Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Kafka and me

Another invitation to teach in England
A couple years ago I visited England for a few days and taught a workshop. I had problems at Heathrow airport (which are chronicled here, in case anyone wants to read a big long moan about how much I dislike travelling in general, Heathrow in particular..).

Anyway, several months ago I received another invitation to go to England to teach, this time near London. This would mean dealing once more with Heathrow, and the border guards, and that hideous huge immigration room with its herringbone lines of travellers and visitors, moving slowly, very very slowly, into the country.

I hated the experience so much 2 years ago that I swore I would never go through it again, that I would rather swim to england towing my luggage in my teeth, and drag myself up the white cliffs of Dover or some other rocky shoreline to enter the country, rather than deal with the crazy-making nightmare that was Heathrow. 

My stance on that softened considerably as time went by.

Optimism bias
This seems to be the way women's brains work, e.g., re: childbirth: after going through it with the option of confining it to having been a off-time unpleasant novel experience, they seem willing to repeat it.

When given the opportunity to deal with Heathrow once again, I thought,
1. "Ah well, it can't possibly be as bad as it was the first time - after all, I have prior experience to draw on now" and

2. "This time I can get a visa - I won't turn up there without one and have to sit there being interrogated for 40 minutes about that while having to pee."
3. "I survived it once - I can survive it again. After all, I am now aware of its foibles, and can navigate around easier." 

The foibles are: massive size with terminals scattered all over the entire city of London, terrible signage, very few toilets, toilets accessible only by stairs, no wifi, long tunnels that bend and twist without moving sidewalks, miles and miles of luggage dragging, poor service, perfunctory and only accessible by direct pleading. Apparently no anticipation of the needs of travellers, jet-lagged, hungry and grumpy and completely lost.

This time, I thought, I don't even have to find the gate for a connecting flight. I just go through immigration, and then I can exit, and someone will be meeting me right at the airport. I'll be whisked away to Surrey. I think that's near Stonehenge. I might even get to see Stonehenge. Hey, it will be fall equinox!

That is how the female brain works, I guess. Sees the upside of things. Optimism bias.

Getting ready
Anyway, I explained to the new host the issues I had had with immigration. As the months passed, he and his colleagues worked closely with me. The visa must be applied for online. For the life of me, I could not work out what kind of visa I needed. It's a Byzantine site, nothing but rabbit holes leading to more rabbit holes. 

The hosts could not have been more helpful. They took a long look and decided the visa I should apply for was a Permitted Paid Engagement Visa.

I dutifully spent all Canada Day holiday filling out the application (all nine pages of it) with a couple false starts, and mistakes, which meant deleting everything and starting from scratch. But I got it done, printed, submitted, got an appointment to be processed.

I felt on top of my game, halfway there.

The trip to submit the visa application
Getting processed meant that I had to book an appointment online in Edmonton, book a flight to Edmonton, go there and back the same day. I had to be physically there to be "processed" which meant fingerprints, retina scans, giving over my documents which included passport, letters of invitation and verification of details of how long I'd be staying and where, and why, and six months worth of bank statements so they could know I had the means by which I would be able to support myself for duration of stay and not be a drain on their economy, or health system, etc.

Anyway, I got wanded, fingerprinted, all that - my iPhone and computer were not permitted in the office space, and had to be sequestered in a (unguarded) closet across the hallway. It cost an additional $112 to have my personal physicality invaded and documented. My stuff all got put into a big envelope, with a return envelop addressed to me, to be sent to New York, where Decisions On Visas Are Made By Somebody There.

The result: Utter disappointment
I made it home - twenty consecutive hours of my life I'll never get back, and a lot of expense (half of which the company organizing me agreed to pick up) - all for fricken nothing. The application was rejected because the company who hired me didn't fit the criteria for an advanced learning institution or something. They would have to be a university. They aren't - they are a continuing education company.

The company has decided to work on the problem at their end, postpone the courses for now, see if they can find a lawyer who can figure out the website and what category everyone belongs in and what sort of visa I should try to apply for next.


I think this whole situation fits the definition of a Kafkaesque nightmare:

"Kafka's writing has inspired the term "Kafkaesque", used to describe concepts and situations reminiscent of his work, particularly Der Process and "Die Verwandlung". Examples include instances in which bureaucracies overpower people, often in a surreal, nightmarish milieu which evokes feelings of senselessness, disorientation, and helplessness. Characters in a Kafkaesque setting often lack a clear course of action to escape the situation. Kafkaesque elements often appear in existential works, but the term has transcended the literary realm to apply to real-life occurrences and situations that are incomprehensibly complex, bizarre, or illogical."

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