The Time I Got Deported from India

One of my clients hired me to deliver four workshops in April for one of their clients (“Acme”).  I delivered two in the U.S. at Acme headquarters and two overseas. Because of Acme’s scheduling constraints, I needed to deliver the two workshops in the U.S. back-to-back in the same week, followed by a workshop in Brazil the following week, followed by a workshop in India the week after that.

For me, this is the ideal business trip.  I’d never to been to Brazil or India before.  I reached out to all of my friends who have traveled to Brazil and India and asked for advice.  All of it was great and useful and aimed at my time in India:  don’t drink tap water because you’re not acclimated to their micro-organisms; for the same reason, don’t eat anything raw; in case you don’t care for the local food, make sure you take prepackaged snacks with you; and make sure your elbows and knees and collarbones are covered.

I delivered the workshop in Brazil, flew home, rotated out the contents of my suitcase, slept at home for one night, then headed to the airport for the first of my flights to

India.  I flew 9.5 hours from Dallas to Frankfurt, had a 4-hour layover, then flew 9.5 hours from Frankfurt to Bangalore, landing around 1am Bangalore time.  I stumbled off the plane and hustled to the immigration line, clutching the tiny piece of paper that asked for the usual travel information (name, citizenship, flight, purpose of visit, etc.) and one unusual piece of data, which was all the countries I’d visited in the six days prior to arrival in India.  I listed the U.S. and Brazil and then added Germany after some internal debate, even though I hadn’t sniffed any fresh air while at the Frankfurt airport.

I snaked through the line with dozens and dozens of other bleary, sticky foreigners and got called to the next available booth.  The official checked that I had a visa and had one hand poised to stamp my passport and the other one poised to motion me through, when he looked at the tiny, business card-sized piece of paper and stopped.  He quizzed me about the countries I’d listed, and I thought he was caught up in the discrepancy between stating I’d been in Germany and not seeing corresponding stamps in my passport.  I explained the layover, and then he asked me for my yellow card.

I’d just been in Brazil, where the World Cup had been a frequent topic of conversation.  His request confused me – I don’t referee soccer games.  In my defense, it was about 1:45am.  He explained that he needed the yellow card that lists the vaccinations I’ve had because I’d been to Brazil.

I have had the great, good fortune to travel to Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and Australia.  On none of those trips did I bring my vaccination card with me.  I keep them at home in safe places.  He called his supervisor, who I thought would give me a pro forma interrogation and then wave me through.  Instead, he pulled me out of line and into the medical room.

The gentleman we woke up there explained to me that because I’d been in Brazil in the previous six days, I posed a yellow fever risk to the country of India.  “Brazil has yellow fever.  India does not.”  In my frustrated stupor, I wanted to retort something negative about India’s reputation with respect to all the other scary diseases.  I didn’t.  Then he revealed to me that without proof of vaccination against yellow fever, my options were either to sit in quarantine in an Indian hospital for three days or leave the country on the next flight out, which would be the next day.  Then he asked to see my yellow card again.

I explained that my yellow card was back in Texas.  I also explained that I had been in a major city in a business hotel in Brazil.  He said it didn’t matter.  I asked him if he could test my blood to see if I had yellow fever.  He declined.  I asked how yellow fever gets spread.  When he said mosquitoes, I offered to strip and let someone check me for mosquito bites.  He declined.  He repeated that my choices were quarantine or deportation, and that it would be a waste of money for me to be in quarantine.  I asked him, “Is there a FINE I could pay?  Because I would be happy to pay a FINE.”  The answer, of course, was no.  I asked him how much quarantine would cost, and he told me an amount in rupees that came to about $250.

Despite T-Mobile’s claims, my cell phone refused to roam in India, so I couldn’t call my client in the U.S.  The medical officer wouldn’t let me call them using his landline.  It was about 2:20am by this point, and I couldn’t reach my Acme contact in India – even if I’d worked up enough courage to wake him up, I didn’t have his cell phone number.  Luckily, I have a Google Voice account, and the medical officer let me use his computer, so I texted my clients in the U.S. over the internet.

After they got over their initial disbelief, we decided to try quarantine and hope that Acme would be able to shift the start of the workshop back by a day.  Right when I relayed my decision to the medical officer, two other gentleman showed up with a guard and a boarding pass and told me to get my stuff – my plane was leaving in 15 minutes, not the next day.  Quarantine was no longer an option.

After several interactions with soldiers who had automatic rifles slung across their shoulders, I got escorted to the gate and directed to the last open seat on the plane that I flew to Bangalore.  They sent me back to Frankfurt on the horse I rode in on.  I waited for someone to fetch me off the plane, saying that it was all a misunderstanding.  It wasn’t until the door closed, we took off, and I sat awake dumbfounded for three more hours in the dark that I accepted that I had been deported from India.  I thought my most traumatic, international, road warrior story was going to be the time I accidentally almost killed my boss with peanuts in Sydney.  Wrong again.

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