Visas, volunteer visas, tourist visas, immigration, border-runs...
These are all words that have become a pretty regular addition to my vocabulary this year. While serving in Malaysia, every 90 days our group had to leave the country so that we could be reissued a tourist visa upon reentry. Now I am in Thailand, and because I was issued a 30-day tourist visa when I arrived, I need to leave the country before Tuesday to avoid overstaying my visit, travel to a bordering country to obtain a volunteer visa from a Thai embassy, then travel back into Thailand to finish out my time of service.
While I've grown weirdly comfortable with the idea of traveling to renew a visa, I've also grown to feel a bit of anxiety when I'm in an airport these days. I had a huge fear of flying before this year, but I've flown so much that the fear of the actual airplane has subsided. I've noticed that the anxiety only occurs from the time I step into the airport until the time I clear immigration. Those men and women hold a lot of power, and even though there is nothing illegal about our travels, there is a certain anxiety that comes with knowing your fate of departing and reentering the country lies in someone else's hands.
I was supposed to leave today to go to Laos to obtain a volunteer visa. However, I LOVE to have a medical adventure and decided to come down with the flu instead. Seriously, who gets the flu in June?? Not the point. After a hospital visit yesterday and today, I received a medical letter to immigration requesting my stay be extended so that I can fully recover before I fly off to do visa business.
All these situations, as positive or negative as they have been, have been voluntary. I willingly entered into this year, and if anything, the color of my passport (or the fact that I have a passport at all) has made a lot of immigration situations a heck of a lot easier for me than they are for other people. I've felt conflicted many times this year about my anxieties surrounding immigration. The unsettledness I feel in an airport is certainly real, but I can easily remove myself from the situation if I needed to. There is a place that is safe for me to go back to. But what about the people who don't have that? What about the people whose reasons for crossing borders are completely different from mine? Today, I could receive a letter requesting permission to stay in a country because I have the flu, but what about people who are sick in a country but can't even receive the healthcare to know what is wrong with them?
Borders exist, and the movement between those borders is happening more and more. People are moving in and out of those borders for more reasons than we know. And I don't have answers to the ever-growing question of immigration. In the ways that immigration has consumed conversations and thoughts of mine at times this year, I cannot even begin to imagine the ways in which it affects those whose lives are so dependent on where they find themselves, and whose hands their documentation falls into. Tonight, I am especially mindful of those who are away from their home-country or who are stateless, as well as those who make the decisions regarding their fate. There is corruption in this world, but there are also beacons of light. And it is my prayer that the light can outshine any darkness.