November 1, as scheduled, we leave our house early in the afternoon and one hour and a half later get to the border at Lacolle.
The Border scares and fascinates me. A fragile imaginary line, the Border divides lands and contains them. It is an end to one reality and a beginning to another. Crossing it always brings back memories from another life.
The officer at the entry booth checks our Canadian passports and asks us the usual questions, “Where are you going today? How much money do you carry with you? Do you have any tobacco or alcohol?”
We are going to Florida; we have about $500; no, we don’t have any tobacco or alcohol.
And then comes the tough question, “Have you ever been arrested in the United States?”
To this one we answer like this:
Yes, sir. We crossed the Mexican/American border twelve years ago and entered illegally into the United States. We swam across Rio Grande in the middle of the night with our three-years-old son in a garbage bag. The same night we got arrested. We applied for refugee protection and the very next morning were released on our own recognizance to await our trial. After seven months of incredibly miserable life in New York, we abandoned our refugee case and in May 2001 applied for asylum in Canada. Two years later we got accepted as refugees there and today we are Canadian citizens.
But this explanation, no matter how detailed, is never enough. We have been working as long distance truck drivers since 2006 crossing the border twice almost every week, and every time we get stopped for a secondary immigration inspection which can go on between 30 minutes and 6 hours. We never got used to it. We are always afraid that something will go wrong and they will not let us cross over.
Again, we are waiting our turn in a room full of people. Two hours of intense worrying while another officer is checking our case, reading our long and complicated file, asking us questions, writing some more in the file which is now a twelve-volume saga, consulting with his superior officers, asking us more questions. No, we do not need a waiver in order to travel to the USA; we used to need one but not anymore. No, we did not overstay in the USA; on the contrary, we abandoned our refugee case there and left before our hearing date. And so on, and so on…
Finally, the officer gets it. He returns our passports and we cross over to the other side. The Border is now behind us. My belly butterflies suddenly disappear. I think, they will be waiting for me to return there, in the big waiting room at the border. We plunge into the Big Unknown.
The border scares and fascinates me.
After a few hours we stop at a service area in Albany, New York. We park in a spot beside two other motor homes from Quebec. It is migratory season. The Snow Birds are flying south. For those who don’t know, the Snow Birds are retired couples from Quebec who spend every winter in luxurious camp grounds in Florida. Imagine thousands of elderly couples living together in communities some of them so numerous, they even have their own newspaper printed in French. By the way, a friend with whom I took photography courses at Concordia University, Mika Goodfriend, did an incredibly beautiful national prize winning photo project last year about the Snow Birds.
So now we are almost a part of the Snow Birds. Only, we are younger and our motor home is older and much more bitten up funky-looking than any of those luxurious ones. So, we are kind of like Ugly Duckling among a flock of experienced Canadian geese. Still, we migrate together gracefully in a perfect formation down the highway, and we huddle close to each other at night at rest areas and gas stations until we reach our nesting grounds down in Florida.