Okay, it wasn’t technically deportation, but I wasn’t allowed into Spain.
In 2009, I was blissfully unaware of all things Schengen. I came over to Spain in September to work a campus organization at the University of Salamanca. Before coming over, my then-future employers had advised me not to worry about a visa, as it “had never been a problem before.”
Famous last words.
Thus, I packed up all my belongings (those I could fit into one suitcase, that is) and set off for the magical land of tapas, cathedrals, and café con leche. I was very naïve and knew very little about how Spaniards actually lived, but that all changed when I met Mario in late September. (Didn’t take me long, now did it?) By October we were dating, by November I had met the parents, and by December I was already plotting ways to return after my internship had finished. Brilliantly I thought of being an au pair, a fancied-up babysitter with a better title. So I booked my return ticket for December 31—because cheap. Cheap is good.
On the airplane, the Iberia flight crew ate grapes and drank champagne (none for the peons in Economy class), while I tried, unsuccessfully, to fall asleep. These efforts were, as always, in vain because 1) I was going to see my boyfriend of three months, and 2) Sleeping on airplanes is impossible for me.
After a breakfast that incongruously included a Kit-Kat bar, as Iberia seems to think Kit-Kats are for breakfast, I set off down Barajas Terminal 4’s never-ending moving walkways until I finally reached customs. I went to the non-EU passport line, naturally.
Ominous music here.
You can guess what happened. Mr. Grouchy Pants Customs Officer looked at my passport very thoroughly, something Spanish customs officers are not wont to do. Then, after a few curt questions, I was sent to a room. Rather upset, I called Mario on my Spanish cell phone, who reassured me that everything would turn out fine. After all, I’m a United States citizen, and normally we aren’t discriminated against like people from other countries. (Oh, don’t you love it when stereotypes work in your favor?)
No such luck. The new customs officer, a lady this time, tried to sympathize with me, but I was clearly breaking the rules: I had overstayed my tourist visa by nine—nine!—days, and I was attempting to reenter the Schengen zone after only a week’s break. Nothing doing, she would have said, had she been able to speak English. (None of them do.)
The kicker: I wasn’t able to even see Mario, as the airport is technically no-man’s land and Mario and his father were firmly on the Spain side of that equation. That was gut-wrenching in and of itself, but the best was yet to come …
Next up was the bunker, where I was patted down and told to hand over my cell phone. I handed over my American phone, but hid my Spanish one, because I’m a rebel like that. Then I was set up with—get this—a social worker. For the life of me, I can’t really remember anything she asked me, but she seemed nice enough. But don’t you worry: there were plenty of not-so-nice people to make up for that.
There was a pay phone too, which brought me back to my middle-school days, and especially to that one day when Mom forgot to pick me up from practice and I had to use a pay phone. (Oh, 2001, how I won’t miss you.) I called everyone I could think of. So did my dad, who was calling the US embassy on New Year’s Day. “And a happy new year to you, too!” was exactly what I’m sure he was telling them.
I eventually stopped crying long enough to serve as an unofficial translator for a burly Egyptian man, who spoke (minimal) English and the Spanish guards who spoke no English. Although it’s extremely odd that airport employees in charge of guarding delinquent foreigners such as myself couldn’t speak English, I considered asking for a job at that moment. Afterwards I was served a lovely airline-style meal and told my flight would be departing the next day. Hip, hip hooray! I would get to spend the night in the bunker! Fittingly, the bunker was outfitted with multiple bunk beds.
After a fitful two-hour nap, I got up again, too annoyed and sad to continue the charade. I was met with curious stares from two women I would find out were Hondurans. These women had actually been deported, picked up on the streets of Spain, and they were being sent back to their home country. They found me very odd, asking me if I was from the US and why the Spaniards would do that to someone like me. I thought it endearing of them to say such things, because, due to my birthplace, I am blessed with not having these sorts of problems very often, and they, due to theirs, are.
Soon enough (okay, it seemed like days), I was ready for my flight back to Chicago. They personally escorted me in an unmarked van directly to the plane. Yes! No waiting around in the concourse and buying crappy $9 salads and $3 bottles of Coke! Right to the plane itself! The Iberia staff also treated me like an object of amusement, asking me what sort of crimes I had committed and laughing good-naturedly at the absurdity of the situation. One of them assured me that I’d be back; he knew it. Good thing too, because I wasn’t sure I’d ever be making the transatlantic flight again.
I spent the whole flight back listening to angst-filled music and scribbling incoherent thoughts in a notebook that Mario and I had been writing in. If I were to read those aloud, there’s no doubt that many of the words would have to be bleeped out for US television audiences. I arrived home to much fanfare (not), and found myself back where I had started, two days earlier, my home in Indiana.
I eventually was able to come back, but not after a scare: my visa was denied once, but the Chicago consulate sent it back, and it was approved! Whew! Now I’m legal and all that jazz, with a 5-year NIE thanks to my being married to a Spaniard.