I am on my way to visit Australia, invited to preset Comfort Aid International projects to various communities in Sydney and Melbourne. It is a long flight this, 14 hours and I am bushed by the time I land at Sydney airport. This is my second trip to Sydney in 18 years, the earlier one very brief of 2 nights and 3 days to attend a conference where I cannot remember doing anything useful. I did attend lots of luncheons and dinners and remember going around Sydney harbor and Opera House. I also remember staying at a super expensive hotel that was very good but not worth the money, but I was not paying the bill, my employer was so I can’t say it bothered me a lot. But I do remember feeling a little uneasy because the final bill was hefty indeed.
I clear immigration pretty quickly; the officer hardly seem awake with a bored expression on his face that perks up when he sees several Afghanistan visas stamps on my American passport. And what is your business in Afghanistan? He asks. None of yours, I feel the urge to respond but tell him I am building schools and orphanages. Welcome to Australia says he with a laud thump on my passport and I am through.
There is quite a long line for Customs however; I remember the dire warnings of consequences on the Customs Declaration Card for bringing raw fruits and or vegetables if caught. The women Customs officer who I hand my form to immediately tenses and gives me a hard, sharp look as soon as she looks at it. Come, come she croons in a throaty voice, come, follow me and leads the way towards the back. A discreet sign informs me I am entering a security restricted zone and talking on the cell phone or taking photos are acts punishable by various jail terms; I get the first inkling of dread.
We settle around an inspection table and she asks me to open my suitcase and laptop bag. What brings you to Australia? She asks with an obvious fake smile. Her badge says she’s Cathy and she isn’t pretty; pudgy with straining pant buttons and an ill fitting, tight Customs uniform. Her hair is unkempt and her breath emits noxious odor of stale cigarettes. Holiday, as I have stated in my Customs and Immigration card, I say. Yeah mate, I can read, she retorts. So why ask? I want to say but my keep my cheekiness in check and hold a straight face.
Now let me pause here and admit that I am an impatient person by nature; this has worked for and against me in life. What I cannot stand, however, is racism and stupid questioning by racist people in power who want to harass me. This piece of turd was a raciest out and out, she thought she had a possible “Muzlim terrorist” she could scalp and receive a promotion perhaps, who knows.
Anyway, I really lose my cool after about ten minutes of constant and nonsensical line of repeated questions. Why do you want to visit Sydney? She asks for the tenth time and I throw up my hands in disgust. Ma’am, I have already answered that question several times. I am here to visit Australia, as a tourist, the whole of Australia, including Sydney and Melbourne. Well, she shrugs, answer again, grinning, obviously enjoying my frustration. I do as she asks. Then she starts going through my belongings, piece by piece. Another lady, no name tag, excitedly joins Cathy as they sense a “prize” after they discover five SIM cards, one each for Afghanistan, India, UAE, USA and Reunion in my possession. They take my laptop, cell phone and SIM cards away; time passes and I get worried a little. I remember the case of the framed doctor who got trapped and falsely accused, imprisoned and tried by the Australians under Howard’s tenure, only to be acquitted later. I worry some more. Emirates Airlines driver who is to drive me to the hotel must think I did not make it and must be preparing to leave…
The duo return, aided by a man in a suit and tie, obviously a senior, who parks half a butt on the examining table and stares at me. The repeated line of questioning continues. I ask for a supervisor; I am told the seated man is a supervisor, a Peter something. Cathy continues questioning: Why Melbourne? Who will you see in Melbourne? Who else do you know in Australia? How do you know them? When did you know first? What are their names? Contact numbers? Address? What do you do? Why do you travel so much? Eh? What kind of a question is this, I wonder; very similar to one I was asked while passing through London to the US a few years ago. I smile. Is it a crime to travel the way I do in Australia? Silence. Tell me again what you do in Afghanistan, demands Cathy. I tell her; again, I help build schools, orphanages and hospitals. Yeah? Where do you get the money to do all this? I shine. From good people all over the world, maybe like you? Would you care to donate to one of my projects? If looks could kill, I would be set in Rigor Mortis long ago. Her chubby cheeks redden dark as she turns and walks off towards where the other two had disappeared some time ago.
She returns after about ten minutes and mercifully, stays mum, going through the rest of my suitcase, occasionally glancing at me sullenly; I sense resignation, defeat in her. I relax. These nuts have nothing on me and I have done nothing wrong; it was going to be all right. I want to pee badly and I ask if I could use a bathroom. Two male officers must accompany you to the bathroom, you cannot lock the door. You still want to use one? I decline and she breaks her sullen face into bitchy smile. After about another thirty minutes, the other women returns with my laptop and phone.
We are all done, she declares, you can pack up and leave. I do that and am about to wheel the cart out when she quips: Have fun in Australia. I stop, turn and look at them and feel sorry for their racist mindset. I restrain a very strong urge to say something very sarcastic and insulting but I bite my tongue and leave, only to find that my ride has indeed taken off.