“Oh, no” the ticketing agent gasps with a click of her tongue. “We cannot let you travel with this passport. It’s too damaged.” In that instant all of my plans come to a terrifying halt. Standing in queue at Orlando International Airport with my red hiking pack resting on the scale next to the ticketing counter. I was that close. The ticketing agent’s words echo their disheartening song in my head. “We cannot let you travel.” “Too damaged.”
But, I traveled to Costa Rica last summer with this same passport…in the same condition. The dirt that clings to the pages is a symbol of life on the road; a life crossing borders. The passport is supposed to ensure free mobility, but its exchange value declines as its physical state diminishes; like a worn baseball card. The warped pages and faded lettering reflect negatively upon the state of the individual carrying the document. As if somehow a dirty passport equates illicit intentions.
The agent continues with her explanation. “Costa Rican customs have tightened their entrance regulations and they will turn you away if you give them this passport. We cannot let you through.”
With these words panicked emotions start to grow. The realization of being “turned away” causes an increase in heart rate; forcing a thumping that works its way into the throat. It twists the stomach wringing out a feeling of slight nausea. The affect of the surrounding environment—once a pleasant indicator of the upcoming trip—quickly changes meaning. The familiar becomes strange. The talk of the other travelers in queue suddenly makes no sense. The schedule of flights being read over the intercom has a dizzying effect. All of the background noises blend together into a cacophonous whir that adds to the insurmountable feeling of panicked frustration.
The mind starts to race; processing countless streams of thoughts in the matter of seconds. There are people waiting for me on the other side. In Costa Rica…and in Panama. The university is holding books for me. I have meetings scheduled. What about Francisco in Panama City? Should I contact them now? No, cancelling is not an option.
The panic transforms into desperation. There must be one worker here that is underpaid and treated poorly. One worker who is willing to let me pass in exchange for some extra cash in their pocket. Or maybe they know another way through…a hole in the wall. I can’t afford to be turned away.
“Costa Rican customs have tightened their entrance regulations and they will turn you away if you give them this passport. We cannot let you through.” Such a basic statement, but embedded within it is a complex expression of the subjectivity experienced by those who rely on mobility. The path of entry that was open one day could closed the next.
In December of 2014 Costa Rica customs at the Peñas Blancas border crossing turned away 3,380 Nicaraguans. La Prensa—a Nicaraguan newspaper—explains that the Costa Rican government has implemented stricter and more thorough border regulations in an attempt to lower the amount of “illegal” Nicaraguans entering Costa Rica. For now, Nicaraguans who are accustomed to moving through previously porous parts of the border must carry valid documentation; a symbol of their clean intentions. “Costa Rican customs have tightened their entrance regulations and they will turn you away if you give them this passport. We cannot let you through.” These words have been spoken by customs agents at Peñas Blancas plenty throughout the last months. The same carousel of emotions that are experienced at Orlando International is surely felt at the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border by those who have been “turned away”.
The feelings of panic and frustration will eventually turn into desperation. Those who are turned away at the border are being denied access to the scheduled appointments that await them on the other side; work, family, etc. While being turned away denies access, it also generates new opportunity. Desperation enables the mind to think of new ways to overcome the obstacles that restrict it. On the border, mobility is negotiated in these moments of panic, frustration, and desperation. Such emotions are crucial aspects of mobile lives as one anticipates the moments that bring about those emotions and prepares for creative ways to overcome them. The increase in border regulations at Peñas Blancas elicits new methods for crossing under the radar of the state.