01 February 2014


I am on the move again! I am currently three hours into my 31-hour journey from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., to Port Morseby, Papua New Guinea, by way of Tokyo-Narita, Japan and Toronto, Canada, where I am currently enjoying the best airport experiences of my life.

Walking from the loud, buzzing and vibrating beast of a Dash-8 with a maple leaf on the tail, I traveled down two very long hallways, up two long flights of stairs, warm and fuzzy Uggs on my feet and carrying two travel bags loaded with overnight clothes, fresh clothes, entertainment options and more snacks than one person without kids should have in a diaper bag (yes, I actually have a diaper bag that I use for travel – genius).

I met the customs agent without pause, a very nice man who actually knew that Papua New Guinea is a place where famous people get hacked to pieces. He completed my positive experience with customs and U.S. TSA agents; my TSA experience was much more positive since I recently became a member of the Global Entry club that allows me to use the TSA pre-check lane. In and out!

This experience is in absolute contrast to my security experience leaving Israel in October. I wrote about my experience leaving Bangkok, which was an adventure itself, but my experience leaving was even more outrageous.

Before I packed up and checked out of my hotel, I called a taxi man named Solomon to see if he would be available to take me to the airport that evening. Sol was my driver when I left our hotel on the beach for a more modern, artsy boutique hotel in a more interesting neighborhood when Paul left town. He was very kind and we had great conversation so I asked for his card when we parted.

He was overjoyed that I had remembered him and called him for my airport transport. In order to show his gratitude, he offered me a gift when he arrived at my hotel. As my bags were loaded into the trunk, I popped into the back seat. When he entered the front, he told me how surprised he was to receive my call and how much he appreciated the business. Then, he handed me a grapefruit.

“This is from a tree in my yard; a small token to say ‘thank you.’”

How kind! I thought, then thought about how this gift would go over with the very friendly security officers who awaited.

As I approached the first grim-faced woman who obviously hated me from the start, I began the interrogation. Yes, I was traveling alone even though my husband was with me for part of the trip. No, I did not know or stay with anyone in Israel. Yes, I had been to other countries that contain Muslim people. No, I did not know anyone in any of those countries.

When she asked if anyone had handled my luggage, I replied, “My taxi driver,” and I received the stink eye.

“Has anyone given you anything that you did not originally have in your possession?” she asked. Here we go.

“Yes,” I said, going for full disclosure. “My taxi driver gave me a grapefruit.”

“Why would he give you a grapefruit?”

“I don’t know. I guess to be nice. I requested his service and he was grateful so he gave me a gift in appreciation.”

“I don’t understand. You don’t know this guy?”

“No, not really. He was my driver earlier in the week.”

She scribbled some Hebrew on a neon green sticker, circled a secret numbered code and stuck the sticker on one of my bags. When I approached the next section, a man saw the secret codes on the sticker and proceeded to treat me as a hostile terrorist.

I was asked questions, my bags were inspected but not opened and, because of the code, I was sent for some additional screening in another area. By the way, I have not yet made my way to the ticket counter – I first have to pass through three security sections, then the ticket counter, then the actual security checks on the other side of the wall.

I approached the checkout counter in the third security area and was instructed to go to cashier number 6. I wheeled my suitcase over and was instructed to place my roughly 50-pound bag on the counter at hip level without any assistance from the angry man I had met when he was previously called to come interrogate me.

I placed my bag on the counter and placed my carry-on bag and my purse on the chairs behind me because for some reason, those bags were not needed. The man opened my bag and, for the next 25 minutes, three people took turns opening my bag, sifting through everything that I had so intricately packed and organized, messing up everything, opening up containers and, miraculously, not driving me nuts.

I smiled and even chuckled at one point when the officer opened up a brand new container of bath salts to test the material inside. I may have even rolled my eyes because I knew they were not going to find anything. They opened the compartment containing my dirty clothes and again prodded through every inch, picked up clothing, sifted through my dirty underwear and swiped my bag for potential explosive residue.

After nearly 10 minutes, I walked away and sat down next to my carryon luggage and just waited patiently. This process of deliberately putting all of my belongings into a state of disarray should have annoyed me, aggravated me or made me impatient but it didn’t at all. I just sat there and watched as someone tore apart my personal items.

Had I known that they would eventually unpack all that I had packed earlier in the day, I would have just shown up at the airport with my dirty clothes in a garbage bag and my personal items and gifts in dirty laundry bags. I could have helped the security people by just dumping everything onto the counter so that they could sift as they pleased and then I could take the time to pack once they had finished. I can be helpful.

When, alas, they had found nothing, the head officer, annoyed, told me I was in the clear. Since he took his time taking apart everything I had so attentively placed in a specific position, I decided to take as much time I my OCD personality needed to put it all back together.

Apparently I wasn’t working quickly enough because he asked if I wanted some help. “No,” I replied with a genuine smile. “I will take care of it.”

So I patiently refolded my clothes, reorganized my toiletries inside a shoebox, repositioned the gifts purchased for friends and family members and straightened out everything to closely resemble its original position. When I finished, I grabbed my bags and moved on to the finish line: the ticket counter. The man who unorganized my suitcase escorted me over, obviously annoyed that I had taken so long.

Once I was in the clear, I headed to the actual security line where I was, of course, flagged and instructed to go into another secret security clearance area behind a wall where this time my carry-on items were displaced, sorted through, tested for explosives and, again, I needed to put them all back together once I was deemed clean.

This morning I encountered helpful people who smiled at me and welcomed me into the security area, offering me a newly-opened lane for my two bags and three plastic bins. No one sorted through my items; no one searched me.

Here in Canada, I am in love with my gate. Walking into the international area, I was first on the second level, looking down at all of the great food that awaited downstairs. I saw Tim Horton’s next to what looked to be an amazing burger restaurant. My stomach growled as I kept thinking “almost there, almost there…need some food….I can see it…Just a few more hundred meters.”

When I came down the escalator, I felt like a goldfish trapped inside the glass bowl. All of the good restaurants were behind a glass wall and I was not allowed to enter. Sheer disappointment overwhelmed my entire being.

I realized I needed to follow a different path, so I walked through the art feature and looked around for restaurants. I found instead unnamed cafes lining the windowed wall overlooking the runway. All of the tables had modern off-white chairs, power outlets on the tables, iPads for ordering; there was a bar at my gate and a smiling young man behind the bar offered me the espresso-filled coffee selections he said he noticed I needed. I had found Canada’s piece of heaven.

I sat down as he began making my cappuccino and began to relax a minute, gathering my thoughts. He came with my cappuccino in hand and suddenly turned into my personal food and beverage shopper. He walked me through the iPad menu, talked to me about my options and then sent everything through. He informed me that Justin Bieber had apparently been arrested for the second time in the last 48 hours and that even though Americans have petitions to deport Bieber to his country up north, the Canadians apparently don’t want him back.

I sat down an hour ago and I do not plan to move for the next two hours when my plane boards. I mean, I only have to go 10 feet. T-minus 28 hours to home. 

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