The Spanish Adventure part 1 – flying

The Edinburgh Fringe 2013 was the first Fringe I attended as a mere audience member. It had a good side to it, it was nice being able to see everything I wanted for a change, and not having to stress about flyering, get-ins and reviews. It felt very strange to not be a participant for the first time in 7 years, though. So I decided that despite the difficulties of my immigration status, I would bring a show to the Fringe in 2014. I hoped I would get a new visa and be a resident by then, but I knew that I would need to take advantage of technology to actually put the show together. With that in mind, my friend and collaborator Eli agreed to be directed via internet on our new piece, La Niña Barro.

Eli recruited Alex, another talented Spanish performer, to join the project and we were kindly given a free rehearsal space in the form of an artistic residency at contemporary culture centre Las Cigarreras, in Alicante. For good part of a year, the girls received tasks and notes from me via email or facebook, worked on them in the studio and filmed themselves doing so, dropboxed the videos to me and I would send more tasks and notes each week. We would also have skype meetings regularly to discuss things. It wasn’t an easy task, but an interesting challenge at the same time. We worked like this between January and June this year, and then the time came for me to go to Spain and work with them in person.

Many Brazilians, particularly in the southern regions, have European passports due to their Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and German ancestry (these are the most common ones), so I have often been asked this question by people sympathetic to my visa drama. Although it is quite obvious that I have European blood (being white enough and having a string of Iberian last names), I can’t trace my family tree back to whichever great grandparent would make me eligible for double citizenship. I have, however, done a bit of research into potentially moving to Spain as an alternative to Brazil (where I don’t want to be) or Scotland (where I’m not allowed to be).

Spain would not be too bad an idea – I can speak the language, I have friends and professional contacts there, it’s close enough to allow me to visit Scotland more often, and although I still require a visa/work permit to live there, the process seems to be far easier and cheaper than the UK (€ 160 for a Spanish work permit application that can be done in Porto Alegre X £850 for a UK Exceptional Talent visa that has to be done in Rio or Sao Paulo). I just needed a job offer, and my goal was to try and find something in Spain during the 5 weeks I was going to be there rehearsing with Eli and Alex. And thus on the 22nd June 2014, I travelled in the opposite direction of all those mad keen international tourists flocking to Brazil to celebrate one of the ugliest forms of nationalism shaped as the FIFA World Cup.

It’s funny how traumatised you can get once you’ve had a visa application denied. I now feel paranoid that I will be interrogated every time I try to board a plane or arrive somewhere. At the check-in in Porto Alegre, I had my new passport thoroughly checked by the lady behind the desk. She was suspicious because I didn’t have a visa and my return flight was on the 22nd September, exactly three months after departure. Problem was I would leave Madrid on the 22nd, but have an overnight stay in Lisbon to catch an early connection back to Porto Alegre, and that would mean that I would overstay my Schengen tourist visa for OMG SHOCK HORROR  7 hours. After reassuring the airline attendant that I was well aware of regulations, that I wasn’t actually going to be in the Schengen zone for 3 consecutive months (I would nip to the UK for a bit), that I was allowed to be in transit for those extra hours if I didn’t leave the airport in Lisbon, and that I had no intention of doing anything illegal, she agreed to check me in. And all that was BEFORE even leaving Brazil.

I flew from Porto Alegre to Lisbon, where I had no problems getting my Schengen tourist stamp (see older post on my Portuguese experience) and managed to spend a lovely afternoon with one of my best friends ever (who has also had her fair share of immigration drama) before flying to Madrid. But I’ll leave it there now, as I will expand on the Spanish adventure that ensued in future posts. ¡Hasta luego!

Bristol with an L

After my visa refusal in April last year, I decided I was going to Edinburgh for the Fringe anyway, just for a visit, as there’s absolutely nowhere else in the world I’d rather be in August. Prior to my trip, I started hearing horror stories about people who were seeking entry to the UK as tourists but were refused and deported. I’d read a couple of them online, via the Manifesto Club, and the third one was told by a friend. His niece went to London to study English for a month and wasn’t refused entry after all, but only after she answered a number of pointless questions about her family and their lives in Brazil. Subsequently, the immigration agents called her dad and asked the same questions and the answers had to match. Needless to say, I was terrified I wasn’t going to be allowed to visit my friends in the city I’d lived in for 6 years.

I proceeded to gather as much information as possible and be prepared to be grilled at Edinburgh Airport. I think I’ve memorised the whole of the UK Home Office website by now (it was still the UK Border Agency then). I pre-warned my friends picking me up that it might be a while until they let me through, and that there was a chance of not actually being allowed in.

As the plane landed in Edinburgh, I started to cry. My heart was pounding, and it was all a concoction of feelings ranging from happiness at being back and fear of being sent away again. I filled out my landing card, waited in a long queue and finally arrived at the desk. A lovely, really polite lady was my immigration officer that day – one of the reasons why I always preferred to connect somewhere in continental Europe and then fly straight to Edinburgh rather than to London, where people who work at airports seem to be miserable and sadistic. She took my card and passport, asked me where I’d flown in from. “Paris” – And are you here on holiday? “Yes” – Where are you staying? “With friends, and here’s a couple of letters to confirm this” – Are your friends Brazilian? “No, they’re both Scottish” – Ok, how do you know Kirsty? “Through work” – And how do you know Jennifer? “Uni” – So you lived here before? (checks out my last visa, still on passport) “Yes, for 6 years. Had a student visa for 4 years, then a post-study work visa for another 2, which is the one you can see there” – Ok, good. Have you ever had any issues with Immigration before? “Yes, and I know that this is why your computer’s beeping” – Can you tell me about it? “I’ve applied for a Tier Exceptional Talent visa and was refused” – Why was that? “Because I’m not exceptionally talented” – (smiles) What did your refusal letter say? “Ehhh, no, love” – Pardon? “They didn’t give me a reason, they just said no” – Are you sure? “Yes, I am. I actually ended up filing a Freedom of Information request to the Arts Council of England to get more detailed feedback, which was still vague. Look, I could tell you the whole story, if you want, but let’s just say I also contacted the British Consul in Rio and she said herself she wasn’t clear how this visa worked” – I see. So what did you study while in Edinburgh? “Drama and Theatre Arts. Got a First. Want to see my diploma? I have it here” – No, thanks. And now are you living in Brazil? “Yes, I am” – What do you do over there? “I’m working as a teacher and translator. Here’s a letter from my employer” – Oh, good, thanks. And do you live in a rented property? “No, I own a flat with my sister” – Ok. So is that why you requested an Exceptional Talent visa, for your work with languages? “Erm… no. For my work in theatre” – Oh, so have you done that sort of thing before? “Yes, I’m a director and producer. I worked in theatre throughout my 6 years in Edinburgh” – That’s lovely. And are you staying for… 3 months? “Yes. Here’s a copy of my return ticket” – It’s an awfy long time to see friends, isn’t it? “Miss, I lived here for 6 years. I have a fair amount of friends to visit. But I’m not spending all 3 months in Edinburgh, I’m also going to Portugal for a wedding, then I’ll come back to fly out from here” – Ah, ok. When are you going to Portugal? “Just after the Fringe. Wedding is on the 14th September, I’m a bridesmaid” – (smiles) That’s nice. So, you said you’re working as a teacher, but how can you go away for 3 months? “I don’t work at a regular school, it’s a language school for business people. We tailor our courses according to the students’ needs, so there isn’t a regular calendar of classes” – Ok, I get it. Look, have a seat over there, I’ll need to take all this with me in there and just cross-check a few things. (goes off for another 20 minutes) – Right, Miss D’Avila, let me explain this: I’m allowing you through, but there is a stamp with a code here meaning that when you come back from Portugal, you might be asked to produce all this information again. Is that clear? “Sure thing. Well, thank you”

Almost an hour later, I’m allowed in.

Toni Nealie is a writer from New Zealand who lives and works in Chicago, and has had her fair share of immigration trouble. I completely identify with her feelings, thus described: “Being viewed as a potential threat diminishes you, fractures a personal landscape, peels off pieces of bark until you are raw. You begin to suspect your own legitimacy, your place in the long, snaking lines of mainly brown people waiting for their numbers to come up. Are you trying to sneak through a keyhole into a society that doesn’t want you? are you in the shadows of illegality? could they deport you? could they make you disappear?”. Her heartfelt narrative of her own airport trials can be found in full here. It really is a bizarre situation to be in.

When I stepped out of the airport and was taken to Cramond Island for a picnic with my friends, I felt like it was the first time I’d breathed in almost a year. And I had a wonderful month and a bit in Edinburgh, and then took a train to Bristol to see a long-lost friend and from there I flew to Lisbon.

I arrived in Lisbon with another thick stack of photocopies of everything I reckoned I’d need to be allowed in the country. I was a tad more concerned, because my friend getting married was Brazilian, but I had all her details, including her residency number. Not having a copy of the actual wedding invitation was another thing making me nervous, and I was kicking myself internally for forgetting to do that. I waited in a queue for 40 minutes and then arrived at the desk. [following dialogue was in Portuguese] – Good evening. “Evening (hands over passport)” – Where are you flying from? “Bristol” – See, when you say that word in English, you pronounce the L at the end, don’t you? “Yes…? Bristollll” – Ha. That’s funny. (stamps passport) Welcome to Lisbon.

Yep. That was all.