Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dear Travel-related People, It's Not You...It's Me

Making my way from Jamaica, as I approached the security checkpoint, I removed all items from my person that'd likely set off the alert. Holding my passport, I made my way through the arc. No beep. I started eyeing the belt that held my laptop and hand bag. Next thing I knew, the security officer was telling me to "step this way" and immediately proceeded to start patting me down. No heads-up. I protested. "The machine didn't go off!" I said. "We can still pat you down," she said. As her hands made their way over my body, it took every thing in me not to slap them away from me. I was incensed! I had done everything I was required to do to prevent such a thing from happening, and it happened anyway. As she continued to pat, involuntarily, I backed away. I have traveled many times by air. I have never been pat down by hand before. The one or two other times were by wand. I could not get away fast enough. If there's no beep, one is allowed to proceed, isn't one? Somehow, I was of the impression that that was a standard rule that applied at all airports. Not so at the Norman Manley International Airport. Apparently.

Making my way from Toronto, as I approached the security checkpoint, I removed all items from my person that'd likely set off the alert. Holding my passport, I made my way through the arc. No beep. I started eyeing the belt that held my laptop and handbag. I approached the belt unhindered.
"Is this your bag?" The security officer on the other side of the belt enquired.
"Yes, it is," I replied, stiffening.
"I'm gonna take a look at what's inside," she said, half to me and half to the other security woman seated at the x-ray machine.
She proceeded, with gloved hands, to shift items and remove items and walk back to the x-ray officer then back to the bag then back to the x-ray woman asking her something or the other about the pack of Clearasil face wipes she'd happily discovered. X-ray woman must've told her they were okay. She came back to the bag, and dug and searched.
"What are you looking for?" I'd had enough.
"...", as she proceeded to dig.
"What are you looking for?" I asked again.
"...", face down ignoring me.
"Are you not obligated to respond?"
"I'm just looking for something." She looked up, while digging.
I shook my head and picked up my purse from the bag.
"Ma'am, please calm down," she said.
"I'm simply removing my purse with my very valuable items, ID and such," I replied.
She proceeded to search for God He knows what. Just because she could. Apparently. A few seconds later, she was done.
"Thank you for your patience," she said.
It was better to remain silent, so I did. I retrieved my bag and left the area.

Making my way to customs in Jamaica, I held my bag of left-over lunch and fruits (cherries). I had indicated on the customs form that I had fruits. The customs officer asked what they were. I told her. She said to "put them in the bin over there." On my way to the bin, I dropped the bag and stepped on it. Then, I put the bag in the bin. In under 5 seconds, she was about 6 inches from my face yelling and asking why I did that. I didn't flinch, nor was I offended by her animated and aggressive approach. I was dealing with Jamaica's customs officers and I expected no less - truth be told. In rapid succession, she asked why I did it. In rapid succession, I started to reply. Finally, as we were both not getting anywhere, I said, "If you will allow me to reply, I will let you know." She took a deep breath, held her hands together below her very pregnant tummy and said, "Okay, go ahead."
"If the fruits aren't good enough to enter the country, then they simply aren't edible," I told her.
By then, about three or four other customs officers had come around. One of them kept asking me the same thing. I told her the same thing. She asked again. I told her the same thing. Again. Not sure whether she was expecting me to tell her something else; something she wanted to hear. She called me rude. That was...telling. They took it as an affront. Apparently. I wonder why. (I don't, actually.)

While paying the JMD$10,000 fine (I had stepped outside to get the funds from my dad. I had CAD funds, but the thought of changing them at the dismal exchange rate at the cambio right there, pained me. Side note: I later handed my dad the funds in repayment. He said to keep it. Bless his heart.) I heard one person in line at the cashier saying how he was charged for his laptop. A friend of his had bought him one on sale a month ago. The customs officers decided it was new. He paid JMD$6,000. As he shook his head in dismay, he ended his story, "Is alright. Next time mi know wha mi a go do." That was...telling.

I paid the fine for breaching S.198(4) of the Customs Act. I had destroyed the item to prevent seizure by a customs officer or stte. The officer had originally written $5,000, but her supervisor said to change it to $10,000. I possess no qualms about facing the consequences of my actions. It's a personal philosophy. I realized...figured, rather, that if I proceeded to ask them to define seizure and prevent and destroy, I would likely have another $5,000 or $10,000 slapped on as a "mouthing off" charge. Because they could. Also, depending on the nature of the breach (I s'pose) one could be fined up to $100,000. (And  the whole thing had already taken about 45 minutes. Because they could.) I let it be.

Just before handing my passport back to me, the customs officer decided to explain the procedure for acquiring a permit to bring fruits into the country. I asked whether that would mean I would not be charged a fee if the inspecting officer decided the fruits were okay. She assured me that's what it meant. I quickly imagined that my definition of okay might very well differ. Plus, I'd only bother to go that route simply to test that theory. I said none of this. I did tell her that the rationale for the "breach" was something we disagreed on. I shrugged, closing the door to further conversation. My people had long been waiting outside. We said our goodbyes and I took my passport and left.

It took several days but I finally put my finger on what really bothered me about that customs episode. Comments from friends and family with whom I cared to share it, telling me good on me because seizure usually resulted in them taking the items for themselves, didn't make me feel better. The certainty that others who hear it at some point will say I was mean, won't make me feel worse. The thing? It becomes a major challenge for me to accept going along with what is required, when what is required makes absolutely no sense to me. That was the button that pushed me. I eventually assured myself that everyone has their button. After all, I'm only human.

"Human. It's been a while since anyone's called me that." - Monk

Between the impositions and intrusions and a host of things up with which I don't want to put during cross-border travel, I'm seriously considering staying put for a while. Canada is a big country. I should get out more and see more of it.

(Oh, btw, this post was due on the 18th. Sorry. I...I was way too tired to write yesterday. Thanks for reading!)


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