Oct 17th, 2018
Um. So. Tell me how the fuck. Did I. Just endure. Four pat-downs in the space of 24 hours??? As I flew out of Calgary, I was reminded of how much I hate flying to and through the United States. Here’s the tea:
It Oct 17th, and I’m buzzing to go on my adventure. I’m flying Delta. I check in, and it’s all good. I go through security and I’m told that I’ve been selected for a random security screening.
Okay, whatever. My Chuck Taylor’s come off. I put my arms up and get patted down. A person in uniform asks, “Are these your bags?” and I confirm. A stranger unpacks both of my carry-ons. They touch my things with a little cloth thingy on a stick (don’t know what else to call it) and then put the thingy in a machine that tells them there is no alarm. I’ve been randomly selected before. When they do this part, I honestly don’t know what they’re looking for. Anthrax? Is that still a thing? As curious as I am, I feel I can’t ask. Anyways.
I repack my bag, and I’m so jazzed to get on my flight...until I encounter the monster that is US Customs.
I speak to a Black customs officer who asks me what I’ll be doing in the United States. I tell him I want to connect with American Black History and he smiles. He tells me he is from Texas. He’s friendly. But the smile on his face turns into a wrinkle on his nose as he says “I don’t know why it’s doing that.” He gazes at his screen.
Enter the part of the story where my life goes to shambles:
Within seconds, a smiling white man (so fucking suspect...) approaches. Brotha gives him my passport and I am escorted into a back room? Office? Place. I’m told to sit. I do, besides an elderly man of South Asian descent. The sign in front of me says that the use of cell phones is prohibited. NBC News (I think) plays on a TV screen. I choose to stay cool, despite the fact that I really don’t know what’s going on, and this room has no windows.
The smiling white man reappears and mispronounces my name. I go to his counter, lol and this part I almost don’t even know how to describe because I’m still processing. Let’s just call it “questions”. Smiling white guy calls a friend over who I will refer to as non smiling white guy. These are some (but not all) of the questions they asked me:
Now I’m worried. These two men who don’t care about me search my belongings. For what? I don’t know. I’ve got to hand it to them for being efficient. Because this is only a 10 day trip, I only brought carry-ons. They each took a bag. Smiling white guy takes my little suitcase, so my clothes, toiletries, bras and underwear. Non smiling white guy goes through my backpack, so my books, notes, day planner.
There is a very special journal I have kept since 2016 called “Manifestations”. It has all of my deepest fears and hopes and dreams. It is where I write about everything I want. It is where I ask for the guidance of my ancestors. It is where I plead with God. This book has a list of 28 goals, dreams, and affirmations that I invite into fruition on a daily basis. It is so sacred to me that no one has ever seen it. He reads it.
I feel naked. He asks me how many of my dreams I have accomplished. I laugh nervously, but I tell him it’s embarrassing. Part of me wants to cry, but I feel like I will make matters worse for myself so I just play it cool.
As I write this, I am remembering several years ago when my family and I went to the States for the day, and we dealt with a very mean customs officer. I remember that we had to do our fingerprints he dug his finger nail into each of my fingers as he directed my prints onto the scanner. It hurt. I remember being scared, and that he spoke to my father with great aggression and disrespect. My dad, who is naturally hot headed, stayed cool. Calm. He even smiled. We got through but I remember feeling gross about it.
Back to the present: They tell me to unlock my phone and put it on airplane mode. They take my phone. They look at an email I have open. Then they give me this piece of paper.
They tell me to sit down at the other side of the room and they go through my phone together, whispering to each other, pointing at my screen. This goes on for maybe 20 minutes? I can’t say exactly because I don’t wear a watch and I couldn’t check my phone. They disappear with my phone. One of them comes out of a different door and asks me some more questions. He takes my passport, and asks me again how long I’ve lived at my current address for the second time. He asks me how much my rent is, and when I tell him he asks if this includes utilities. I say, “yes” and he says, “that’s a good deal!”
What the fuck is happening? At one point, non smiling white guy crossed the room with what looks like his lunch. There are no clocks on the wall, by the way, so I have no idea how long I have been here. I’m starting to ask myself what I have done wrong. You know what is on the wall? A plaque with the American flag that says something along the lines of “With dignity and integrity, we will protect our people, homeland and values at all costs”. Above that is a photo of smiling Donald Trump.
Kill. Me. Now.
Eventually I’m given all my stuff back and released without explanation. They might have told me to have a good flight? Smiling white guy thanks me for my cooperation. I finally look at the time. It’s 3:07 PM. My flight was at 3:05.
I get rebooked on another flight, but the timing sucks. I now have to wait for 14,862.5 hours (well that’s what it feels like) for another flight. I’ll now be reaching Kansas City tomorrow at 2 PM instead of tonight at 10 PM. Before I leave Calgary (for real this time) I am patted down again and two more strangers search my shit. They seem like nice ladies but I’m sooooo over this I’m about to cryyyyyyyyyyy in publiccccc this day is fuckingggggg endless my dude.
I finally leave. It’ll take me 3 flights now instead of 2. I have a trash 10 hour layover in Salt Lake City. Delta refuses to pay for a hotel room for me or give me any food vouchers because they say it’s not their fault that customs took long and I missed the plane. I get a hotel room on my own dime so that I can at least nap and shower.
The next day when I get to the airport in Salt Lake, my boarding pass beeps at security. They close down the lane I’m in and here we go. My bags are searched for the millionth time. I am patted down. The lady is rough when she inspects my groin for bombs (or whatever they were looking for). Before she sweeps the palms of her hands down my inner and outer thigh, she hits my private parts with a bit of force. I jump. I breathe. They touch my belongings and hands with a gray thingy and then put it in a machine which tells them there is an alarm. For what I don’t know. I get escorted to a room. I’m patted down by a gentler lady. A man comes though after a minute or so and says I’m free to go. They ask if I want help repacking my bags. I’m so tired of strangers touching my things, so I say no. The lady who patted my down roughly thanks me for my cooperation.
Why am I being thanked for cooperting in something I didn’t choose? I feel like I don’t own myself here. Now my bags, not my body. I’m exhausted.
I FINALLY make it to Kansas City and I am greeted by my radiant cousin, Ngosa. He is Zambian-American, and he lives here. We call each other “Twinny” even though I don’t remember why. I haven’t seen him in 8 years so I am thrilled to be able to hug him, but my nerves are wracked. I feel anxious. I don’t feel welcome in America… I ask myself, Is any Black person? Hm.
We spend the rest of the day catching up and it’s great, but truly it takes me about 36 hours, including a 12 hour sleep, a root chakra meditation, a yoga video on YouTube, 3 plastic bottles of Nestle water(sigh), a plate of rice and a prayer to my grandmother to come down from the weird energy.
When I finally arrive (energetically), I have a blast in Kansas City. Ngosa and I talk childhood memories, we crack jokes in Lozi, we find great appreciation for Stella Artois and red wine, we laugh until it hurts. When I tell him (for the first time, because that’s how I decided to roll) that I want to go to Ferguson, he laughs. When he realizes I’m serious, he shakes his head and smiles.
After a moment, he says “I gotchu, Twinny. You don’t have to explain it to me. Let’s go to Ferguson.”