How I Almost Didn’t Make It to Singularity University: Moses vs The US DHS

by Socrates on June 19, 2011

“But I am a Canadian citizen” – protested I.

After failing to evoke any sympathy what-so-ever I was desperate. I decided to use my last, and what I thought was my most powerful card: “And my wife is American.”

“Son,” the DHS Officer said, “It is only me and you now, and not even Moses can part the sea for you” … “Unless I say so!”, he added after an expressive pause.

I drifted back and thought about the way I felt a few hours earlier, as I was walking into the airport to catch a plane to Singularity University.

On my way in, I felt like the king of the world – a near immortal walking on clouds. Six hours later, I stood there a changed man – not merely mortal, but very much vulnerable and totally insignificant.

His almighty significance, on the other hand, stood across and looked down at me from the height of his desk, while eyeballing me suspiciously every once-in-a-while, in-between his hunter-and-pecker-type of single key-strokes, reading big-brother-knows what kind of incriminating detail of the screen in front of him.

In the previous six hours, I had already witnessed how a respectfully looking elderly gentleman with the very unfortunate name Mohamed, was brought to tears and then quietly walked out of the airport. That was quickly topped by a middle-aged Catholic Nun, who cried for about half an hour and eventually was allowed to go through.

“So,” I thought, “perhaps despite all, Moses can still part the sea.” If that was true of Moses, reasoned I, it must be true of other, though less worthy, but equally determined people who can’t bend to accept “No” for an answer.

So I decided to keep my cool and keep answering the profoundly probing questions such as:

Officer: Who bought your tickets?

Me: Dr. Kim Solez!

Officer: Who is Kim Solez?

Me: He is a Professor at the University of Alberta.

Officer: Why did he buy your ticket?

Me: Because he likes what I do and wanted to express his support.

“Why do you carry a Yoga Mat?”

“Are you a guru?”

“Why do you shave your head?”

“What kind of shoes are these?”

“Don’t they have towels in NASA?”

In the end, after being walked out of the US DHS office 4 times, and after having re-booked and missed 4 flights, I managed to finally get through.

I would not have made it were it not for the participating of 3 separate individuals who went out of their way to help me out:

  1. Ross Shot from Singularity University who was frantically emailing me several consequent versions of my letter of acceptance.
  2. Mayesh Vallabh and Sebastian Johnson — two Air Canada employees, who kept re-booking me and waving my charges while making sure I got access to my email box to print the documents Ross was emailing.

Still, it would all have been in vain, were it not for the very fortunate fact that by my fifth attempt to go through the DHS, officers from the morning shift were all gone home and now I had the comparatively friendly older gentleman who called me “Son.”

As I said above, my wife is American. My mother-in-law is as proud American as any, and I have often exchanged friendly verbal jabs with her at the dinner table with respect to the Patriot Act and other similar issues. Still, she has remained as proud as ever, never flinching or conceding even one bit to me. Regardless, I am happy I did not travel with her on that day because something tells me that on this occasion she would have been a little less proud to be American – if not for her shaved-head son-in-law, then, for sure, for the middle aged Catholic Nun…

This is how I almost didn’t make it to Singularity University.

I intend to document and post my consequent experiences as much as I can!

To be continued…

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  • Julie Danaylov

    Wow - what an ordeal! Hopefully coming home won’t be nearly as difficult…

  • Nikki Olson

    Glad you made it Nikola! :)

  • Matt

    Unreal. Well, you made it Nikola. That’s what matters. Learn lots. And pass it on to us : )

  • Daniel Goutev

    Maybe you should have told them your top 10 reasons why they should not let you in. The strategy seems to work for you well.

  • Socrates

    Hahaha, Daniel you are so funny! Good point too - reverse psychology seems to work best with respect to me ;-)

  • Snap-shots from My First 4 Days at Singularity University

    [...] Ross Shot - one of the three people who saved me when the DHS held me at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, Canada. (Shaved-heads of the world unite! We have [...]

  • CMStewart

    And now victory is all the more sweeter. Keep plowing through, Nikola. You are an inspiration. :)

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