I’ve been thinking about walls a lot lately. Before that my thoughts had been filled with ‘Belonging” and what that means for a Queer (in every sense of the word & more so in terms of how I am travelling) traveler in another country. A story for another time, right now, walls are on my mind. But, maybe herein lays an intersection to explore further. We’ll see…
So I have been thinking about walls. Likely, because I just spent several days in Berlin, Germany walking freely between what was East & what was West Berlin in the not so distant past. I remember when the wall came down in 1989. It was the year I graduated High School; a time when we were still having drills, unlike fire drills, in case of a nuclear attack. A time when “over there” was referred to with fear, power play & mystery- The Iron Curtain. And in light of the U.S entertaining a presidential candidate who speaks of building walls...how we isolate, create walls out of fear of "the other", perpetuate a mythology of separateness +++. Walls keep showing up, despite my efforts to connect. And it got me thinking… about a few things. 
My reality right now is that I am a U.S. citizen travelling throughout Europe for the first time. I know no other language fluently, except English & I rarely ever used public transportation in the states. I’m not financially wealthy, so utilizing multiple streams of transportation & accommodations in order to stretch my dollar & stay here is crucial. I have discovered & utilized blabla car, couchsurfing, airbnb, hostels & have sometimes paid more for a bus or train than an airfare ticket (which makes no sense to me) in order to minimize my carbon footprint & stay on the ground so I can see the landscape. Some days, shit happens and I end up blowing a lot of cash in order to make a last minute move. I figure there will be days like this and they are few and far between. Other days, I’m grateful for friends that I came over here to visit or the kindness of strangers that give me a place to rest my head free of charge.
A lot of my time is spent figuring ways to extend my trip, sometimes indefinitely, by means of work for pay or trade. I’ve spent late nights researching possible income opportunities and have joined workaway, although I could use the cash now, it is a great opportunity if you can stay in one place long enough, which I haven’t really done consistently. And in the meantime, I’m making connections, building a network. I’ve spent countless hours walking cities, exploring sites, sitting in café’s, tubes, buses ++ watching how others move in the world… & their walls.
Having been over here since the beginning of August, after having sailed across the Atlantic, I’ll admit a few things: I hesitate to say where I am from. People I meet are either romanticizing about visiting the states and have a really glamorous L.A. impression of it or they want to talk politics and believe the U.S. is filled with a bunch of “dumb Americans” or they sympathize with our situation and we have real conversations about what is happening over there. Since I’ve been travelling, the news from the states, for me, has been Orlando massacre, continued police violence towards POC, continued hate crimes & murders of transgendered POC, #NODAPL& of course the presidential election +++ Those heavy hitters are enough to fill my news feed and keep me abreast of what’s going on & still remain present to my own experience over here. Europe has it’s litany of issues that Europeans are struggling with too, particularly the refugees. Who will have them, who will not; the “jungles” created when walls are thrown up to keep “them” out. 
I myself may have had some romantic idea of life over here- grass is greener on the other side kinda thing, I don’t know maybe. It’s not that I am here, bailing out on the U.S. I didn’t come over here for a vacation, to drop out & disappear from society or become an “Expat”. I’d had ideas of what I would do- & I’ve done a lot of it, who I might be able to volunteer my time with etc. I am clear that I am a privileged white person (with a United States passport- for which I keep my hand on the cover whenever I need to bring it out) that has a freedom to travel, pretty much anywhere. Until a couple of nights ago…
As some of you know, in my last post, “London was calling”. Well, it was a crank call.
We arrived by bus at 0330, in the middle of the night, to Calais, France from Dusseldorf, Germany where I had transferred from the train to the CONTROL ZONE. It all felt very strange & disorienting, having not gotten very much sleep and seeing all the barbed wire and people walking in lines. My phone had died and my charger wasn’t working, so all I was able to fill in on the form to enter the UK as a destination address was East Sussex. I approached the border patrol post and the questions began. One in particular, early on, was how much money do you have and how many credit cards & what is your limits on them? I thought “what business is that of yours?”, but, kept that to myself. Instead I think I said something like, “that’s a strange question.” His response was, “if you don’t answer, the questions WILL get harder.” Now, I was getting nervous and trying to shake the fog of sleeplessness off. After several more questions about who I was visiting, our relationship, how long I was staying etc. all of which my answers were not met with positive outcome, especially the one about me not having a definitive outgoing plan, (which over the past couple months had been working out just fine) except that my friend was taking time off for my visit in Scotland and that I’d probably leave shortly thereafter. He asked me to “stand over there while I consult with my supervisor.” 
In a nutshell: Within about 3 minutes, a woman came out and said we were going to go get my things from the bus, that I was being detained for further questioning. The bus driver said he could wait up to another hour. She told him it would be longer. I inquired about how I was going to get another bus. She said, “You’ll be able to catch another one.”
I waited in a “corral” with a couple other folks; I imagined were in the same boat as I was. About 10 minutes later another woman came to me and said that she would be the one interviewing me. After another 30 minutes she had me grab my things and she led me to a back room, where I was met by two other patrol officers who had documents for me to sign. I read them and asked questions. I was told to empty my pockets & was patted down. Only allowed to keep my money & wallet on me and escorted to another room. I was offered coffee & a snack bowl. The room had children’s toys, a bean bag, some chairs & a TV. They locked me in.
I sat there thinking, WTF. 
The Immigration Officer, who would be interviewing me came back in about 30 minutes and escorted me back to my bag. She pulled out everything and set aside my journal. Inside my journal were a few copies of my one page CV, which I kept with me, suggested by a crewing site for any possible work on sailboats internationally. She inquired & took all my notepads-that I use to write down directions while I’m visiting places as not to be walking around staring at google maps, journals & anything paper, then escorted me to a small room with a table & two chairs. We were there for quite awhile as she hand wrote my answers to all her questions. The gist of the questions having to do with my finances- whether or not I would become broke in the UK and become dependent on their welfare and my intentions to take job opportunities away from UK Nationals. Till the very end she focused on the fact that I had communicated with Outward Bound Trust UK. This, truth be told, was I think the game changer. And, in fact, my communication with Outward Bound was finding out there location so that I may possibly visit their organization out of curiosity and visit a fellow OB family. I love OB & who’d a thought name dropping OB would have a negative response. It never has and likely never will again. I digress. My point, and I made this to her, is that I had no intention of working in the UK (especially after this and most definitely not in the winter- but I didn’t say that) & that my focus was on work, if I was to find any, on privately owned Sailing vessels. My intention for visiting the UK was simply, to visit friends & make my way back south (or at this point, being so frustrated & discouraged, back “home” to the states). I remember vividly, her looking up from her note taking and in a condescending British accent say, “oh, you most certainly are trying to work here.” I leaned back in the chair and said, ‘you’re going to believe what you’re going to believe, I know I’m speaking truthfully. So here we are.” I knew the decision was there’s and there was nothing I could do, nor at this point, wanted to do to prove myself. I’d had enough of that to last a lifetime.
I was escorted back to my room. When asked for another coffee, they didn’t seem as accommodating anymore; A distinct front on the top end to appear pleasant, but after interrogation etc. I was an inconvenience. And to top things off, when I entered my room, the TV was now on & lights up. I get that it is a far cry from water-boarding to break you down but, to have ‘Educating Rita”- British television episodes being played at 5 in the morning, I nearly lost it. I’ve gone 2 months in non-English speaking countries and I enjoy it & am able to communicate. Communication is, after all, 90% body language.
I decided I would lie down and cover my face in the bean bag. I slept for a bit. She came back, “oh I see you got some sleep?” I forgot to mention there are video cameras in my room too. She escorted me to another room and handed me another document- “Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 Notification of Requirements to Provide Fingerprints” to sign. The box checked was: You have been detained under paragraph 16 of Schedule 2 to the 1971 Act or Arrested under paragraph 17 of Schedule 2 to that Act. Because the box checked said “detained or arrested” I asked, “Am I being detained or arrested?” It was hard to tell at this point. I was finger printed & returned to my cube & bean bag. This time I asked non-verbally through the glass, to shut the TV off.
And finally, this woman, who never told me her name & I never considered asking, came to me with another document titled: Notice of Refusal Of Leave To Enter. Stating- You have sought leave to enter the UK as a visitor for an unspecified period. You have stated in interview that you have made enquiries with the Outward Bound company in the UK about Job opportunities and would like to establish contacts with sailing companies in the UK about working for a season in Europe….You also carry a copy of your resume detailing your career in Outdoor Education…I am satisfied that the enquiries you have made amount to an intention to work which is prohibited for visitors. I am therefore not satisfied that you are a genuine visitor.
You are therefore refused entry under paragraph V4.5 of Appendix V: Immigration Rules for Visitors.
I have given/propose to request that the competent French/Belgian Authorities remove you from the Control Zone.
Yep, that happened.
Several hours later, I think it was 10 am. I was picked up by the French police and walked to their Border Patrol area. They handed me my passport and told me I was free to go. “Go where I asked?” I had no idea how to get anywhere, bus etc. I walked to the Port Authority, hoping a bus might pick up there. No luck, I then was told I had to walk to town to catch a train….somewhere. I walked & walked. It took what seemed forever to escape the tall walls with barbed wire surrounding this CONTROL ZONE. I arrived into town about an hour later. Stopped at a bakery an ordered an amazing baguette with ham & cheese and sat outside relieved that was all behind me & slightly amused that I had just been filmed in the bakery being assisted by the owner with my order, by some camera crew doing a piece on the café. Thinking, if they only knew….
Cut two, I arrived at the train station asking what will take me south. She said, I would need to go through Paris & transfer & that she only had 1st class. For 20 euros more & departure in 10 minutes, I took the 1st class ticket. I met a man on the stairs going to the train who recognized me from the Port Authority. He’d been waiting on a taxi & said, had he known I was walking he would had shared the lift. We shared conversation instead. He’s from the UK & apologized for my experience. He also volunteers helping at Refugee camps and is a former Blacksmith. The coolest thing he told me he does is that he has worked with arsonist, redirecting their passion for fire in positive ways. We talked about Rites of Passage & Initiation. Our brief time together on that train really helped me. Helped me process, ground & talk about things that really matter.
I arrived in Paris with no desire to be there. Not now anyway. Too big, too much. The station was massive, lots of people, random guards with guns. I wanted quiet and to head further south as far as possible and it was still early enough in the day to make miles. I pulled up a couple of sites, a map of France and bought a ticket to Bordeaux, France. Unfortunately, I discovered I was at the wrong station & wouldn’t make the train. Decision making time…do I go to the other station, which meant hopping on the Tube and crossing the city and hope there are later times or stay at this station & figure something else out? I took pause to leave and then went for it. Arriving at the other station I was able to switch my ticket and found a later train to Bordeaux. My seat was in a quiet compartment, I found a place to stay in Bordeaux, to rest in my room for two nights. I knew I needed to process, write, and listen to where I may want to go next, send some communications, not sight see. 
So I’ll be heading to Santiago de Compostela, tonight. No borders or walls to cross, just a long bus drive along the coast of Spain in the area of the famed Pilgrimage, The El Camino. Seems appropriate right? I will be in the town where all the Pilgrims have come for centuries to pay homage and seek shelter. I’ll do that particular walk someday…but I have walked, boy have I walked.
And this I just read: “Yes, people walk the Camino de Santiago for religious reasons. There are “holy years” on the Camino where the feast day of St James falls on a Sunday. During a holy year, the door of Forgiveness in Santiago Cathedral is opened. During a Holy Year, all pilgrims can have a plenary indulgence…” The next holy year is not until 2021; however, 2016 has been declared the Holy Year of Mercy. . Although I am considered a non practicing Catholic, this feels significant, timely & appropriate. Not just for me, but for all humans in these times we are living in. I just might stay there awhile.
So, like I said earlier, I didn’t come on vacation. This experience, crossing the Atlantic, travelling solo through Europe, visiting friends, making new friends +++ has been my Pilgrimage, a Rite of Passage & Initiation. It is my belief that as a Guide, you can only be in service and hold space for others to the degree you have been able to search your own edges, heal and transform. For me to continue my work I needed this experience, to enter the caves I feared to find the treasures & hopefully, to bring those gifts, those insights back to my communities. I love that I just discovered that it is the Holy Year of Mercy. I find it fascinating that of all days to have gone through what I experienced, it was my sister’s birthday & I held that knowing throughout the 24 hours, it brought me comfort. 
There are so many metaphors running through this as I write that feel like completion. Answers to questions that I’ve been asking; meaning making. Validation I suppose. I consider myself a Queer Traveller- in every sense of the word, Pilgrim on my own Rites of Passage & Initiatory work. And this experience too is, in hindsight, all part of following a path with heart. I could write more and I will continue to journal….now I must pack.
I am safe, I am found. Please send me some Love & Encouragement.