The year I lived in America, at the tender age of 21, was the year I grew up. I enjoyed five months studying at a college in Pennsylvania and then found myself a job opportunity in Chicago for a further six months.
Although my coming of age year had been wonderful and a gradual learning curve, the final few days became the most hardening and insightful I could have imagined.
As the year drew to a close I wasn’t quite ready to go home, so I went to visit my friend Carolina in Pueblo, Mexico.
My flight connection was in Houston, Texas and on my arrival there seemed to be a problem with my passport.
At midday I was escorted to an immigration office. The room was bustling with a diverse mixture of nationalities all with a different story and agenda.
I waited there until 6pm when I was called into an office. Here I found out that I had visa problems.
Apparently when I had gone back to England over Christmas and re-visited the US, I had been stamped for a 90-day tourist visa and not re-entered on my one-year student/work visa.
I remember thinking that surely this mistake made by their people and my failure to notice it could be amicably resolved. Oh no.
I was then retina scanned, finger printed and told I was to be deported back to Britain on the next flight home.
That scheduled flight was not until the following day, so I went back to the immigration office and watched people come and
go until midnight. There were just me and two others left.
I was handcuffed to another man, escorted by immigration police and we sped off in a big white van.
There was no Travel Lodge or low budget motel waiting for us. Instead, to my amazement, I found myself being checked into a prison!
Asked if we needed any medication of any kind, the man I was handcuffed to requested his tablets for his HIV. “What else can go wrong now?”, I asked myself.
I found myself in a cold, communal cell with 18 other inmates, mostly of Mexican descent, dressed in all-in-one orange jump suits.
The stone cell was very brightly lit and had an open shower in the corner. As much as I had perspired that day, I didn’t feel the need to have a wash.
I found my only available space for the night next to the toilet. No sleep was had that night and at 7am I was taken back to the same bloody immigration office.
At 4pm further dignity was lost when I was escorted onto the plane sitting next to a happy family who must have thought their BA flight had been combined with Con Air.
During the ordeal I had plenty of time to think about why all this had happened to me. Suddenly it all made sense.
The day before I left Mexico, I was sitting eating an ice cream with my friend, when a beggar scuttled up and thrust his palm towards me.
I looked away and signalled for him to go away. He went on to receive money from the people sitting near us.
But on his way back he walked past me, said something in Spanish, tapped two fingers on my shoulder and shuffled off.
Seconds later it felt like I had been punched hard in my shoulder
– it became heavy and sore.
I tried to dismiss the incident. But my friend who sat with me that fateful day told me he had laid a curse upon me.
Whether this has any relevance to what then happened, I don’t know – you can make you own mind up about that. But there you have it: the tale of the year I came of age – and started giving generously to the homeless!
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