I like to think that I have a good sense of direction. After following a path once, I would be able to take it again without any extra guidance. One night, I was walking home from an event in Prague. As I rounded the corner at the metro station on to the street I have been living on for 2 years, I overheard two tourists discussing their situation. They were lost and they needed to figure out how to get where they were going. Seeing me, one of them suggested that they could ask me. “But he is not Czech though”

As I walk down the street, I sense the stares as people walk past me. In the metro or tram, the seat next to me is usually the last to be filled.

I have a dream to travel to each sub continent of the world. The differences of people, culture and landscape fascinate me and I want to experience as much of the world as I can. So last year, I wanted to go to the US, a place I have been curious about for a long time. I knew that I would need a visa for it. In fact, I would be surprised if I didn't, I have needed a visa for every place I have been outside of my country. and in the middle of the process, I was asked to fill out this form.

US visa application background information
A background check

A few months later when I was finally on my way, I had to transit in Lisbon. Clearing the longer, manual, “third country national” passport control, I waited in line at the boarding gate when the attendant who was checking along the queue asked me “Sir, can you please step aside for a moment?” As the rest of the queue kept going in, I reached into my bag to get my folder of documents. After being pulled aside in Dubai and Madrid, I knew where this was going. A few minutes later a security official asks me to follow him and we go into a separate section of the boarding gate with a body scanner and an X-ray. As he patted me down, I watched the rest of the passengers looked on from the other room. As they gave me the clear, I looked behind to see if there were others in line to be checked. There wasn’t. I was the only one on the entire flight to be checked.

I don’t like to stay out late since it really kills my productivity the next day. But occasionally I make an exception and once I was heading into a venue with a group of friends. They paid at the counter and got inside and it was my turn. “Look at the camera” he said. “Why?” I asked. “Look at the camera or get out”.

I spent most of my first week in CZ at the immigration office. A friend of mine accompanied me, so that he can speak to the officers and keep me company. Czech sounded like “shshsh shshsh” to me at that point but he would translate the important bits back to me. After moving out of my temporary accommodation, I discovered that I had to report that change to the ministry and pay for it. Since my friend had come with me many times before, I didn’t want to bother him again and I figured that I could manage that change. I mean, I just wanted to update my address.

I got to the office and took a number. I waited for about an hour and when my turn came, I walked up to the counter. “Hello, I would like to change my address”. “Český?” she asked. I tried to take my phone out to translate and she angrily pointed at the no mobile phone sign while gesturing and saying something. “I just want to update my address” I said desperately. She repeatedly keeps says something in Czech that I don’t understand. Finally, she goes back inside and returns to hand me this.

Immigration office communication only in Czech
Czech only

With no other option, I called my friend to come help while I took another number and waited. Another hour later, we go to the counter again where they rejected my application saying that my documents were insufficient. Apparently, my new flat was part of a building that was co-owned by several directors and I should submit a document signed by those directors saying that they are aware of my presence in the flat.

These are not happy stories. They are stories of prejudice and bureaucracy that sadly form a part of my life in Europe as a result of where I am from and what I look like and because of my decision to move to Europe out of ambition for a better life. They are also the stories that will remain invisible to a lot of people because they will never have the same experiences by being where they are from and looking as they do.

Prabashwara Seneviratne

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Prabashwara Seneviratne