I am sharing this story not because I wish to hear your opinions regarding what I did wrong (or right) but merely because I am sick to my very bone of all of us pretending our lives are picture-perfect, and of judging one another for flaws when we do release things that have gone wrong. Ironically, for this I am thankful to the internet in general and to social media for giving me a platform on which to be courageous and share my stories.
Over a week ago, I was traveling to Bonn, Germany, for the Conference of the Parties 23 (COP 23) to research capacity building opportunities for other students like me who get to attend this global annual climate change conference hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). I had attended the same conference in November 2016 in Morocco, and so I assumed that I had a pretty good grasp of how things worked and what I was to be doing.
Turns out I was wrong.
With my Indian passport, Morocco normally requires me to apply for a visa. This is what I had done when I had visited Morocco for a study abroad in summer 2016. However, when I returned to the country for COP 22 in November of that same year, those very visa requirements were waived as I was attending on behalf of my university as an observer to that conference. So, I assumed that the same was true this year as well.
Turns out it was not.
To be clear, neither my university nor any professors told me that the requirements for Germany were different. On the other hand, these instructions were available on the UNFCCC website for everyone to see, and I never looked. After having contemplated on this for the past week, I have reached the conclusion that it was not because I was being careless, as I was completely aware that I hold an Indian passport and are that that passport has certain conditions attached for entering Europe. This thought was on my mind but I merely reasoned that those conditions were waived for the COPs, as a result of extrapolation from my past experiences and those of others around me, and that if they weren’t, I would have been told. I did not think to check the website, but I did write internally to my university’s administration to make sure I had everything I needed. I had the same papers this year that I had taken the last year to Morocco.
However, when I arrived at Frankfurt airport, I discovered that I was not to be allowed into the country as ‘Germany does not work in quite that same way’ (when I mentioned what had happened in Morocco the year before). Fair enough. I was detained at the airport for 24 hours where some individuals from the German police showed kindness to me, while others did not. I was then put on a flight back to the US, and sixty harrowing hours after I began, I was back home.
I will choose to keep other details about the ordeal private. In fact, I am not really sure why I am choosing to share this story here. I have spent most of last week avoiding conversations about this, except with a handful of people. I haven’t returned messages or calls, and avoided social media. And yet somehow, scrolling through my Instagram and Facebook a while back, I felt sick to my stomach of how we all pretend to live these perfect lives, especially when we travel to exotic places. I had planned to do a bit of it myself when I was in Germany! But when things go wrong, we choose not to share those stories with the world maybe because we are ashamed or because we have been taught to hide our pain and misery, to hide ourselves when we are most vulnerable and afraid and not at our best. That leaves people thinking that everyone except them is leading a happy, perfect and fulfilled life. I guess a part of the reason I wanted to share this story was to jolt us all into the reality of how this just isn’t true. Writing is my catharsis and it is also the tool with which I choose to reveal my subjective truths to the world. So here is a subjective truth for all of us: when we start to venture out into the world, we run into loopholes and we make mistakes (and hopefully learn from those mistakes), and that is the price we pay for all those beautiful Instagram selfies and boomerangs and all the rest of that jazz. It can be easy to forget that there are flawed human beings behind our curated social media self-images. But there are.
There is a lot of processing still left for me to do. I may return with more stories as I do so.