Well, let me tell you. She, or should I say, it, is what you need to travel to the United States of America if you have a passport on which visa is waived. I have a passport on which visa is waived and I haven’t been to the USA in a couple of years so I didn’t know about ESTA.
Imagine my absolute shock when, after having discovered that the plane was leaving three hours late, so having hung around the airport extra time, and then having said my goodbyes to those who love me at the goodbye spot and waved through the line to the place where you have to take off your shoes and received all the well wishes for a fantastic trip and then trudged the distance from passport control to gate A9 and then stood in the line to take of my shoes once again and to have my body frisked; after all this imagine my shock when I was told by the big burley security guy that he needs to see my ESTA.
‘But I’m travelling on a Brit passport’, quoth I. I’ don’t need a visa’.
‘It’s not a visa, it’s an ESTA’. Quoth he.
‘Who’s ESTA’’, I enquired. And in response, to my further shock and absolute horror, he pointed to the other way and told me to go back to South Africa. “But I want to go to America”. “No, not without ESTA”. I considered fighting for my right to fly to America, but what would have been the point. I mean there are terrorist people out there and I don’t want to be mistaken for one of them. I had already relinquished my bottle of water, my rose scented shower gel and that fantastic stuff for my hair which I thought would make me look delectable in the passport control line at JKF. One wants to look ones best arriving in other people’s countries. One doesn’t want to let South Africa down.
And so, with total disappointment and confusion and considerable anger, but with humility, I made my way from the boarding gate all the way back up the ramp, through the departure lounge, which was now devoid of life because of the lateness of the hour, all the way to arrivals to have my passport stamped again and then to the arrivals hall which was deserted except for the one who loves me who turned around as soon as I called and came back to get me. It was a lonely trek.
I blamed the travel agent, but actually, that wasn’t fair. It’s not their fault. They didn’t know. No one knew. ESTA, or Auntie Esta, is one of the secrets that is kept from infrequent travellers such as myself. Surely there should be billboard sized announcements about this stuff. Surely CNN, BBC and E should be all a-buzz with the news that Auntie Esta has entered the travel arena and if you don’t pack her in your travel pouch and take her with you she will bump you and your luggage off the flight even as you approach the boarding gate because she will not be ignored.