Velcome to America: My Bizarre Encounter With Immigration Official, Azov

As I think I’ve mentioned before, The Sister moved to New York in January of this year and I thought it a perfect excuse to spend a long weekend in a city I had only dreamed about, read about in books, or seen in movies, prior to last month.

I could have sucked The Husband’s frequent flyer miles dry and flown there on Business Class via London, but that would have wasted precious time away from my child which could have been spent shopping in New York. And so we scraped together our SAA Voyager Miles and I hopped on the 17 hour haul from Joburg to JFK in cattle class. The last time I had 17 straight hours ALL TO MYSELF to do WHATEVER I WANTED where I ONLY had to think about YOURS TRULY was in March 2011, before The Princess was born. So, yes, I was excited at the prospect of the flight!

And it turned out to be great: I read a book, I slept and slept and slept (no sleep aids or special pillows required), I wrote, I chilled. I didn’t even turn on the TV. Basically, I had a ball.

17 hours later, we touched down at JFK and I made my way to the immigration queue. I still had my ESTA visa waiver on my British passport from a trip two years earlier and so I handed this, together with my UK passport, to the immigration official. That was when one of the most bizarre interactions I have ever experienced, occurred with Azov, the immigration official.

AZOV: (Inspecting British passport). You live in England? (Raising furry one-brow).

NATALIE: Er, no. I live in Johannesburg.

I interpret a slight pause which I may be unfairly attributing to a prejudicial perception of Azov’s lack of knowledge of the globe.

NATALIE: In South Africa.

AZOV: Souss Africa! Humph.

Another pause. I figure it’s best to let the person with all the power do the talking – after all, he holds my girls’ weekend in New York in the palm of his hands – unless he asks me a direct question.

AZOV: Why you live in Souss Africa?

And here we have the direct question. Play it safe, here, Natalie. Just stick to the basics. Who gives a continental what an immigration official thinks of where you live?

NATALIE: Um… I was born in South Africa and most of my family is in South Africa.

AZOV: But why you not live in England?

NATALIE: Well, because South Africa is my home and (putting on fake smile and trying not to grit teeth) I like it there.

Another pregnant pause with Azov still staring at me intently and raising his furry one-brow.

Against my better judgement, I find myself growing annoyed and I give some more reasons to defend my choice to live in the country I was born in:

NATALIE: And because it’s exciting and there’s alot of opportunity.

AZOV: But you no like London?

NATALIE: (Deep, deep breath. Muchos patience required with this man). No….. I didn’t say that. I like London very much.

Azov looks confused and possibly even suspicious.

AZOV: I no like Africa.

NATALIE: To each his own, I guess.

This idiomatic expression appears to be completely lost on Azov, but he is undeterred.

AZOV: I travel to 30 countries, but I no like Africa.

Really? You don’t say? Tell someone who cares, dude!

During this lengthy interaction, he has intermittently been tapping a few things into his computer and now asks to take my fingerprints. I follow his orders, of course and there is the blessed sound of silence for a short while.

But I should have known by now that Azov was not the silent type…

AZOV: You say there are opportunities in Souss Africa… What you do?

Ha! Sneaky one! I honestly hadn’t seen this coming. You insult third world countries, get their economically active inhabitants travelling to America to bring up the topic of economic opportunity and then it’s only natural to enquire as to the nature of those opportunities… All of sudden, Azov no longer seems as idiotic as he’s been sounding.

I tell him that I have a small, part-time business but I realise that this is the one time I really need to play up the dreaded “Housewife” title. After asking what The Husband does, he drops the occupation topic and reverts to his favourite subject:

AZOV: So you stay three days in New York and you go back to Africa after?

NATALIE: That’s right.…(Unable to resist): As part of your 30 country experience, did you ever travel to Africa?

AZOV: No, but I no like to go. Except where big mountain is. Where that?

NATALIE: You mean Kilimanjaro in Kenya and Tanzania?

AZOV: Humph. Maybe. I see. Maybe one day.

Don’t do us Africans any favours, Azov!

AZOV: Okay! (handing me my passport). Have good time in New York!

And zat, dear readers, vas my velcome to America. A true story, believe it or not.