I was 17 years old, I had worked at a Deli in a grocery store (against the strong objections of my mother who said I didn’t need to work) for a few months and had saved all my money. My step father’s younger brother (my uncle) and his family were in Bordeaux, France. He was an officer in the Pakistani Air Force, and was sent to Bordeaux to learn everything about Mirage jet fighter planes. So, since he was there, I decided I would go to France with my money. We went to see a travel agent, she booked my flight from Buffalo to NYC to Paris to Bordeaux. I packed my suitcase. Told everyone at school I was going to France. And excitedly waited for the day. On the day, got on the plane and finally arrived in Paris. There I waited in line to get to the immigration official. She looked at my Pakistani passport (I wasn’t an American citizen in 1977) and looked at me and went to the back to talk to someone. I was quite fluent in French then and thought I could explain whatever was the problem to them in French. She came out, looked at me and said “Visa?” All my French went out the window, heck all my English went out the window. Apparently Pakistani nationals, even if they had Green Cards (as I did) needed visas to enter France. The travel agent in Buffalo had failed to mention that to us and we had, erroneously. assumed that since I had a Green Card, I didn’t need a visa to go to France. So now I’m sobbing, tears are spilling out of my eyes copiously. I am sure she is going to send me back. And the only thought I have is how will I ever show my face in school again. Oh my god, my life will be absolutely ruined. This woman is just shaking her head. Then finally she asks where I am going and to whom. I tell her my uncle’s name and his address in Bordeaux. She and some other officials discuss this, she says my uncle and my last names are the same, I am visiting him in Bordeaux and then miraculously she stamps a visa in my passport, hands it to me and says ” Prochaine en ligne”!! Oh and my heart is singing, I literally want to grab this lady and give her a hug! But I don’t, I just say “Merci, merci, merci beaucoup!” and leave before they change their mind! I find the gate for the plane going to Bordeaux. I barely make it, but I do! My uncle meets me at the airport and I tell him and his wife about my misadventures, which luckily turned into good adventures.
Then we go to San Sebastien in Spain and again I have no visa, they give me one with a smile. We get caught in the Basque independence rebellion, amidst huge crowds chanting slogans and turning over cars and jeeps and setting them on fire. We are separated from each other only for a few minutes which feel like hours. In the end, we find each other, we have dinner, we go to bed and just stay a day and head back to Bordeaux.
Then we go to Paris. Le Tour Eiffel, Le Louvre, Avenue des Champs Elysées, La Place de la Concorde, Rive Gauche, oooh la la! I had such a wonderful time in Paris. Street vendors gave me gifts, everyone gave me smiles, I was walking on air, but then I was 17 and charmed and happy.
Then we went back to Bordeaux. There we decided to send my passport to the Embassy in Paris to have my visa renewed so I could stay a bit longer. My passport never reached the Embassy. It got lost in the mail. So then I had to have another passport issued from the Pakistani Embassy in Paris and this took quite a while. I still have my old passport issued in Paris! I went to school about 10 days after Christmas vacation was over. And everyone thought I was a rock star, having gone to France and stayed for so long. I had bought some clothes and high heeled boots and people in school would always ask me if I was a model! It was such a fun time and doubly fun because I was 17.