Sunday, September 7, 2008

Homeland Security in Action

By Madeleine Kando

My flight back was uneventful and actually went by fast. I was sitting next to a real big guy and originally thought, 'just my luck. I am sitting next to a meat head who is going to hog the arm rest for the next 7 hours'. But we started to chat and he turned out to be very interesting to talk to.

He was in law enforcement and had been a soldier in Operation Desert Storm. He lived in a small town in Western Massachusetts and had grown up in Vermont. He was returning from a 5-day visit to Amsterdam to meet some old army buddies.

I told him about Holland, the Delta Works, we talked about why Europe is so anti-American, and lots of other things. He showed me an article about the Dutch arms trade during the American Revolution. This was in a magazine called the 'American Rifleman' published by the NRA. 'You can have the magazine if you want', he said. So I put it in my bag to read later.

As usual, when I enter the immigration hall at Logan Airport, I get butterflies in my stomach. Probably the remnants of a deep seated fear of being kicked out of a country, having been a political refugee as a child. And an irrational fear that a 'green card' does not give you the same right to enter the US as an American Passport.

But all went smoothly and I felt like a long distance runner who is about to make it to the finish line safely, when all of a sudden this young customs officer comes up to me and directs me to a side exit.

I am o.k. I think to myself. I am practically home free, this is just to check my customs card. But he starts to ask me all sorts of weird questions: have I been on a farm in the Netherlands, am I bringing in any food that was not bought at the airport.. Oops, Jesus. I had totally forgotten about a sandwich that I bought in a gas station at Schiphol (Amsterdam Airport) and which I had forgotten to consume on the airplane. What with all the talk about Dutch arms trade and all.

Now the shit hits the fan. He wants me to tell him everything about my visit. Where I had been, what I had done. He opens my bag and the first thing he sees is the gun magazine! 'Are you into guns, mam?'

I explained about the ex-soldier who had given me the magazine. But that made him even more suspicious. What kind of soldier, where was the soldier from? Oh God! He thinks I am a terrorist.

Then he picks up a video that my mother gave me about the tulip industry in Holland. It's called 'Tulip Gold', but the cover is all written in Dutch. 'Are you planning on importing tulip bulbs, mam?'. ‘No, no, this is just a documentary on how the Dutch grow tulips'.

'Just a moment please'. He goes over to his supervisor. They both scrutinize the video and glance suspiciously over their shoulder towards me. Finally he comes back and picks up another item from my messy suitcase (Jesus, why didn't I put my dirty underwear somewhere less visible?). It's a pair of swim goggles. 'Have you been to any public swimming pools, mam?' Yes, of course, I am thinking to myself. I don't usually like to swim in my bathtub.

He picks up the roll of magazines that I bought at Schiphol: some in French, some in Dutch.. He leafs through them, wondering if I am importing some secret terrorist code in an obscure incomprehensible language. After some more rummaging through dirty underwear he allows me to repack my suitcase and tells me that unfortunately he will have to confiscate my ham and cheese sandwich.

Boy, what an ordeal. Why did he pick ME? I think I know why. I had the misfortune of having taken a very wobbly cart for my suitcase and right before I went through the final customs exit I turned back and was looking for another cart that was not as difficult to maneuver. He must have seen me and maybe he thought what the hell is SHE doing, trying to avoid customs? I don't know.

Anyway, I am back home now. Safe behind my desk. Traveling sure keeps you on your toes, don't you think? leave comment here