Photo Credit: R. Peña
Traveler Story: That Time I Almost Got Deported During A Worldwide Pandemic
In March 2020, I was in the beginning of the second year of my world travels. As I left Portugal ecstatic about embarking on our South American excursion, there was news that the country I had previously traveled from, Italy, was suffering from some variation of a “Chinese Flu” (their words, not mine). When I arrived in Buenos Aires on March 12, just two days shy of my birthday, I would have never thought my life and blind faith in the American government would change forever.
Upon arrival, our Airbnb host instructed us that there was a “recommended” quarantine in place for all tourists arriving from any foreign country, and that my enthusiasm to sightsee should immediately be curbed. New York born and bred, rules are always optional, little did he know. The idea of staying cooped up in a new country and not experience all that it has to offer was more foreign to me than anything I experienced in my travels up to that point. Throwing caution to the wind, I wandered the streets for two days straight, eating the most amazing steaks, pounding down shots of a local rum, and taking pictures in front of all the graffiti Buenos Aires had to offer. But on March 14th “ish” got real.
The president of Argentina called for an immediate lockdown. All private companies and airports had to shut down for 14 days. All tourists were to stay inside their hotels and Airbnbs for two weeks and not leave their accommodations for any reason. We were told to order our food and toiletries from an app we didn’t understand, and threatened that if we were to go outside, they would put us in jail and deport us. My spoiled American mentality reared its ugly head once again.
I woke up with a day planned just like the previous two. However, upon my return to my residence, I received a video message from my amazingly patient Airbnb host stating that I should really be careful as they were enforcing the lockdown and that the government of Argentina really means business. My Airbnb host was originally from Canada and understood how difficult of a time I must have been having to be in a country where the rules of the government are much harsher than back home. So I knew he would understand me stepping out to grab a few last-minute groceries.
I kid you not, I was gone for less than 15 minutes, and in that time I had already been reported. My phone alert went off and there was a video message from my Airbnb host that showed me on the street security camera unlocking the door to walk outside with a text message that read “the doorman and residents are threatening to call the police and have you deported.”
In another 15 minutes there was a knock on my door. It was the police asking for my passport and travel information. I’ll spare you all the begging and pleading I had to do, but it’s safe to say I was immediately humbled and accepted my fate. COVID was real, and Argentina wasn’t up for my little privileged ways. It was the first of several lessons during my lockdown in Buenos Aires.
In America, we have the liberty to do as we please as long as we don’t harm others. In my travels to different parts of the world, there’s freedom but with boundaries, and since I wasn’t from those places, it was difficult to submit. It took a whole pandemic for me to finally see that it was time to have respect for another way of life, especially if I want to be able to enjoy all the things this world has to offer.
The exchange rate in Buenos Aires was by far the best from all of our travels. Initially, upon arrival, we were withdrawing pesos from their ATMs at an extreme cost of about $10 a transaction. After some research through some trusty Facebook groups, I found some expats that were getting three times the pesos on the black market. This changed the game exponentially. I was able to order my Argentinian cash through WhatsApp and pay the exchange via Venmo. Big bricks of cash would show up at our door as if I was a drug lord in an episode of Narcos.
The lockdown that started as a dark cloud was turning into rainbows. Bottles of wine were less than a dollar, cuts of fresh steaks and fresh fish were also way below American prices. What more could you ask for? I was adapting to my surroundings, growing to love a new city once again for all the simple things we take for granted in America
Although I had everything I needed, I didn’t necessarily feel complete. When COVID attacked New York City, I lost close family members. My son was also back in Harlem sending me daily updates of his surroundings. I was worried for him and my mother, who had lost her mom and brother to COVID-19. And as I embraced my new reality with open arms, I felt selfish and overwhelmed with how great my life was compared to those of my family and peers back in America. I was thankful and grateful to those who worried about me, but I knew my life wasn’t as rough as theirs during those trying times. Then as we approached the month of June, the world was forced to face the wrath of Black unity.
As we all watched the death of George Floyd, my world was too different to feel the perspective of my brothers and sisters back home. It actually saddened me to see how destructive we became, and for the first time in my life, it was as if I was on the outside looking in. I was always there for all the injustices to our people. I would feel the rage, and I would become the same hatred that was directed towards us. At a time when the most powerful government was letting its people down, I was in a poor country getting treated like a human being.
As much pain and suffering that the year of COVID had brought to a lot of our doors, 2020 was exactly the way it needed to be. It was the year of clarity. We redefined humanity, we redefined what it was to be Black around the world, and now, for the majority of us who weren’t taking risks, who weren’t doing the things they love to do, we have finally awakened to what life in America was. I believe travel had already opened my mind to these concepts, and I wouldn’t trade getting nearly deported for any type of entitlement America is promising.