Thursday, April 19, 2007

Out of Amsterdam

I hate airports, I really do. I get so nervous when I travel that Yassine says I begin to look suspicious. Especially when that dreadful message about the threat level being increased to orange or whatever blares out on the intercom system, as I casually peruse through the seating area, I feel that the collective glances of the entire waiting area are on me, as if they were thinking “what if its her?”

The same of course, goes for the airplane. As I try to find my seat, consciously attempting to act just like anyone else, I can sense the anxiety-eyes jolting up in fear that I might be “the one”, and heaven forbid, the one who is seated next to “Them”.

It gets really bad when I’m going through security, especially in busy airports.

Passengers many in a rush, frantically remove their shoes, bag their liquids, and throw away their water bottles, some with grunts of annoyance. And every now and then I’ll notice someone briefly staring me down, as if to say “This is all your fault. Your people. Your kind. They are responsible for making our airport experiences so miserable. Because of YOU-I have to toss out my Snapple iced tea and my lancome toner."

Then another, more sympathetic glance, as if in my defense “you are a victim too”, all said in silence.

But I don’t want either of them. By that point I just want to disappear, become totally invisible. I just want to pas through that airport and get to my gate like anyone else, without the accusatory, uncertain, or sympathetic glances.

More often than not, my airports experiences go something like that. I am sometimes pleasantly surprised, and don’t get questioned or screened in front of a swarm of passengers.

But on Sunday, I left Amsterdam the conclusion of the DEAF conference. I reach my gate out of breath after a mad dash to make my flight on time. Not surprisingly, I was stopped by security personnel for further questioning. The questioning was only unusual in that it happened on my way OUT of Amsterdam, not in, and involved detailed questionings about what I was doing in the Netherlands, not why I was headed to the United States.

As is often the case with these “routine questions”, everything and anything you say suddenly takes on new meaning, and can seem absurdly incriminating.

It went something like this:

Airport guy: “Step over here please”.

I step beyond the podium accidentally.

Airport guy: “I said HERE, not there.

“So…what were you doing in the Netherlands?”

Me: “Attending a conference. In Rotterdam. The Dutch Electronic Art Festival.”

Airport guy: “Aha…”

Me: “No, really.”

Airport guy: “Do you have an invitation?”

Me: “Don’t you usually ask for that on the way in?”

Stern stare.

Me (nervously): “ah, you’re in luck, I still have it...”

Airport guy: “And what exactly were you presenting?”

Why the hell does that matter???

Me, now sounding ridiculous and completely unconvincing: “um… a project I am working with some friends…an urban tourism mashup of Tel Aviv and Gaza.”

Blank stare

“Do you want me to show you the maps?”

Airport guy: “Please.”

He looks at maps confused and walks over to show them to his supervisor.

“And where were your team members from?”

What the hell does that have to do with anything??

Me: “Um…Israel, France, and New York…” I decide not to mention the fact that Thomas, the Frenchman, was mistakenly arrested in JFK after being confused for an Algerian terrorist; or that Kati’s apartment is tapped.

Airport guy: “Why were you in Qatar and Oslo last year?”

Me: “What?”

Airport guy: “You have visas here…”

Me, stammering: “Oh right…um….because… I was visiting Aljazeera, who are one of my employers.”

Airport guy: “Do you have something to verify that? A press card?”

Me: “What? No. I freelance.”

Airport guy: “Of course you do.”

Me: “Excuse me?”

Airport guy: “Nothing. And Oslo?”

I was making contact with the local members of the YANH cell there you moron, what do you think I was doing??

Me: “Attending a conference on Globalization and media activism.”

Airport dude: “Aha. Let me run this by my supervisor again.”

After an animated briefing to his superior that includes the maps and the invitation, I am allowed to move onto the plane.

The YANH group posing for a classy photo (minus Kati's windblown hair) on a Rotterdam bridge.

An incriminating photo shot by Dan of me in my staring at my hotel room (yes, this really was my hotel room. It had a mural of a spanish comic strip on the wall, neon green doors, and orange curtains. Oh, and tons of mosquitos. I counted 35 bites.)


Blogger pacalaga said...

I hope you either report him to airport authorities or write a piece for the Amsterdam paper. That's harassment. What a jerk he was.
That is quite a hotel room. I'm not sure I could sleep with all those giant eyes on the walls.

8:27 PM  
Blogger Kiyotoe said...

I'm sorry you had to go through that and I'm not trying to compare or contrast our lives in any way (how could I, I just met you/your blog) but as a young black man in America, I've gone through similar situations too often for my liking.

The best i can do to remain the "bigger person" is feel sorry for that person and their ignorance, hoping one day for some breakthrough that will shed some light on their dim impression of the world.

1:30 AM  
Blogger iNFaMoUsJeSt said...

That guy should be fired... bah, I empathize though. Me and my mother get the same treatment in the US when we go to public places and we have to talk to officials. There are so many times when I wish I could say something to defend myself and attack them just like they are attacking me. But if we did then we'd fall into their trap. The fact that we can have self control shows us who is the better person ;)
Nice hotel room btw

1:59 AM  
Blogger Michellene said...

Thank you for posting your experiences. I have nothing to offer or compare.

I appreciate reading your blog and I plan on reading you regularly.


5:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

assalam aalikom!
Let me first introduce myself , i am Abdallah from Gaza strip, who is a refugee too . Its really strange , how a country which suppose to be the country , where they claim they are the best who respect the human rights , and freedom and democracy is the country who have this treatment.
Nice blog , keep your writing sister! its really sweet to read such blogs which written out of Gaza! which clear our situation and discribe it with honestly. Although i feel so obressed by the external world eyes , but who knows .. may such blog clear the facts for them. Anyway i will back to your blog sooner sister
best wishes
and happy birthday to yusif " i know i am too late , asif! "
wassalam aalikom
Gaza strip

11:06 AM  
Blogger herman said...

In name of the Dutch people I would like to appologize for the rude way you were treated!
If I would have been there too, I would have helped you.

Bless you and your people,


3:49 PM  

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