Train stations, airport terminals, subway stops: soulless spaces full of distracted, stressed zombies, or magical sets for fleeting, interlocking human stories?
I consider myself a happy camper especially when it comes to traveling. But I don’t like packing, mostly doing it the night before, that’s why I never achieved to become a “light traveler” and it never works for me to not have extra clothes, shoes and other personal stuffs.
I love being in a nice new place and I don’t mind going back to places I’ve been especially if it has the fondest memories (like a ❤ lost).
But there are times when you can be a victim of not so good experience — that made a mark on me and shocked me to realize that racial profiling really does happen, it happened to me.
Called out of the line
I was traveling home from West Africa via Heathrow airport in London. The flight would be long and I was happy to not have long lay over but have enough time to navigate that vast space with lots of distractions. I didn’t carry that much luggage and my hand carry was just my medium backpack and computer (which back then were not as light as a feather as we have now).
I am never a fan of power dressing when traveling but I don’t dress shabbily too, never. I maintain a certain standard that I thought was more for comfort than for style.
I was wearing my rugged faded jeans loosely hanging on my waist without a belt, folded off the seams so it doesn’t touch the toilet floor either in the plane or anywhere public;
then was wearing cotton tee-shirt under a pink cotton front zipper sweater with a hoodie;
and for foot wear I can’t travel without my loyal Birkenstocks
I very much fit the Seven Things You Should Always Wear On A Plane. But of course compared to the other passenger, I am plain.
When the plane landed in Heathrow airport, and we made our way out to the immigration, I was called out from the line by one airport ground crew (of certain decent but not English). No explanations given. He was the same height as me (smallish) and looking not so happy (grumpy). Asked for and looking in my passport, by that time was two layer because I had some visa in the old and my Sierra Leone visa was in the new one, flicked through and started asking me questions — which at that time I did mind considering what I know about such incidents and the nature of my work — or maybe not.
But the manner of asking and the way the ground crew was looking at me was condescending, insinuating something, trying to goad me or maybe to scare me, which would never happen knowing I didn’t do anything wrong. I also noticed that among the hundreds of passengers that exited that door, I was the only one called out and scrutinized — NO FAIR!
Where are you from? he asked.
I answered referring to my passport which he was flicking like it’s a paperback (almost wanting to be sarcastic but I controlled myself)
Where are you going? asked again, sounding irritated.
What did you do in Sierra Leone?
Work.Check my passport.
Are you with other people?
Sighing. Still not smiling. I was waiting for the clincher question but it never came — he let me go.
I was hoping he would ask for my number and e-mail and I’d be more than happy to give him but he didn’t ask … too bad.
As I moved along to get to my transit station for the connecting flight — good thing I have enough time, I was thinking …
why was I called from the line? was I profiled? was it random? but why only me?
I never of course found the answers to my questions but then I realized, anyone can be racially profiled even without provocation.
The smaller our world gets the more paranoid we become of the people next to us in planes, bus, trains and even the cars driving next to us. It happened post 9/11, people become distrustful and profiling become more rampant to the point of abuse.
The time it happened to me, check in time for international flight became 3 hours (or more) instead of 2 hours to accommodate all the checks and the reason I wear loose-fitting clothes and slippers was to avoid undressing in public. The only metal object I have with me all the time was my ring rosary on my middle finger and toe rings on my left toes and the wires in my bras. I can easily slip through the x-ray, never causing line build-up.
The world become xenophobic but globalization is inevitable. There’s no stopping people from moving everywhere — we are such a mobile world that in spite of the dangers, threat to the environment and rising costs we find ourselves getting on any way to any moving transport to bring us to the next destination.