(Caution: this entry is rather angry and sweary)
This week I was planning to come home from Panama to the UK for a few weeks. I want to see my mum and dad, my friends and family, and I might – might! – have a filming gig in Cyprus next month. Also I could do with getting off my island. Going a bit stir crazy over here on my own (still single!).
So I bought a flight home going via the USA, like I’ve done countless times before.
However, my ESTA visa “waiver” was up, so I thought oo eck I better renew. This would be my third ESTA since they brought them in for no good reason whatsoever back in 2011.
Now bear in mind that I’ll only be transiting through the US, a quick change of flights, won’t be leaving the airport.
So I apply… but now there’s all these new questions: Where do you work? Who are your parents? (Disturbing question given Republican frontrunner Trump has pledged to commit war crimes against the families of those who he deems terrorists.) And now… for your hair-pulling pleasure… have you been to the following 4 countries in the last 5 years…?
It’s a matter of public record (breaking) that I’ve been to all of these countries, but all in 2010, which means I’m out of the “5 year exclusion zone.”
In 2012 towards the end of my journey I passed back through Sudan on the way from Ethiopia to Egypt. I was there for 3 days. Getting a visa for Sudan from Addis Ababa was a freaking NIGHTMARE and to be honest with you, once in I was happy to get out of there asap – President Al-Bashir is not just a wannabe future war criminal like Trump, he’s a bona fide wanted war criminal.
Now… to declare or not to declare? I have a new passport since I finished The Odyssey Expedition. I could have just lied. But I’m an honest fucker and so I got well and truly fucked. Over a thousand dollars worth of fucked.
The decision came up as ‘pending’ and assured me that a decision would be made within 72 hours.
After 48 hours I was beginning to panic. I had already booked and paid for my non-refundable flight with United. I had applied for the ESTA 6 days before I travelled, that should be plenty of time.
And yet they made me wait.
72 hours came and went.
Then 96 hours.
By the 120 hour mark I was already on a bus to Panama City, what else could I do?
And there in the back of the chicken bus winding through the mountains, the message finally came.
For the love of God.
Now, if I had got an immediate answer, or even one within the first 72 hours, I could have booked in for a visa appointment at the American Embassy in Panama City, jumped on a bus and been there by the next day. But I was now within 24 hours of my flight.
With no way of getting an appointment before take-off I had to cancel my flight. My super-expensive non-refundable flight. Then I had to book a new flight home that didn’t go via the US.
I’m now on a list that includes terrorist sympathisers, criminals, drug dealers and Justin fucking Beiber.
Look, I’m not just an upstanding British Citizen, I am an outstanding British Citizen.*
I’ve set two Guinness World Records, raised thousands of pounds for charity, the TV show I presented was screened on the Travel Channel in the USA last Christmas and I’ve encouraged hundreds – if not thousands – of young people to travel the world. If you’re reading this you might be one of them.
I was accepted into every country in the world, I have no criminal record whatsoever and have never overstayed a visa. There are no points on my driver’s licence (and never has been), I’ve never taken illegal drugs, I’ve never even had a library fine. I’m a total boy scout FFS!
I’ve visited mainland USA dozens of times in the past without incident, and that does not include my travels to the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, Guam and American Samoa. My last 2 ESTAs were passed without any issue.
But really, at the end of the day who am I? A cantankerous, (fairly) over-achieving Brit who likes to travel and bang on about stuff. It’s not like I actually put my life on the line supporting the Yanks in their last two unpopular and unwinnable wars… But friends of mine did. Friends who went on multiple tours to Iraq and Afghanistan. Friends who had their colleagues shot and blown up before their very eyes. For the Gloire of the American Empire.
Many now work doing security in the very countries that America well and truly fucked up. But now, in order to even transit through the USA – the country that they put their lives on the line for (sure as fuck wasn’t ours) – they need to apply for a visa.
I also have friends who work with the Red Cross and Medicine Sans Frontiers. They routinely risk their lives getting medications and vaccinations to some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. But now, no ESTA for them.
The visa process for America is labyrinthine and super expensive. I started filling out the form today but had to stop because it was taking too long. You have to give them your inside leg measurement, the name of your first stuffed toy and the code to the safe in your bedroom. Not only that, you have to log your last five visits to the USA. Including my trips to the US overseas territories (all of ‘em, by the way, I don’t do things by half) I’ve been to the USA more than 20 times in my lifetime… but the time I punch in the times, it kicks me off because I was taking too long!!
And that’s just the fucking form. You then have to book an appointment (which costs a small fortune), travel to the capital city (Megabus methinks), pay for the visa (again, megabucks) find somewhere to stay for a fortnight (the visa can take up to 10 working days to issue), and then wait until the bastard thing comes through………….. WHICH IT MIGHT NOT!!
No refunds motherfucker!!
“Irony” means “the opposite of what you’d expect”, so the fact that the President of the United States is travelling this weekend to Saudi Arabia – the country that has done more to foster and encourage international terrorism than any other could not be in anyway described as ironic.
Saudi funds the Taliban. And Al-Qaeda. And Isis. And Boko Haram. And every Wahhabist terror group in the word. Fifteen of the Nineteen 9/11 hijackers were from Saudi, as was Osama bin Laden. Saudi propped up Saddam Hussein before he went mad and invaded Kuwait. They are the ones pushing the anti-Shi’ite agenda around the Middle East. They are the reason, the only goddamn reason that Iran – a country that has not carried out a terror attack against the US in decades – is on the ‘no travel’ list for ESTAs.
Saudi sent tanks over the causeway to crush protests in Bahrain back in 2011, is currently bombing the living shit out of Yemen and has sentenced innocent people to death for even the mildest criticism of their evil little regime.
The clusterfuck that is Iraq and Syria right now has its roots in Saudi meddling (and by Christ they are profiting from it like CRAZY) and do you really think that the situation in Israel wouldn’t have been sorted out years ago if it wasn’t so damn convenient as the Saudi’s ultimate “weapon of mass distraction”… I don’t see you all freaking out on Facebook about the plight of the Yemenis – just replace “Israel” with “Sunni” and “Palestine” with “Shi’ite” and I look from pig to man, and from man to pig again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.
So you know what country I’d be concerned that a British person had visited? Saudi. Ground zero of almost all the horrors the world has seen over the last 15 years. Also, I’d consider nuclear menace North Korea, anarchy-in-chief Somalia and you know what? Andorra. I’ve always had my suspicions about Andorra.
But considering the Saudi government spends untold billions on defence, defence they pay us Brits and dem Yanks are eager to provide, they get a clear run to do whatever the fuck they like. Super eh?
But there’s really nothing I can do… except make a fuss and maybe even start a petition to get the UK government to introduce its own reciprocal arrangement with the Yanks. Because at the moment all they have to do if they’d like to visit the greatest country in the world is show the fuck up – and what do we get in return? The freedom to be financially penalised for the crime of exploring this otherwise wonderful planet of ours? Who do you think you are Uncle Sam? Russia?!