“The difficulties of life are intended to make us better, not bitter.”
At around midnight of Thursday 30th of June my friend from Vancouver BC and I were passing through the Canadian border in Blaine, Washington. We were directed to the office. I was happy, excited about to spend three months with friends writing and finishing my children’s stories books. As a Social Anthropologist I was looking forward to exploring the Canadian lifestyle, experiencing Canada day, and attending the Greek summer festival. I went in joyful. I came out in a very different manner. Traumatized and crying hysterically.
I was shocked by the treatment I received from the officer who questioned me and detained me for hours. From the beginning he was angry, aggressive, judgmental, and disrespectful. No matter what I answered I was made wrong not only for my answers but more importantly for my lifestyle and choices, for who I was. Every answer was met with suspicion and hostility. I was accused of being vague and lying.
Maybe my answers were vague to him I don’t really know as at that moment I felt I was being bullied and attacked. I had never come across such behavior directed towards me before. I did not understand how I was being vague all I knew is everything I answered was met with resistance. At many points my life was being compared to that of the officer. I felt intimidated, bullied, and confused at what was expected from me.
I was asked to provide details on every movement I made the first time I was in Vancouver for about three weeks in which I made some really good friends. I received a lecture a couple of times that what I consider a friend is not really a friend.
I received many unprofessional comments about my choice of friends, my lifestyle, my choice of travelling, how most people don’t live and operate this way. Yes! I do live a very different life. Does this make me wrong? A liar? A threat?
I was even made wrong for getting emotional and crying.
My friend was also questioned; they went through his phone, my computer, my luggage and in the process damaging some things.
At the end of all of it I was denied entry until providing further documents and received more lecture on the way I choose to live and was told “pick a country.” This was far from professional, especially when the decision was already made. It was seen as if I was trying to immigrate to Canada and work there which was most definitely not the case.
I left in a very bad state, feeling shocked, violated, invaded, judged, bullied, belittled, disrespected, and treated very unfairly. Truly traumatized.
I felt upset with myself for not standing up for my behalf, for not answering with more confidence and not informing the officer that I felt I was being mistreated. However it is not the easiest thing to do when you are shocked, hurt, and frightened.
I am very well aware that I have led and lead a very different life than the average person. My view of life differs from many, but don’t we all? I also come from a small island with a very different culture, society and lifestyle. Does this provide justification to be bullied and treated in such a manner?
Change of Policies, and Treatment?
“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”
– Winston Churchill
You see for me, this behavior and treatment is not something I am familiar with. In fact I have never come across it before other than on TV. I have travelled all around the world alone since I was fourteen. I studied Cultural Anthropology because I love learning about different beliefs, cultures, ways of life, ideas, and points of views. I find it fascinating and interesting! Respecting everyone’s cultural, societal, and individual choices. I had never come across this behavior in my life, work, or travel experiences. And I had never had any problem entering any country ever.
After this experience, I received many stories from people with similar experiences and after researching on the internet I discovered it is relatively a common occurrence and many people have suffered from this kind of “treatment”. When you are being questioned you are fair game, it appears to be protocol.
I am writing this not about the decision or conclusion at the end. It is about how I was treated in the process. This is not a complaint letter. I do not wish to complain I wish to create awareness. So that we can all learn from this. It is not about blame, or punishment, or pride. No. It is about the mistakes we make as individuals, a group, a society, a country, a unified world. Taking these mistakes and learning from them, improving our policies, our systems. Should any country or system promote hatred, ill behavior, abuse, intimidation, bullying, and prejudice? Is it truly done with the intention of so or is it a lack of awareness from the Canadian border guard authorities?
This is why I am writing this so maybe we can create some change. These things happen all around the world and in different formats. Instead of falling into more anger and hate and fighting why not use it in cooperation and as an opportunity to expand, and change? These events point out that something is not working well with the system we have created, or that it could be better, so that we can invent new policies so that we can produce even more grand results. These events no matter how terrible open our eyes to begin asking the right questions. What else is possible here? Instead of blaming and getting angry, defensive why not say “ooopppsss! That’s not working well, how can we make it better?”
I am truly concerned. What training do these border guards receive? Are they trained to view visitors, and fellow human as a threat? With anger, suspicion, defensively, as guilty until proven innocent, and a means to exert power over another? Or should everyone visiting be treated with the appropriate cultural, societal, individual respect? Can visitors not be questioned in a serious, professional and at the same time respectful way? Is it a battle and intrusion? Is anger and hostility necessary? Does it really help? Or does it just create unnecessary stress, anxiety on both parties amplifying negative feelings for both? Creating separation and judgment on both sides so that the visitor can brand the Canadian border guards as being horrible people, creating stereotypes and more hostility in the world? This is not fair for Canadian border guards, who in turn become more defensive and aggressive. It is also not fair for Canada.
I for one find it disheartening when any person is judged, and discriminated against. This does not apply only to the visitors, it goes for the guards, police officers, so they do not receive certain stigmas, names, and stereotypes promoting hate in this world. I am not going to judge border guards, or a whole country based on one guard’s behavior. However many would easily do so, because this is what we as humans naturally do. This is when anger, hate, defense, and separation, is amplified and improvement, change, and advancement as a society, culture, and a country is compromised.
Do we need more understanding in the world, and more peace? Yes. What brings more fruitful results going up to someone and demanding them to give you something or asking politely if you could please have it?
Are some changes in policies and awareness needed? Yes. Can there be improvement in training, so that the protection of a country is balanced with a friendly professional manner? Could they maybe benefit from receiving some cultural, societal sensitivity courses? I am hoping this will be the beginning of creating awareness, and change in the training and policy of the Canadian border guards so that visitors entering and leaving Canada feel and view Canada as the beautiful, and friendly country it is.
“All great changes are preceded by chaos.”
– Deepak Chopra
The Rule Book on How to Live Your Life
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”
– Albert Einstein
In all my travels, studies, and life I was not aware that there is a specific rule book on how to live your life, how to make friends, how to travel, and that I am wrong for not having studied this book. So far all I have learned from the Canadian “rule book” is that in order to consider someone a friend, I have to have known them for ten years, worked with them, and traveled with them. I could not have met a friend on the internet and most certainly not on the beach. Lastly, running into someone who has similar interests to me is extremely unlikely.
Is there a specific belief, idea, way of life, choice of clothing, car, food, architecture, hobbies, that is correct and all else is wrong? Or is it simply an individual choice? Is it not all unique beautiful in its own way? The imagination, the creativity of diversity and freedom? Freedom of choice…of living?
Fear & Sense of Security
What also happens when people are treated unfairly at border crossings and/or denied access unjustifiably? Perhaps there should be studies performed on this. Will people then not question whether the system is safe, fearful, and mistrusting?
Why should the individual be greeted and badly treated by a border guard even though they have done nothing wrong or intend to. How will this affect their trust in others, the system, and policies of the country, even the world that should “protect” you? Could this not possibly crush their view and sense of safety? “How can these things happen?” you ask. “I am innocent.” Suddenly you are not safe anymore. Can I be wrongfully accused, judged no matter where I go?” You begin to doubt society and life. “Does that also mean that those who truly have something to hide may be wrongfully assessed?” Your mind begins to go wild!
Your sense of control in an instant is gone. This feeling of lack of control over your life then leads to fear, which in turn can lead to anger, blame, and violence against border guards, others, the system, the government, a country.
What are the affects these individual events personally have on people? I am deeply concerned as a therapist, cultural Anthropologist, and having studied under my father who is a psychoanalyst, clinical and school psychologist, and as a member of the Kos rescue team. I know first hand the emotional, physical, and psychological effects these incidences can have on people. The unnecessary trauma, negative feelings, and loss of sense of self that is generated.
I never knew what PTSD was until now. I understood it but living it gave me a whole different awareness. Should border guards be giving people PTSD? Should they be causing people trauma?
Those of you who have received this treatment whether at the Canadian border, or anywhere else in the world and has brought up emotional pain, sadness, shame, humiliation, lack of self’ esteem, anger, hatred or anything else, you can use this post, this blog as a forum, a safe place where these feelings, and emotions can be released, expressed, and healed. A place where you get back your sense of power, self esteem, sense of humor, confidence or whatever you feel you have lost.
A place where everyone can share their tools their individual ways they have created to deal with it. So that no one looses that individual spark, beauty and what makes you, you no matter what occurs in your life. To use these incidences to gain awareness, caring, understanding, of our selves, of others, and of the world. What if these border guard incidences can be used as means of empowerment?
It is Not Personal!
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
One of the most important things to be aware of is that it is not personal! This is a great gift I received from this event. And surprised I am for even saying this. For one, I am one that would take things personally, many times over. Reason for I am sensitive, thus not understanding why people would treat others badly, talk them down, or physically harm others.
Do not try to understand these actions. Why it even happened to you. You won’t be able to, you are not them, you are functioning from two different bodies, ideas, experiences. It will further take you away from who you are, leading you to confusion of who you are, who others are, and the world. There is nothing to understand they are different then you, they are not the same person. All you need to realize is that they are functioning from their perspective of what is right and wrong which differs from yours.
Now I know it is difficult not to take it personally or as a personal attack. Hitting upon your pride, honor, and dignity. It is hard to see the distinction between one’s behavior to you and what’s really going on. It is a hard pill to swallow. Yet I believe in 99% of cases it’s not stupidity, it’s not cruelty, or lack of education, it is PURELY a lack of awareness. The border guards are trained and functioning from their point of view, what they have learned what is correct or how it should be done. Yes some might behave in this matter to exert their own lack of self power upon you. Again it’s not personal. It’s them. Whether on purpose or not it does not matter. NO ONE can take who you are from you. No one can harm you unless you allow it.
By reacting to the anger and pain and owning it as yours, this then amplifies and creates more thus sending it into the world. It does not mean don’t get angry it does not mean don’t stand up. No! By all means go into the pain go deep into the pain experience it, cry, scream, do whatever necessary. See what it is telling you, what your body is telling you, where it feels injured so that you can release it and become whole again. Not only whole but stronger! Release your anger…everything. Express yourself. However the difference is do not get consumed by it.
Do not go into battle with yourself, and others. We as humans so easily fall into that trap, it’s so easy for our first reaction to be to fight. It does not need to be a fight. You can be strong within yourself without going into battle. And it can also change the consciousness and behavior of the attacker. It can be an opportunity for growth, for understanding, for awareness. There is so much to be gained from these types of experiences, and I know sometimes it is so DIFFICULT to see this. No one said it is easy. It can be very difficult. We are also not taught to view things this way. I just want you to know you have a choice. Remain within yourself, with who you are. Fighting will only bring you further apart from yourself, from healing. Become aware of the different perspectives, views, ideas people are functioning from. That is all it is. We are all functioning from our own.
I normally confront things with a sense of humor however with this incident I am having trouble. Did this event cause me a lot of pain, sadness, and fear? Yes. Am I over it? No. Do I blame the guard? No. Maybe he was having a bad day or week. Does that justify my treatment? No. Perhaps in his eyes it does or the border guard policies. It is not about blame. These things happen. The question is now what can we do to change this?
I invite all those who have and have not experienced this kind of treatment at Canadian borders or any other borders to share your experiences, and comments here RESPECTFULLY. I am inviting border guards to share their point of view, their feelings, their experiences, and their possible traumas resulting from these experiences as well. So that we may learn from each other. This is for you too! And for Border officials to discuss these issues in a respectful way so that we may learn from each other, and improve our system, our life, and our world.
“By changing nothing, nothing changes.”
– Tony Robbins
Location: Redmond, Washington.