George is my contact on this new NoBorders business. We meet in a bar in zone 2 for a coffee. I thought it weird to have a one to one conversation about volunteering over a coffee, but when I see George he is at a table talking to some five other people. We all introduce each other and then they resume the conversation, which seems to be at the stage of the actual travelling to the detention centre, somewhere in zone 6. (note below)

‘Do you know where the airport is, Heathrow Airport?’ ‘Yes somewhere at the end of the Picadilly line.’
‘Yes that is where we have to get to. Both detention centres are next to each other, but the border between two boroughs lays between the two, so one is in Colnbrook and the other is in Harmondsworth. We go to Colnbrook. It is five pounds just one way so we understand it is a lot of money for people on the dole. If you are on benefits you should ask for a reimbursement.’

For the first time and hopefully for the last, I need to ask for that. I spent all my savings on that trip to Palestine, now I am living on a friend’s loan and although I am already working in The Guardian, I will not have my first salary until the end of February. George writes my request together with some others’ naturally, it is a done thing. Then they talk about the visit itself. It seems that all these people have done this other times. They talk about what can happen, based on their own experiences. I say: ‘I don’t think I can do this on my own on my first time’. ‘No, of course not’. george produces a diary, where he has noted who is going to visit on what days. I pick up one of those days so I will go with some one more experienced and now that is sorted I can concentrate on their stories.

‘No it is not a jail, but it will feel like one, especially the first time’.

‘Yes, they search you as you enter. You have to leave your handbag, and all your possessions including anything metallic outside. You need a pound coin to put your things in a locker. Some times, you can go in with some pen and paper, but not much, because this is only a social visit. Yes, it is a social visit and you have to say that you are a friend of whoever you are visiting. You must learn or at least write down and pretend you know the full name of the guy you are going to visit because they will not let you in without the name, and visiting that guy is the purpose of the trip.’

‘Also, it seems that they have been asking from what group you are coming from, what group you belong to. Because most of them are Africans and we are all Europeans and it is a bit too obvious that we are not in their natural circle of friends.’

‘Do what you feel comfortable with. Some people have been mentioning noborders and it has been ok, others have reported lately that saying noborders causes problems, one was not let in but we are not sure if it was because of mentioning noborders or because of the heated discussion that followed. Another option is to make up a name, and another one is to say the truth, that we are forming the group and we have not decided on a name yet. Yes, because we are linked to noborders and some of us are in both, but we want to keep them separate.’

To finish the meeting George gives me the names and numbers of the people I am going to Heathrow with.

The London transport system works in concentric zones, so zone 1 is a not-exact, small-ish circle in the very centre, zone 2 is the section of a bigger circle that is not zone 1, and so on until zone 6, which in an underground journey can be an hour away from zone 1.