Monday, October 17, 2016

Denied and Detained

October 3rd. We finally made it! A several week delay (waiting on a visa) made us relieved and grateful to have arrived. As we landed, we shared excited smiles and grabbed our stuff from overhead bins and tried to be patient as we waited to de-board. Erika double-checked with me, "So I get to sleep in my cozy bed tonight?" I grinned, "Yep." The long hours of travel made us long for those beds but didn't stop Erika from bouncing with excitement in her seat by the window. She's a good little traveler. I looked over at the boys. They rubbed the sleep out of their eyes but smiled across the aisle at us. I held my husband's hand tightly. We made it!

We had talked again and again about how thankful we were to have an easier entry this year, as compared to last year. A house all set up for us. Clean and ready. We'd slip right in, and the kids would be back in school in a day or two. And we were well on our way to obtaining the residency permit for which we'd prayed a year! It was all coming together.  We did the hard work last year, and now we would enjoy the fruits of all that labor.

We walked quickly through the airport, wrestling our rolling carry-ons down stairs. No escalators or elevators to be found anywhere in this airport. But we didn't mind. We were home. Big kids helped little kids as we hurried on.

We reached immigration. My husband proudly showed his visa number. He was sent to buy a stamp. I stood as the officer busily flipped through our passports and clicked on his keyboard. I smiled at the kids and told them it wouldn't be long 'til we were in bed. We fretted a bit that maybe all our luggage did not make it from London due to the short layover.

Then there was a problem. The man told my husband, "You can enter Lebanon but your wife and children cannot." Surely my ears didn't hear that. Maybe my infantile Arabic was way too rusty, and I didn't hear what I thought I heard. This will not all end a nightmare, right?

I heard correctly.

We begged and pleaded and asked why. But there were no answers. This "home" now looked hostile and dirty. Compassionless. The government became a chasm between my husband and us. He was going in. We were being detained. There was a room upstairs for us. Until they could get us out of their country in the morning. "No, your husband cannot come. You need to say goodbye here." He would work inside to bring us in.

In my naiveté, I was sure that night or the next day would bring reunification. It would all be sorted out soon.

We were rushed. Forced to say goodbye in front of fifty or more people. The tears burned. I held the hug long. In his ear, I whisper-begged for him to find a way to get us home. Erika sobbed. The boys stared, dumbfounded.

And then the kids and I followed the man in the uniform. A long way. "Put your bags on the belt." X-ray. Down another long hall. The tears in my eyes blurred my vision. This CANNOT be happening. Wake up, Emily. You're having a dream. Again, "bags on the belt." This time, they woke from their boredom to go through my bag and discuss about my knitting needles. After much discussion, "Ok, I guess you can go."

Finally we reached this "hospitality suite." A locked holding room with fluorescent lights that are perpetually on. So they can watch us all night. A carpeted floor that is so disgustingly filthy that I cringe to let our bags touch it. And navy blue loveseats and chairs that disguise the stains that are surely there. Cigarette butts nestle in the cracks. Dirt, body odor, and stale cigarette smoke sears my nostrils. Midnight. Here, at least. No sleep for I don't know how long.

Somehow, Erika and Luke didn't see the bad. They were thrilled to have their "own little couch" to sleep on. Bless them.

And things could not get worse. Oh wait...where is my phone? It's here. It's gotta be here. No, it's not here. IT'S NOT HERE! I knew where it was. In all the panic, I knew I left in on the chair of that smoky immigration office. What is wrong with my brain? How could I forget it? I can't even think. This can't be happening!

The guard was quite unconcerned. I told Zack we were going to be a pebble in his shoe until he dealt with us on this. And we were. And what would I have done without Zack? In this male-dominant, Arabic-speaking society, I was sunk. He was mature beyond his years, protecting and speaking for me.  If only his dad could have seen him. He would have been so proud.

Well our nagging worked. My phone was finally found and returned (two hours later). I laughed and cried and hugged Zack. I could not make calls in Lebanon, but the phone is of monetary value (especially there), and I could use it to connect to wifi.

And then...again with the knitting needles. "Get them out. We are going to hold on to them until morning. Maybe we will give them back to you tomorrow." Zack thinks it is a cat-and-mouse game between them and Heathrow security. They want to catch London letting something through that they shouldn't. Little dogs trying to catch big dogs. And I'm caught in their game. Just give me the needles so I can knit and keep my sanity for this terrible night I have to spend here! 

Well, no knitting needles; but I had my kids, my Bible and some dirty furniture. I read to them Psalm 23, 61 and 62. I sang "Jesus Loves Me." I'm a little one too. We're all little ones. And Jesus loves us. The kids settled in, with shirts over their eyes, and slept. I saw they were cold and dug through the bags in search of WARM. I watched over them. Kept guard. Prayed. Nursed my heartache and loneliness.

Scotty figured out how to call the airport and get transferred to where I was, and we talked! And he told my sister how to do the same. I almost fell over when I heard her voice. What a gift to be connected with my heart-loves when I felt so alone. I also was able to log into 30 minutes of free wifi to send SOS messages to family and friends.

At 5:00 AM, the guard came in and told me we had to get out. We could not wait here. Believe me, I do not want to wait in this pit! British Airways would fly us out at 8:30 that morning. Oh, and "You or your son can go get breakfast and bring it back here for the kids."

Nope. I'm done with this. We are going WITH OUR BAGS down to the coffee cafe. We will sit at the table like normal people and eat. Not in here like dogs. Come on, kids. We are going. 

And during that breakfast, two of these four exhausted kids broke down and cried. They missed their dad, their beds. And they missed being able to count on things. I cried right along with them.

I insisted on waiting OUTSIDE the locked room to be escorted to our gate. The time came, and we were. Our passports changed hands from the security officer to British Airways staff. And when the door on the airplane was closed, I received the five passports back. No longer a security risk. Free again.

London was freedom and luxury and compassion. Booked on a flight back to Seattle the next day, I found us a hotel and bought us dinner. We couldn't get to those clean beds fast enough. We slept (not that restfully), and we were relieved to be on our way to HOME and familiar and love and rest.

We nearly fell into Matt and Dowmie's arms in Seattle. I felt numb.

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