Monday, 8 April 2013

D-Day. The trip home...

took 30 hours.

I woke up on Monday morning, after not really sleeping at all. I was about to leave this place after 8 long months. There is no way to describe the anticipation I felt. All the other detainees in the cell were awake all night with me, eagerly anticipating it like they were the ones leaving-- living vicariously through me. The Pakistani didn't speak much English, but every hour on the hour he would proclaim "Hey Canada bro, 11 hours to go" or an hour later "Hey Canada bro, 10 hours to go"

I was told they would come to get me at 8:30. 8:30 rolled around and no one called for me. 9:00 came by, still nothing. I was literally bouncing off the bars of the holding cell. There were 2 groups. My plane didn't leave until late afternoon, so they held me back until the 2nd group. As usual, no one told me, so I sat there, my skin crawling in anxiety. Finally, I was called at 9:30, and it was a mad rush as I said my good-byes to the Indian and Pakistani and the Chinese and Vietnamese, and Thais, gathered my mattress and blankets, toothbrush and cup and books and pens and drawings.

With the rest of the group of un-detained, we gave up our mattresses, threw our blankets on a pile of laundry, and trashed the toothbrush and cup. We were led to the room that processed us into the detention center and were processed out. Won was changed into US$, cloths and bags were collected; I changed out of a prison uniform for the second time in 8 months. For the last time. I argued with the guards about what I was allowed to take on the plane and what was restricted. I yelled at them "When was the last time you were on a plane? What the fuck do you know? I came to this country carrying this stuff, now I'm leaving your fucking country with the same stuff. I'm not throwing out my paint or brushes, jackass." I yelled and screamed and made a fuss. They relented. I got on the plane with everything.

After we were processed, we were led to a bus and an hour long trip to the airport... in handcuffs. I was in a bus like you see in the movies, locked in a cage, why do I need cuffs? If some drug lord going to bust us out? We were taken to the back entrance of the airport to a special security area, where they did everything short of sticking a finger up my ass. Again, where exactly am I going to get the drugs or bombs to smuggle? Please tell me exactly how you expect me to hijack your plane...

Finally, I was led to a holding room for the next few hours while I waited for my flight. I had all my carry-on luggage with me, including my computer. Here, I surfed the net for the first time in 8 months. I checked my 300 + emails, and Facebook. I started writing this blog. I was still the only white person there.
5 minutes before my flight was scheduled to depart. They finally came to get me. Once again, I was nearly crawling out of my skin in anxiety. My fight was supposed to leave in 5 minutes. No one had the decency to tell me it had been delayed by 1/2 an hour.

They led me through the airport in handcuffs. When we got to the gate, the cuffs were finally removed, before all the other passengers had seen me. I was actually one of the first people on the plane. Preferred seating and boarding. While we were waiting to board the other passengers, I asked the flight attendant if I could get my passport. To say she was shocked to learn I was a "criminal", is an understatement. When she recovered, she assured me that yes, indeed, we were now officially on Canadian soil at Incheon Airport, and a couple minutes later, another flight attendant came by and handed me my passport. I was going home.
I was seated beside a woman who was subjected to my story for the next 12 hours. I hadn't talked to a "normal" human being in 8 months. This was the first woman, too. She was flabbergasted.

13 hours later, I was in Vancouver. My daughter skipped school to meet me. It was awkward. I hadn't seen her in 3 years. She had grown from a kid to a young woman. I didn't know how to talk to people after so much time amongst men or in solitary confinement... or talk to women... or even my daughter, who was both, a double whammy. She had a job (!?), she bought me lunch, and we went window shopping in the shops at Vancouver International. I marveled at all the books in English... and the prices I couldn't afford.

The parting was such sweet sorrow and bitter sweet. I'm a shitty father. Too late to dwell on that now. I've dwelled on it for 8 months, if not longer. Another, more private story I won't write about here...

The next plane was almost an hour late leaving. I got a seat beside another woman. I talked her ear off for the next 6 hours. We both started movies, but never watched them. Talk was much more exciting.
As we were approaching Toronto, I noticed that we seemed to be going in circles over Windsor, 200 Km south. Strange. An hour later, the pilot comes on the PA and told us we couldn't land in Toronto due to thunderstorms. We were also running out of fuel. It was 11pm local time. I'd been up since 8 am the day before but it was only 15 hours later in "real" time since I was time travelling backwards. In my real time it had been more than 28 hours.

We landed in Windsor, 2 hours behind schedule, and out of gas. The airport didn't have the facilities to refuel our jet. They mickey-moused a solution and we had enough gas to get to Toronto, but... the control tower had gone home for the day...

The pilots got on their cell phones and had to call Chicago to file a flight plan so they could take off again. A couple of passengers were actually headed to Windsor, but couldn't disembark because the airport didn't have the proper equipment. They had to fly all the way to Toronto, and catch another flight back to Windsor, but because of the delays, they missed the connecting flight... and I thought my life was rough. At least they didn't spend 8 months in a 1 x 2 cell in a foreign country. They got a comfy hotel room instead.

Finally, we took off again. The passenger next to me was nice enough to lend me her Blackberry so I could call my mom, waiting for me for the last 2 hours at Pearson International.

Almost 262 days + 30-odd hours late, I had finally arrived. I saw a lot of white people.