The Semi-Adventures of a Nomadic Mathematician Rotating Header Image

No Fixed Abode

I was flown to Silicon Valley for a full day of interviews for a job. The third or fourth interview was by a no-nonsense guy from HR. His first question was: where do you live? I could not answer this.

I exist in a legal blackhole of being homeless by choice. In the UK, the concept is called “no fixed abode”, and it counts as a valid residential address. Unfortunately I do not have a country of residence either, which complicates matters further.

The view of London

The people of the green and lovely UK are allowed to have no fixed abode. Her Majesty’s Government approves it.

Check-in personnel at airports give me the biggest pain for the sin of living from a backpack. I was very close to be denied boarding in Düsseldorf on the way to Trinidad, because I did not have a return ticket to Europe. I proposed to purchase a fully refundable ticket to Europe. An agitated lady from ground staff tried to book it with through the phone. The confirmation was not coming and the gate was closing, so she let me go. I was finally allowed to fly to New York, and then to my destination. Luckily my credit company did not let the purchase go through.

I fared far worse at the airport in Barbados. Again, they demanded a return ticket to Europe. A European must live in Europe, right? It is unimaginable that an EU citizen lives in a non-EU country. I was to produce a return ticket to an EU country. Any country would do, they said, which only showed how retarded their thinking was. We are well into the 21st century, and the way people think did not change since nation states were formed two to three hundred years ago. So we purchased a fully refundable ticket to a random European city — I vaguely recall it was Paris — and I was allowed to check in for my flight to the next Caribbean island.

Since then, I always forge fake return reservations if I fly one-way. You only need a PDF editor. People blindly believe that if a reservation is printed, then it must be genuine.

The other, much lesser problem is immigration. I used to linger around in a country until my tourist visa allowed, but if I stated on the arrival card that I wanted to stay that long, that only invited brainless questions. Now I say maximum a week, and if they ask my purpose, I say I came for a conference. Once in a while, they ask for the name of the conference. If the name has “quantum” in it, that is sufficient to deter them from further interrogation.

Organized by the Quantum Tattoo Studio

“I am here to attend the 14th Annual International Symposium on Quantum Tattoos. I am totally not a digital nomad and will leave your respected country in a week.”

Once, and only once I tried to do a visa run, and extend my ninety-day visit by another ninety days. It was to my semi-home, Singapore. When I exited through the causeway to Malaysia, I asked the officer if there was a minimum stay outside Singapore. He said I could return the same day, and I would be welcome as long as I could afford staying there. So I had breakfast in Malaysia, and I turned right back — I had no intention in missing my upcoming salsa class. The immigration officer on the way back was a lot less lenient, and she did not even take into consideration that a university in the country had granted me a PhD just a few years prior. I was ushered into a room for special interrogation, along with decidedly dodgy looking characters whom I would not let in to Singapore either. They took at least ten photos of me — only a mug shot was missing. My fingerprints were scanned a few more times, and my belongings were rummaged through. They also went through my emails to verify whether I was actually to give a seminar at the university as I had stated. The seminar had “quantum” in the title, of course, but this time the event was for real. So I was allowed to enter, with a warning that I would not be let in again. Fair enough, there is so much hospitality a country can offer to nomads.

I am nomadic even if I stay in the same country. Owning only a few possessions makes moving around too easy. I can never resist the temptation. I always rent short-term, anything between a few weeks and two, maximum three months, and opportunistically move if I spot a good deal or a gem in a neighbourhood I like. Why stare at the bitter faces of the same neighbours when I have a choice? I have no belongings, money, or responsibilities. I only have my freedom, so I try to make the most of it.

Over a decade, I gradually became more and more nomadic. For years, my bag was so small I could carry it on board of an aircraft. I told the HR guy who was interviewing me that my residence was a difficult question. He responded that it was an easy question. A few hours later I flew back to Burkina Faso, and eventually I did not get the job.

Comments are closed.