Gone Today, Here Tomorrow
If you’ve never been refused entry and turned back at an airport, you cannot know what it feels like. But let me explain. Many, many years ago, it must have been before 1986 when Olof Palme the Swedish Prime Minister was gunned down and killed on his way home from the movies, my friend Lars and I were on a protracted lecture tour of the northern cone of South America that included Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador as well as a couple or so Caribbean countries not known for their democratic leadership.
I mentioned the democratic leadership bit because it came to have a certain bearing on what was to unfold that day. We were about three weeks into the tour spending never more than two or three days in each city lecturing at various universities and teacher training institutes up to three times a day, morning, late afternoon and even later evenings, sometimes not getting back to the hotel before one or two in the night. It was gruelling work.
Lars and I had been working together for more than a decade and we had got our lecture routines down to a pat. The size of the audiences varied from less than a hundred to over a thousand but the composition of the audiences seldom varied: they were all dedicated teachers from all levels of education, from kindergarten teachers to university lecturers, and in their view we were The Best! They were all using our texts, and we were Superstars!
People came from far and wide to spend time with us. I recall a group of nuns who had travelled over 20 hours by bus to attend a workshop in Rio. They gave me a notepad as a sign of gratitude for writing the books they used. I still have it more than 40 years on.
Lars and I left nothing to chance. We travelled with all our accessories: overhead projectors – remember this was way before the time of the Internet – extension cords, spare bulbs, a screen, multiple plugs, adaptors, transformers; you name it, we had it!
Well on this particular day we landed in a new country after a relatively short flight and were asked to remain on board till all the other passengers had disembarked, a not unusual procedure because our receptions were often fairly well orchestrated events with shots of us walking down the steps, into the terminal building, press conferences and what have you. It was all good fun.
That evening, in my Hilton Hotel room – this was way back at the time when the name Hilton was synonymous with hotel luxury – there I was watching the two of us on a flickering, sort of semi-coloured TV screen telling our host how happy we were to be in her wonderful country and how excited we were to have the opportunity to visit their schools and find out first-hand about the wonderful advances they had made in education since our previous visit.
Lars, who was about 6 foot 6 inches tall and had avery prominent nose and large, round, strigine (which means owl-like), eyes under a receding forehead that screamed intellect at you, usually did the serious, professorial bits while I did the enthusiastic waffling, smiling, impish body-language, love-to-be-here bits. I was a real charmer at times.
The only thing wrong was that Lars had not been seen since. After the interview, as a mere formality, we wandered off to customs and immigration when an absolutely delightful creature in uniform came bouncing up to us full of enthusiasm and proclaimed, “But you are from Sweden!”
Well, yes, she was technically correct though I for just this reason had maintained my British passport and brought it forth at strategic times just for safety’s sake. Lars was inordinately proud of being Swedish. I on the other hand, having no great fondness for the Old Country and little or no understanding of the idea of being proud of where one came from was a bit of a mongrel; I liked to see myself as a citizen of the world who professed no allegiance to any country.
It turned out that Olof Palme had just held a speech somewhere – he was always doing that – criticising in the harshest terms the dictator who ruled the country we were trying to enter. The dictator, who fancied himself as a constitutional lawyer, knew all the ways to circumvent the constitution and declared that diplomatic relations had been severed with Sweden so Swedes should be deported immediately. It turned out that Lars was the only Swede available, and so he was duly deported, only to turn up the next day with a big smile on his face. I won’t tell you how this was achieved, but you can imagine, I’m sure.