The line was getting longer behind me. The CBP officer signaled the young couple in front of me to proceed to a booth that was so far to the left that I couldn’t even see it. The ratio of incoming passengers to CBP officers was unbalanced. Welcome to JFK, America’s busiest airport.
At least, I knew I was the next one to make it to one of the booths. From there, I would be able to count the people in front of me with one hand.
“No more from your line,” the officer blocking my way turned his head to his left to find the source of the message. “Connecting flights have priority until we have it under control.”
So I waited … and waited … and waited.
My pulsating heart slowed down with every minute. The thoughts about all the complications that might or might not come up during the inspection were pushed aside by the exhaustion I felt. It fought for victory; slowly defeating the nervous thoughts about all that could possibly go wrong while the officer would inspect the carefully collected pile of immigration paperwork.
It took them an hour to slim down the line of passengers who needed to catch another plane. When I was finally signaled to proceed, the thoughts, doubts, and fears kicked back in. In just a few minutes I would learn if I would be allowed to enter the country. They wouldn’t send me back, would they? The paperwork had been checked multiple times, and I’m well prepared, I reassured myself countless times.
A family of three walked past the checkpoint. Following their path, I saw the conveyer belts in the baggage claim area right behind the glass wall. Wait, what’s with my luggage? They don’t keep it on there for that long, do they? But that thought was merely a sidebar.
One more visitor in front of me, my heart kept accelerating. The longer this woman stood there, her eyes fixed on the officer, the more I wished I had the whole thing behind me.
I saw her taking back her passport and tucking it away in her purse. She turned and walked towards the glass wall, slipped through the wide opening a few yards to the left and into the baggage claim area. Gone she was, I had lost sight of her when I heard “next”.
There wasn’t much talking involved – just a few quick questions and instructions. “What is the purpose of your visit? How long will the program approximately be? Please remove your glasses and look right into the camera. Thank you. Please place the four fingers of your right hand on the scanner, now the left. Thanks.”
I walked passed the glass wall a few minutes later, relieved that I had put the final hurdle behind me. I found my luggage in the midst of a pile of bags parked in-between two empty conveyer belts. The adventure could begin.
The mixture of exhaustion and adrenalin prevented me from thinking about the steps I had to take to reach Hamden. As a result, the nervousness was not able to find its way back into my brain. I just moved forward and took care of one bird at a time.
The fact that I had just turned my life upside down didn’t kick in before a few days later. The chaos and anticipation in the days prior to my departure, the 9-hour flight without return ticket, and the new environment could have sufficed as hints. But it took more to make me arrive at that conclusion. So far, I had just moved locations; to a place I had prior experience with – no big deal.
To Be Continued…