Not a Valid Document
A weaver colleague and I just made an incredible journey to Cusco, Peru for Tinkuy, an international gathering of weavers. Cusco itself is amazing. Coming from a region in India that I consider highly decorative, I felt pale among the Andean communities. Men and women both were decked in layer upon layer of colour and texture, always topped by an over the top hat. Their great hearted spirits matched the heart music of flutes, panpipes and charangos.
But the journey was most incredible. It began with our train tickets, booked the requisite month in advance, not being confirmed. Too many people clamoring for too little infrastructure. So we bit the bullet and took an overnight bus from Bhuj to Ahmedabad, and then a flight to Delhi. Next morning, we arrived in good time at the airport. With hardly any wait, we got to the British Airways check-in counter. But the officer threw a big wrench into the works.
“I can’t let you board,” he said. “Your colleague does not have a valid document.”
Of course he had a visa for Peru. But we were routed through London Heathrow and JFK, New York, and with an Indian passport he was required to have a visa to change planes in these airports!
We spent the day in the Delhi airport, guided by my super agent (who unfortunately had not booked these tickets), and finally ended up with the best alternative: flying through Amsterdam, which does not require a visa to change planes. But we would have to wait four days for that flight, pay a crushing premium for the tickets, and miss the entire touring part of our trip. No Machu Pichhu. Resigned, we headed for the door, only to be told that we could not exit the airport unless we were escorted by British Airways. There would be someone on duty in another two hours, the “May I Help You” man said. I was beginning to feel like Tom Hanks. I convinced someone from the baggage department to come up for air, and we were finally released.
My agent also let us know that the Indian government required passengers from Peru to have a valid yellow fever inoculation, so I started to feel lucky. We now had the time to run out and get the vaccination; otherwise we could have been quarantined on return!
Time passed, and finally we were back in the Delhi airport, vaccinated, ticketed and ready to fly. We checked in, with a little extra scrutiny for my Indian national companion. We proceeded to immigration. I was stamped. But he was stopped.
“THIS IS NOT A VALID DOCUMENT,” the immigration officer proclaimed.
It is a visa for Peru, I told him.
“But it is only for 33 days, and the time has expired.”
It is 33 days from the time of entry into the country, I clarified.
“Where does it say that?”
Here! But it was in Spanish, and the officer did not read Spanish.
Therefore, the document was not valid.
He sent my colleague, a first time traveller, back to negotiate with the airline officials who had already scrutinized him. An artisan, he waited patiently until our plane was boarding. Already through immigration, I could not go back to help him. As I watched the clock relentlessly tick off precious minutes, I finally spotted an airlines employee. I explained the problem, and said, surely someone in this airport must speak Spanish?
He slowly pondered this…. Yes, there was someone.
BRING HIM HERE NOW! I told him.
The man was located. Somehow, the dark clouds parted and the immigration officer had to reluctantly stamp the passport. “You better hurry,” was his parting shot. “Your plane is boarding.” We ran the whole long way and got on just in time.
Back in our provincial district, I was stunned a few days ago to find that a resolution our organization had passed months ago was not yet activated. Why not? Because someone decided to run it by a local “expert.”
The expert advised that the decision was not good and would be a big problem for us –because he himself had no experience with the specific subject.
Power and authority without knowledge, experience, and perspective is a terribly dangerous situation. Power and authority breed ego. I wonder how many times we are thwarted by authority simply because of lack of knowledge?
A modicum of humility, and an attitude of inquiry would have made a world of difference. Suppose the immigration officer or the expert had simply said ‘I can’t read this, let me inquire…’
There is a little subtext to this story. When I saw the hands on the clock reach boarding time, I gave up. Incredulously, I thought: We are not going to get to see Peru, after all of this. It is Fate. I saw all of the signs and obstacles lining up….
Then I gathered myself and said, NO, I am not giving up this opportunity, no matter how impossible it seems. And that’s when I bellowed for the one Spanish speaker in the airport.
Don’t give up. Challenge Fate.
Above all, beware of any proclamation of “NOT A VALID DOCUMENT.”
There is a big world out there, with incredible vistas.