal. Waited for a bus to a different terminal, found out it was the wrong one, turned around and hoped on another shuttle. Somehow navigated my way back to where I had to go through immigration and my connecting flight. I handed my documents over to the immigration officer. He asked where I was from, where I was staying and the purpose of my visit. Thinking I should be honest, truthful and generally excited about being an international yoga teacher, I said: I'm here as a tourist and to teach 3 yoga workshops on the weekend. Ok, wrong thing to say. I was unaware that I should've just omitted that piece and that if I was going to say that, that I should at least have a work visa. My bad, I didn't do all my research.
That all raised red flags, he had to escort me to a little waiting area. I'm frantically trying to get a hold of my friend in Liverpool to update her. Trying to get a hold of my mom as well. But to put some icing on this shit cake, my phone was having trouble connecting to service and to wifi. Miraculously Google hangouts and voice were working but only for texting, not for calling. I waited almost an hour before I was seen to the back. Had my picture and fingerprints taken. At this point I'm starting to cry. I've been asked to put my phone away and I had to be escorted by 2 immigration officers (male and female) to get my luggage and go through it.
So here I am being escorted by 2 officers, I must've looked like one odd criminal- Tiny little American girl in crazy colored yoga pants. We get my luggage, get into customs and put my stuff on the table. The female goes through my carry-on while the male goes through my luggage. He takes out all my clothes, unrolls everything from my under ware and bras to my yoga mat. I fully understand that this is all procedure but this is quite humiliating. While he's going through all my clothes, the woman is taking out everything from my carry-on. She actually had to go through my wallet and take everything out of it. Well to add more icing to the cake, 3 attractive male immigration officers were watching the whole thing intently. They got a free panty show! You're welcome cute Brit boys! ;)
Back on track, after packing everything up I was then escorted back upstairs to a waiting room. As we enter the room, there are 2 men working the area and a Nigerian woman who is also being detained. I couldn't really understand what she was ranting about, but the men were quite annoyed with her and she was erratic. She went back into the locked room and the men sighed and rolled their eyes at us and made some snarky remarks to each other. Luckily they were nice, friendly, sarcastic and funny to me. As they were checking me in, they had to wave a wand over me to make sure I wasn't packing anything in my clothes. Since they were men they couldn't do a pat down. Well the wand was acting up. So they said: "Ok, we are just gonna assume you aren't hiding anything." Taking their sarcastic lead, I replied: "Well gee, I'm wearing a tank and leggings, quite tight and fitting. Can't pack much in here!" They cracked up. They then said I could bring something into the room as long as it didn't have a camera on it, food and drink. They suggested my wallet so I could make a phone call from the pay phone. Following procedure they had to go through that as well, again and had to ask permission before doing so. The one man said: "I am very sorry, I have to search your wallet." Me: "Well you know everyone went through the my luggage and undergarments were thrown about in public so it's all kind of out the window now, no boundaries, don't care." The man who wasn't searching my wallet said: "What?! Undergarments? Where? Free show?" We all had a good laugh, given a sandwich and water and sat in the room.
As I am waiting to be interviewed, I got to call my mom and watch My So Called Life on the tele. Then the Nigerian woman started getting more and more erratic. I learned she had lost her passport and was blaming security for losing it. She kept bothering the men who worked there. Going in and out of the room and rambling to herself. Finally one of the men comes and shows her where the books and Bibles are. I guess she asked for one. She pulls out the Bible and starts another crazy conversation about Moses and God. Then man tells her: "Hey you should ask Moses to give you your passport!" The woman didn't quite understand his comment which made it funnier. He then turns to me: "Do you need anything sweetie? Torah, Tripitaka, and Quran?" I shook my head and held up The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the only good decent I had found on the shelf. The man smiled and led the room. As soon as he did, this woman started chanting prayers or something. I was afraid I was going to start burning or go nuts if she kept going. Luckily my mom called me and I had a slight distraction. Shortly after I get called for my interview.
A male immigration officer takes me into the interview room and goes over all the procedures and documents. Then he precedes to ask me questions. He had to hand write every question and answer. He's asking about the purpose of my visit, what do I do for work, how did I meet my friend, where am I staying, where am I teaching. Well we continued with the interview with casual talk thrown in here and there. At the end he says: "Ok I'm not gonna sugar coat this for you. I have to take this to the chief and he is going to deny you access to the country and we will put you on the next flight back to America." I had to sign papers verifying all the questions and answers. He noticed my British flag nails and said: "Did you get those specifically for this trip?" I said, "Yes." He replied, " Oh now I feel awful." I looked up at him and with all the control in the world I bit my tongue, looked him straight in the eyes and flatly responded, "Good."
I was crushed, asking if I promise to not teach or cancel the classes can I still go into the country as a tourist. The answer was no, I can't be trusted. I need a work visa, my friend and the studio should've told me to get one or I should've researched it. It wasn't their faults, no one had the idea to get one. I was just trying to be honest and truthful, which got me in trouble.
I was then taken back to the waiting area to await my already known fate. I called my mom, we both cried and hoped to God I could get a flight out that night. The officer came back and told me that my flight wouldn't be till 11:35am and it's a direct flight to SFO. I had papers to sign and I could spend the night in the detention center where there's a bed and a shower. But if I took that option, whoever had the earliest flight everyone had to go at the time. So I was advised to just stay there so I could get as much sleep as I could and I'd be provided a blanket and pillow. Luckily, they let me take a shower at the dentition center and come back. The detention wasn't really any better then where I already was. There wasn't really a bed, but there was movies I could watch instead of just regular Brit TV.
I couldn't sleep at all that night. No surprise there. In the middle of the night another person joined me, a young guy from Moscow around my age who also didn't have the proper visa and had to be shipped back the next morning.
6am the phone rings, it's mom checking up on me and telling me to call before I leave. I finally got some sleep and my splitting headache went away. I woke up about an hour and a half before my flight. Got to eat some biscuits and tea, better than microwaved asian food or a sandwich. I was then escorted by 2 officers to my gate. Boy, was that a sight: tiny little "pixie" in crazy yoga pants and 2 very tall officers (male and female) in bright yellow vests. They escorted me through security, I got to jump the line! Then to the elevator, to a tram, to another elevator, to the gate, then down an escalator to the plane. They escorted me to the door of the plane, handed my passport to the flight attendants and told me I will be flagged if I decide to come back to the country, that even as a tourist I should bring a work permit so I don't have to go through that whole ordeal again. I got to my seat, settled in, chatted with a very nice lady next to me and had a restless flight home. Walking through customs back in the States made me insanely nervous, thinking that I was going to get questioned and detained again. Nope, seamlessly went through, they didn't even glance at the papers from the UK and I was free to go. My parents and grandparents were there to meet me and I lost it, I broke down and cried and was just so happy to be home and safe.
Moral of the Story
I saved a bunch of money by switching to Geico!
Ok seriousness, I did find out who will always be there for me, ready to do whatever they could to make me feel safe and loved.
I did end up loosing money on flights, train, and my deposit on the studio I booked at. I didn't have to spend extra money though, which is a plus.
I need to do all my research so I know what to do in the future. And very soon this will be a very funny story, hence why I'm telling it now.
Lastly, because it is me, I have the perfect song to describe this situation. The first 25 seconds is my feelings of the situation.
Well, that's my story! If you got this far, thanks for taking the time to read all this. It was quite a journey and learning experience.