As they say Hotel, Motel and Patel are synonymous in America. With mass exodus of Patels to America this surname has become favourite with American consulate to reject visa as perceived sure candidate to settle in USA.
Farmlands shrinking and lack of education, supported by thick kinship bond, many farmer families from Mehsana are migrating to USA. If not legally, then through alternative channels. Travelling as ‘hamshakal’, look alike, of someone with visa and passport is one popular channel while smuggling via road route through South America be the other. Desperation drives them to emigrate by hook or crook. And at no lesser cost than twenty to thirty lakh. Many get caught, deported or jailed and yet the exodus continues.
Here is a true, firsthand account of a village youth from Mehsana desperately travelling to USA through non-formal routes. An arduous five months plight beginning from village on August 16 to reaching Arizona’s Florence city on January 15. Major description begins from October 31 after reaching Panama. Journey, with agent began in a bus ride to Chiriquí province for eight hours, on way to Costa Rica. Bus dropped the group of six men at border by night. Border was to be crossed on foot. Baggage was left in mini bus which got caught and confiscated, or more likely robbed, at check post and all clothing and belonging was lost.
To beat the manhunt, group walked for an hour in live gutter and hid within for three hours. In wee hours, group was moved out and with no additional clothes paraded stripped naked, along with an agent, by holding hands to cross across a fast flowing waters of river. Nine in morning they reached San Jose. Without any food by washing the same clothes after three hour’s rest the group began further by hey loaded lorry to border of Nicaragua by night. Border was thickly vegetated and fenced with barbed wire. By two at night group crossed the border. New agent received them and rode them to Managua city. Here by chance they met two Punjabi gentlemen who had also arrived through some other agent. Learning about their plight they offered them rice and potato sabji, which they ate after three and a half days of tiring journey. This incidentally was a Diwali day.
Now the group enlarged to 24. They reached Honduras at two by night. Again stripping themselves naked they crossed relatively shallower river between Honduras and Salvador. This happened to be a New Year day. They could rest for eight hours, bathe in hotel, have food and milk and resume after two day’s rest. Third day with five-five persons hidden in the trunk of luxury bus reached Guatemala. A lady agent received the group and kept them for few days at her place and fed at her restaurant.
As agent from Panama had not sent the agreed share of money the group was detained, as ransom, for month and a half. After receiving the money, on December 14, they were allowed to leave. Again stuffed in trunk they reached Takun. Once again a walk through river and the lone pair of clothes meant wearing them through the day and stripping and washing through nights. Walk and bicycling reached them to major road leading to Tapachula. After having some rice as a snack the group, for a change, had a train ride, past mid night, till border. Again the walk through border till dawn. Day was spent hiding in sugarcane farm.
Again walking by night, they reached one large hall building where now they found other similar consignment of fellow humans. Now they were a cargo of 35 persons. Walk and railway ride in engine machine dickey stuffed with six persons they reached Cochiti city. Agents greeted them with Coke. There was an internal fight between agents and the group got stranded in a Guava field in accompany of mosquitoes. Twelve days were passed under a tin shed. By trailer they reached the Pueblo town. Now group enlarged to 70. Human cargo of 70 in a sealed locked trailer travelled for 31 hours with no food or water. That happened to be a kite flying day. Agent fed the group at his home. After half a day’s rest they travelled to Mexican border.
They hid and walked through deep trenches in cold winter nights. After rocky strata the next day was through Jungles. Eventually on January 16, they managed to reach Florence city in Arizona by ten at night. Of course they got caught in police patrolling which they managed to escape by adjustments. Arriving finally in the United States of America. Five months and thirty kilo weight loss later.
Even later an individual was jailed in USA and was bailed out by another village cousin arrived earlier through another channel and having settled eventually. Even after arriving one could not appear in public or got caught in any act or event involving demand for legal documents. So essentially working as back of the curtain help at relative or village acquaintance’s place. Cannot visit back home for over decade or so.
Parents may die in village and even children may get married back home without attendance of son or father respectively. And yet, in over fifteen years debt is wiped out and homes are built and refurbished with dollar money. Phones, skypes and net keep them connected. As such the hope — a dream of settling abroad, one day, keeps them connected.
As the friend, whose detailed account is narrated here, says in his parting remark that I write these in detail to let my young aspirants from village think before embarking on such a route. Avoid them if you can. He has returned after seventeen years and not managed to secure official status to return to USA yet. Perhaps foreign return to resettle in homeland...
The writer is an Ahmedabad-based architect. firstname.lastname@example.org