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I was still there in the immigration centre in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. The consulate told me that I would be escorted back to Australia by two officials, via Japan. That seemed excessive, and I thought of the rumour I’d heard that the Australian government was waiting to arrest me, imagining what law book they could have dusted off to find a reason to apprehend me.
I brought it up with my Indian friends. They responded “You think they send an officer with every Colombian and Venezuelan that goes home? I don’t think they do that. It sounds strange.”
I told them I was concerned that my writings and videos had attracted the attention of some petty tyrant.
“They can’t arrest you just because of the things you say. Everybody has the right to express himself in this world.”
-I know that’s what’s supposed to happen, Mani. But that’s not what always does happen.-
“You just need to relax, everything is fine. Don’t worry about a thing, my friend.”
-Here’s the thing – I am scared, but it’s not just about my emotions. My emotions are part of it, but the other part is about my actions. If this sort of thing is real, I need to think ahead. Once I get back to Australia, I lose my chance of seeking refugee status in Mexico. I need to look at the risks, and take appropriate action.-
I wasn’t sure if Mani understood my point, but Maan agreed that my thought process was sensible.
I asked Italia and Romania what they thought. They said yes, every Colombian and Venezuelan was escorted. It was completely normal. I still did wonder why they were sending two officials with me – perhaps just because it was a longer journey – but it seemed that everything was just part of their standard process.
I took a deep breath and looked at the facts. I had one report of a plot to arrest me – fifth-hand information by the time it got to me, and their slightly unusual plan to send two men with me instead of one. My arrest seemed unlikely, though it didn’t hurt to take certain measures. I decided to delete most of the data from my mobile phone before I arrived in Australia, just in case.
At 11pm they came for me, and the Indians walked to the gate with me and wished me well. I collected all of my belongings – except my condoms. Apparently those had disappeared. I confirmed that my phone and video camera were still intact. I read the papers, and signed them all.
We went to Mexico City airport with the two officials, José and Juan Carlos. José was the bureaucrat who had signed me in to the centre, the same one who became increasingly frustrated when I wouldn’t answer the questions. But it seemed that he wouldn’t hold that against me. Juan Carlos was in his sixties, an older man who I’d suspect might have a short fuse. He bought me a sandwich. It is a fine mark on the character of Juan Carlos, and many Mexicans, that whatever the situation, they are not beyond showing some old-fashioned hospitality. I thanked him kindly.
We had a 12 hour layover in Narita, and we thought we’d try to catch the train to see the city.
“Are you sure they’ll let us go in?” said José.
“Who cares – we’ll just go in regardless, what are they gonna do?” responded Juan Carlos.
I laughed. -I see how it is. You’ll enforce the laws when they’re not used against you, but when they are, you think they don’t matter.-
In the end, Japanese immigration didn’t want to let me in, and we all had to stay in the airport for several hours, drinking beer, eating Japanese curry and matcha sandwich cookies.
I was trying to fish out some information from José and Juan Carlos about whether someone had been tipped off about me before the officials picked me up, but soon enough I got off track and we were talking about undocumented immigration of central Americans – heading through Mexico to get to the USA. José asked me “What do you think will happen to a man like that – going to a country where he can’t even speak the language, can’t even read or write?”
I said -Firstly, most of them can read and write. I’ve seen it. Some of them sign their name by printing it, sure, but they can write. Most of them even know a little English.
-They do have a chance… there’s a lot of work for people with training in construction in the US. But to me, it doesn’t matter so much what chance they have. That’s their decision. They choose to take the risk, putting their time and money on the line – sometimes even their lives if they’re crossing the desert, all for the opportunity to improve the situation for themselves and their family. It’s hard for me to call such people ‘illegals’ or ‘criminals’. The modern world is built by people like them, humble folk with great spirits. When they risk so much to try to improve their lives… what they’re doing is admirable.-
I couldn’t say for sure, but I think José was moved by my speech. He didn’t say much, but he nodded a little bit. In any case, he didn’t disagree.
We got on the plane. I watched some movie about an EMP blast hitting Tokyo, and a family forced to find ways to get by without any modern conveniences, aptly titled “Survival Family”. I got some sleep, woke up and started methodically going through my phone and deleting the data to protect my personal life from any prying bureaucrat’s eyes.
I mentally rehearsed some scenarios that would occur if I were to be questioned by the police. The first thing was, if they wanted to question me, they would make it seem as if I had no choice but to go with them. But they would be unlikely to answer the famous question “Am I free to go?” and I would probably have to take the risk of walking away from them. Then, if they did take me against my will, they would probably try to buddy up to me, making conversation in order to get me to put my foot in my mouth. Then they might try intimidation, good cop/bad cop. They would lie to make it appear that they had more data on me than they did. They would try everything to get me to open my mouth, so being prepared so I could keep it closed was key.
I reminded myself that these scenarios were unlikely. As far as I knew, any plot to arrest me was nothing more than a rumour.
We got off the plane. When I got to the front of the Australian passports line, accompanied by two Mexicans, I had to explain. -I was asked to leave Mexico, and these two gentlemen are escorting me.-
“Ah… fair enough,” said the Border Force guy. No questions about any criminal activity. No further explanation required.
Furthermore, there were no federal police waiting for me as I walked out. The most intrusive thing to happen was when customs asked me whether my shoes were still dirty from hiking 10 days before. I said no. They said “Okay, go ahead.”
Walking through the halls of the airport, I said -Welcome- to my companions. The thought did occur to me later that I could have left these two men to fend for themselves in a foreign country, I could have walked away without translating for them or showing them how to use the train ticket machine. But at the time, my only thought was to help them feel at home, and it didn’t even occur to me that they were cogs in a machine that had forced me from mine. A little kindness counts. And after all, I liked these fellows.
When I got off the train at Central, José said good bye, and thanked me, and even gave me a hug. Kindness counts. A little kindness can change the world.
I took a taxi to my brother’s house in Leichhardt. The driver was a Sikh, and I told him the Punjabi phrases my friends had taught me.
I knocked on the door, put down my things, and gave my brother a hug. He greeted me and asked “Cigarette?”
We went to the backyard, surrounded by many plants, grown and allowed to overgrow, with love from his botanist girlfriend. We each smoked a cigarette. What a relief to be welcomed into a home after flying from the other side of the world. What a pleasure, to be greeted by this man whom I care for and respect so much. I was grateful.
“It’s good to see you man,” I said.