Signed, Sealed… Deported

I sat there with my Chennai newspaper not knowing quite what to say. Kelsi is being deported? That thought had honestly not crossed my mind as a real possibility.
“Okay” I finally stammered and I followed her up the stairs.
When I got up to the immigration room I saw Kelsi coming towards me with the angriest look I’ve ever seen. She just shook her head at me.
“What happened?” I asked
“They are deporting me.”
“I heard, but why?!”
Then came the story…
What every single person we spoke to failed to inform us over the past month was that to get a second visa on arrival you have to have left the country for two months in between. Kelsi’s travel agent, the immigration officer in Delhi, our travel agent in Delhi, the immigration officer in Madurai, all the officials at two airline companies in Sri Lanka, the embassy – BOTH times we called them – and the immigration officers in Sri Lanka: not a single person mentioned a two month delay. The visa stamp you get on arrival is supposed to mention this rule, but the stamp that Kelsi got in Delhi was so smudged that no one, not even four officials in Chennai, could read what it said.
The immigration officer in Chennai told Kelsi her visa was denied and she flipped out at them.
“Do you know how much we’ve gone through to get here?! How come I was never told about this rule?”
She yelled and screamed at the officers so much she was asked to leave the room and sit outside in a chair. The officers came out after a brief discussion alone.
“We can call the head boss,” they said “he makes all the final decisions on these matters and sometimes he makes exceptions.”
But when they called the head hauncho, he was taking an afternoon nap. “Sorry.” they came back with, “We will have to wait until he wakes up.”
40 minutes later they finally woke him. Clearly he wasn’t happy with being disturbed from his beauty sleep, because he immediately denied the request.
“Send her back.”
And that was the final word.
More screaming on Kelsi’s part and then someone was sent to get me. And so there we were, standing there, the two of us and four officials, coming up with a game plan.
“So where does that leave us?” I asked
“She has to go back to Sri Lanka, now. The plane leaves again in 20 minutes” said one official.
“And what do I do?” I asked
“You will carry on with your flight to Madurai” he said.
“Really? You think this is a good idea splitting us up? You think it’s safe for two young white women to travel the country on our own because of a problem with your visa system?”
“It is not our problem, those are the rules” he said.
“We’ll why weren’t we told about them? What is wrong with your officials in Madurai? They never told us we had to leave for two months and they never told us you couldn’t get a visa on arrival there. What is wrong with your staff?”
He did not look happy about that.
“Those are not my staff. That is Madurai, and the visa on arrival rules are new.”
“We’ll then shouldn’t your staff be briefed on these new rules? Or shouldn’t you be able to make an exception considering you are splitting us up and it is unsafe?” Kelsi chimed in.
In the end, the answer was no. They even refused our request to explain our situation to the chief ourselves. Kelsi had to leave.
“Look,” said the official “go to the embassy in Colombo and apply for a visa. It will take two days.”
It was Tuesday. Kelsi couldn’t make it to the embassy until Wednesday morning.
“So I could be back in India by Friday then?”
“Well,” said the guy hesitantly, “Friday is the Sri Lankan New Year. So it’ll be a holiday. Maybe not until Monday.”
We just glared at him silently.
“You can always put in a special request for a rush order” he suggested.
Yeah, because those have been working out SO well for us lately.
“It’s time to go.” Said another man “The flight is leaving now.”
“What are you going to do?” Asked the first man to me.
I looked at Kelsi.
“Do I go with you? Or do I go get our bags and meet you in a couple days?”
“I want you to come with me, but we don’t have the money for more flights. It’s two days, I’ll meet you in Madurai”
“Ok” I said. I took the $40 US dollars we had exchanged for a THIRD time out of my pocket. “You’ll need this more than me. Good luck exchanging it again.” We chuckled, only to stop from screaming or crying.
“I’m at breaking point” Kelsi said to me.
I gave her a half hug as she was pulled away by three officials. “Just in case I never see you again” I said. We smiled goodbye to each other.
If Kelsi can’t make it back to India, then she goes back to Australia. I leave to go to Canada. The possibilities of not seeing each other for years to come is a big one. But then again, we always sucked at goodbyes, this one would definitely make the books for worst parting ever. It would be ironically fitting for our friendship.
And just like that I was alone.
The lady who found me downstairs escorted me through customs.
“Better not be late for your next flight” she said.
I left the terminal and walked towards the domestic terminal. The whole time I had a very uneasy feeling.
This isn’t right. Kelsi is at breaking point and I just LEFT her? To get our bags?! Money is money, I will pay for another flight back to India, I just can’t imagine her having to go through all this visa crap on her own. I’m going back with her, I decided.
I ran back to the arrivals gate. I was sweaty, out of breath and my pink hair (still from the color festival) flailed around me in a matted mess. I was a sight for sore eyes: a wild woman.
I tried to walk back through the door I had just left but was stopped by two guards with rifles.
“You can’t come in here”
“No, no! It’s okay, I’m going on a flight with my friend, I just have to talk to that woman.”
“What woman? Departure gates are that way”
“I know, but I just have to go through here”
“No. No one goes back through here”
“Please!” I begged “You can walk with me, I just need to talk to someone”
“Tell me what the situation is.” Said the guard.
Ya, like I had time to explain all that.
“Look, do you not remember me coming out these doors about three minutes ago?”
“Yes”
“Then please, will you just walk back to customs with me? It’s like 50 meters.”
He hesitated, then finally agreed.
I ran through customs backwards.
“No running!” He shouted at me.
“Okay, okay”
Then I spotted the chief of customs that had been chatting me up for over an hour.
“What’s wrong?” He asked me.
“I want to get on the plane with my friend.”
“But it’s leaving soon.”
“I know. I want to be on it. Can I talk to the woman from before?”
“Uhh, she’s in her office.” He pointed to a room across the whole bottom floor of the airport.
I ran towards it.
“No running!” Said the guard still holding the rifle.
Right, right. I walked briskly towards her door.
“What are you doing here?!” She asked genuinely shocked that I had found my way backwards through armed guards and a whole customs crew.
“I want to get on the plane with my friend!” I just imagined the look on Kelsi’s face when I sat down next to her on the plane. I couldn’t wait.
“We’ll you can’t.”
“Wait, what? Why not? You said, what are you going to do? And I said stay… Well now I want to go!”
“I can’t just deport you for no reason!” She said.
“But before you were going to let me on.” I said confused.
“No. You could have BOUGHT a ticket to go back, but we can’t just send you back for free because you WANT to.”
“Hmm, okay, how much?”
“No! You can’t buy a ticket less than two hours before departure!”
“So what you’re saying is there was no possibility of me EVER being on that flight with her?”
“No!” She said exasperated.
Retrospectively I realize how ridiculous my request seemed. But at the time, probably half in shock, half afraid I’d never see Kelsi again, half unsure of where to go in India on my own with 150 liters worth of bags for three weeks, my request seemed completely logical. I gave up.
“Okay” I said disheartened
“How did you even get in here?” She asked. “We have rules you know! You can’t just come in here like this”
C’mon, I thought. It’s India. Rules shmules (apart from visa entries I suppose).
Defeated I finally gave up. I walked back through customs for a third time and left the building. I ran out the final door just to make a point, then turned back to thank the armed guard for letting me through. He smiled and waved and let me carry on running.
I got to the check out counter of Spice Jet just before closing.
“I’m here!” I announced as I slid, Cramer style, into the check-in counter.
“And where is the second passenger?” The lady asked
I laughed “Being deported back to Sri Lanka” I said matter of factly.
“So she’s not coming?” She asked.
I rolled my eyes “No, not this time.”
She checked me in and sent me through security.
My gate number was M-9. When I spotted the gate the sign read “last call for boarding.” The bus outside the door was already full and the gates were closing. I sprinted across the room to the doorway.
“NO RUNNING!” Three officials shouted at me at the same time.
Gee! What’s with the no running rule? Don’t people always run in airports?!
Turns out my running was all for naught. My plane was delayed by 45 minutes and I was left to stand around in the overcrowded domestic terminal for another hour. I looked around and noticed that I was the only tourist in sight. Thousands of Indians all crowded in the room… and then there was me.
I took a breath in and out.
India round two: here we go!

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