This research trip blew up before taking off. There will be no pictures. No videos either. Not even an audio clip to set the mood...Just silence...At least until March. You see, my passport has been through hell over the last eight years. It has run with the bulls in Pamplona...twice. During this trip, it was permanently stained red with the celebratory dousings of Sangria. The same passport also made its way through the Andes Mountains and into Machu Picchu being bent and crumpled in every direction as it rolled along the stone Inca pathways. Most recently, this passport traversed Central America’s Pan-American Highway crossing through each of the highway’s international borders along the way. The highway crossings are dusty, and life on the road is tough. This passport is a representation of such a life as dirt from each country clings to the pages reminding me of the experiences that I’ve encountered along the way.
Day 1 (Dec. 10):
Orlando International Airport
This passport has had a good run…No, a great run. Unfortunately it came to an end this morning as I stepped up to the ticketing counter at Orlando International Airport; ready to start my next trip for the Rhythms of the Road research trip. “Oh, no” the ticketing agent gasped with a quick click of her tongue. “You can’t travel with this passport in this condition. They will not let you into Costa Rica like this.” She sadly continued to explain that my passport was “destroyed” and that this condition prohibits them from allowing me to board their plane. A passport—a document needed to travel freely—being refused because of overuse. A bit ironic, no? I wish that I could say that this was an easy fix; like it was when I faced a similar issue at the Nicaragua/Costa Rica border crossing. I wish that I could offer the agent a few dollars to look the other way and ensure her that I would be fine once I landed in Central America. But, this is not the case. After much creative thought I am forced to face the agonizingly disappointing realization that I would have to postpone my research trip until March; the next two week opening in my schedule.
While this is clearly a major setback—since I must cancel a list of meetings that await me in Panamá- I refuse to accept it as a complete failure. There are plenty of productive thoughts to take away from this effervescent research. After all, my research is a critical engagement with life on the road and immobility is an important part of this life. First, freedom of movement is a complicated concept. I’m free to move whenever I want to, but I’m not able to move freely. Ultimately, mobility depends upon the approval and facilitation of looming, dominant systems of control. My passport, for example, should enable me to move freely at my own accord, but a simple judgment call by a ticketing agent quickly limits the range of my mobility. Such a moment of immobility leaves me feeling helpless because no matter how hard I press the issue, free travel cannot take place until I meet the criteria set by our state. Even in times of immobility, however, mobility still thrives. I negotiate new, creative ways to be mobile while hurdling or bypassing the obstacles placed in front of me. For me, the best way to conquer the feeling helplessness that is generated by immobility is to rethink the effects of these obstacles that I face. Instead of blocking my movement, I must recognize that they are simply pushing me in directions that are different from my initial plans. I will get to where I want to go, however, I must take a different path to reach my final destination. I can order a new passport and reschedule my research. Shitty…yes, but completely feasible. Also, even as I sit here waiting my mind still moves as I write this passage. We can think of mobility as existing at a number of scales. Similar to a prisoner whose mind provides them with some semblance of freedom, immobile bodies do not equate complete immobility.
This is a mentality that I encounter in my field research on border work. It may be easy to focus on the limitations of life on the border when watching those who work the border. But, upon close interaction with the daily lives of those that work the border, it is clear that their mobility is negotiated and managed in ways that are much different than initially perceived. What these “ways” are is something that I am working to define through my research. Also, these experiences remind me that we must always challenge dichotomous categories such as mobile/immobile. Often, the labels that we apply do not properly reflect how those moments are experienced on a day to day basis. A label such as “immobile” obscures more than it reveals. I challenge myself and others to seek out these labels and work to better define what it is that such labels obscure.
My second takeaway from this experience is pretty basic: Don’t travel with a dirty passport. When utilizing state regulated modes of transportation you must follow their rules. Yes, the condition of my passport is a testament to my travels, but it is also a ridiculous reason to delay my research project. This obstacle could have been easily avoided by ensuring that there are as few reasons to deny my movement as possible.