I never knew that a bottle of Tylenol had the power to terrify the living daylights out of you but if they are in a hand sheathed in blue rubber glove along with your passport, even the bravest of all would tremble a little.
I have heard stories about racial profiling before but it was the first time I actually encountered it. I flew in Netherlands last week and suffered one indignity after another at Schiphol airport. I was the only desi person in the non EU passport line. When I presented my passport, the immigration officer asked me to step aside and disappeared with my passport. All other people in the lane were Americans who were breezed through the immigration. After about 15 minutes, the immigration officer returned with my passport and asked me one gallactically stupid question after another. I think there is a universal code that every government will hire the dumbest people to work at the immigration counters. After a while I was so pissed that I told him that I will not respond to any of his inane question because his country’s embassy has cleared my visa, if he has issues he should refuse me entry and inform my hosts that he was unable to do so on whatever grounds and I will take the first flight back. I think he has had his fun with me so he decided to stamp my passport and let me go. He obviously was not threatened by my outburst.
After getting my luggage, I was passing through the green channel thinking that my ordeal was over when a policewoman stopped me and asked me if I had anything to declare. I told her that I had nothing and started dragging my suitcase when she put her hand on my arm and asked to come into an area where there were a few other people – all Asians, from Jordanians to Indonesians to Sri Lankans – standing with the contents of their suit cases wide open sporting harassed looks. She asked me to put my suitcase on the counter and open it. In that split second I realize how humiliating it is for an adult to realize that the other person, especially an authority figure, is not willing to believe his or her word. I opened my suitcase and she wore those dreaded blue gloves and looked through my stuff. Even while she was going through the my luggage I had this look about me which said that you are making me go through this tribulation but I am clean and you are just wasting my time when she got hold of a packet and asked me what is inside. Call me a typical desi paindoo, but I do travel with tea bags if I know that I would be away from home for longer than two weeks. In that pack, I had my tea bags and a bottle of Tylenol, an over the counter painkiller. She asked me to give her my passport and disappeared again with the bottle of Tylenol, teabags and my passport to check if these items are allowed to pass through the customs. I wanted to scream – hello, this is Amsterdam, the weed capitol of the world. People would want to take stuff out of the country, not bring it in by putting it in teabags. She was only gone for 5 minutes and she did apologize for putting me through all the trouble and helped me pack everything back, but the experience was extremely traumatic and those 5 minutes that I waited for my passport were perhaps the longest five minutes of my life.
I have travelled to Netherlands a few times in the past and immigration was always swift and efficient. I don’t know if I should blame the increasing paranoia in Europe against the Muslims for it or crazy people like the good ol’ panty bomber, the Nigerian who attempted to detonate an explosive in his underpants, on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day from Amsterdam for the special treatment that I got, but I do know that I am not the same person any longer. Once you experience that kind of fear, something inside you dies. Suffering indignity is definitely more harmful than facing a bullet, the harm is more long lasting.