Sunday, 26 December 2010

Joy to the World

I’m relieved to report, outside of being both scanned and patted down TWICE in one day, that my trip home on the 21 & 22 December was reasonably trouble-free. Apparently LAX was so busy that my flight had to tour the Big Bear area before being allowed to land, then we had to idle on the taxiway for several minutes until a gate was vacated.

The Amsterdam security people were NOT nice like they were three weeks before and were porno-scanning EVERYONE without exception (which is probably the fairest way to subject people to search without probable cause). This is likely due to the latest terror threats and the high volume of holiday travelers.

The TSA people in Memphis were the most cordial of those I’ve encountered so far in the US, and they were also routing everyone without exception through the porno scanners. The female agent who moshed my lady bumps and said my corduroy shirt with metal snaps and the way my shirt underneath wrinkled up made the scan look suspicious. In Amsterdam they’d just moshed my bumps (and more thoroughly) without comment. If every air traveler gets scanned without exception, I have less problem with it, although I must say that getting used to being nuked and groped makes it seem normal, which is likely the effect that governments prefer. Easier for the shepherds and the sheeple. I also wonder about the after-effects of two x-ray exposures in one day and how this affects frequent fliers. It’s unusual for me to fly often, but I don’t even let my dentist take as many x-rays as dentists like to take!

Everyone on the flight from Nairobi had to produce passports in Amsterdam just to get INSIDE the airport. So we grumbled in many languages and shivered in the cold tube at the gate (10 F), babies wailing, while officials pored over our papers. They quietly led away one African girl with an American passport after probing it with a jeweler’s lens. Apparently there’s some passport forging going on in Kenya – or sharing of passports by similar -looking people, which I heard later is not an uncommon practice. Perhaps Amsterdam doesn’t trust security in Nairobi either, where I didn’t t get scanned or patted down because they don’t have porno scanners yet, but do have regular metal detectors and x-ray conveyors at every terminal door just to get inside the airport. I think most people don’t bother going in if they’re not flying, or maybe are not even allowed inside. Then you do a second check at your flight gate. Sometimes they pat people down – one of our SLS group was patted down at the tiny airport near Lamu Island, but patting down doesn’t happen nearly as often as in the US and the EU.

To get on the flight TO Memphis FROM Amsterdam, every passenger was allowed into the flight gate one person at a time, with the ropes shut again after each entry. Agents conducted personal interviews before allowing passengers through the metal detectors and scanners. I’d not experienced any personal interviewing before a flight, just during the standard Customs interviews upon entering a foreign county or returning to the States. Agents want you to assure them that you’ve packed your own luggage and that no one’s had an opportunity to tamper with it. They examine the new luggage claim tags that they affix to your e-boarding passes closely. They want to know what electronic items you’re carrying. I’m told that’s a standard procedure for everyone, everywhere, but I never experienced this during my flight to the UK last fall or from the UK this fall.

I was also singled out at the gate in Memphis AFTER retrieving and re-checking luggage and going through the customs interview. They called me to the counter during the early boarding and I had to show my passport again though I was on homeland and was given a new boarding pass even though I already had one printed in Amsterdam. I felt as if tabs were kept on me at all times. Visiting Nairobi in particular and Kenya in general is suspect and seems to cause all manner of alarm and suspicion. My entry interview at customs was longer than some people’s. I saw a couple in Memphis with old Nairobi tags on their luggage as we came in and wondered if they experienced the same thing.

There was also much more concern about liquids in Amsterdam than three weeks before. There were frequent announcements about the 3-oz bottle limits over loudspeakers throughout my 7-hour layover. The fun part was meeting my daughter Puja’s flight from the US – she’s spending the holidays in Wales and our paths fortuitously crossed in Amsterdam! She was quite a bit more interested in helping the cute guy from Zurich find his gate and in calling the cute boy waiting for her in Wales than in talking to mom, though!

There was an annoying / reassuring – ? – number of armed security people cruising the Amsterdam and the Memphis airports (which, by the way, is filled with the mouth-watering scent of barbecue and soul food). In Kenya, you see too-young, skinny soldiers with AK-47s wandering about, sometimes even on the streets, but dapper-looking, older airport police carry only brass-tipped canes, no heat.

The flight to LAX seemed to take only about 15 minutes because even though I usually can’t sleep on flights and squirm in my uncomfortable economy seat like a toddler, I was dead to the world the entire time. No wonder, as the coming home process took 48 hours in real time even though it appears to take only 24 as you gain time flying westward.

In the throes of this time-warp, all I have to say is, “joy to the world because it sure needs some!”

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