AS THE SCHOOL holidays came to a close, I couldn’t help remembering that night in July when I stood in a ridiculously long immigration line at Piarco Airport and wondered if this country goes out of its way to embarrass itself.
I dared not glance over to the visitors’ line where the nice young man from Toronto who sat beside me on the plane now stood. He had been so excited on the plane to visit his Trinidadian girlfriend, who had planned to take him to Tobago for a wedding. Imagine the look of horror on my face when he said they would be flying over to Tobago, but taking the ferry back.
I don’t do well in long lines, and my impatience eventually got the better of me. “This is ridiculous,” I said, “and it will go on until people in this country open up their mouths and complain about inefficient and downright degrading public service.”
The woman in front of me said, “Relax, we’re here, the line is going fast.”
The line was not moving fast, and I had no intention of relaxing.
“You see. That’s what I mean. Everyone just accepts this nonsense,” I said as an immigration officer informed us that we could not be on our cellphones until after we passed through immigration.
“She must not want us to call anyone and tell them how long the line is,” the woman in front of me laughed.
The guy behind me decided to tackle the immigration officer. “We need this line to move faster,” he said.
The immigration officer smiled and walked away.
Meanwhile, a caravan of passengers in wheelchairs got wheeled to the front of the line.
“But I see that woman there walking all over the plane,” said the woman in front of me. “Look at the heels on that woman. You can’t be in a wheelchair and wear heels like that,” she said.
By now, I wondered what can of worms I had opened. When I had agitated for outspokenness, I didn’t think someone would make wheelchairs the issue.
“That is what is upsetting me – not the line,” she said loud enough for the wheelchair people to hear.
I tried to follow her line of reasoning. It was going on 11 pm and the immigration line was getting longer.
Then, my cellphone rang. I pretended it wasn’t my phone, but everyone was watching me. They glanced around trying to spot the immigration woman, and said, “Answer it.”
“I know I am going to get in trouble,” I said, as I answered the phone and reported I was in immigration.
“Immigration?” my ride asked incredulously.
“It’s a long line,” I said.
“See, the immigration officer didn’t notice,” the woman in front of me smiled when I stuffed the cellphone back in my handbag. Everyone was smiling, delighted, I guess, that I had got away with breaking the rule.
By now fatigue made this whole scene feel surreal.
“This is the digital age and Trinidad and Tobago immigration is still collecting pieces of paper. Where is all that paper going?”
Everyone focused on the immigration officers stamping papers.
“This is a small airport,” I said. “I don’t go through this much nonsense in a place that is seriously watching for terrorists like New York, Miami, Toronto. Why don’t we get with the digital age?”
No one spoke. I could only hope they were thinking.
“Everyone should write letters,” I said. Before I could say who the letters should be written to, everyone laughed. I guess the thought of writing a letter in this digital age seemed funny.
“Help us to help you,” the pacing immigration officer said, and I thought: Oh, this ought to be good. “Have your documents ready when you go up to the immigration officer.”
We watched her incredulously. We hadn’t seen anyone unprepared to get out of immigration. Oops. I spoke too soon. As we all cast our eyes on the immigration booths, a man stood at the immigration counter fumbling through his documents.
“Look at he,” the woman in front of me said, shaking her head.
I shook my head too. Another day in paradise, I thought. How much longer can we fool ourselves? In my mind, I wished the young man from Toronto all the best. He had paid a lot of money for a last-minute ticket to Trinidad, and his stay had begun with unbelievable inefficiency. First impressions can last a lifetime, and we just don’t seem to learn that.