When time is not an issue, I typically book the cheapest ticket from A > B. I actually quite like being in transit, as it feels like a private time when nobody can expect to reach you and the world expects nothing of you. Anything that you accomplish is a bonus. That being said, this particular journey was a bit excessive. It always baffles me how the cheapest ticket can have you flying over your final destination at the midpoint of one of your flight’s arc. In any case I’d never set foot in the Middle East until I had a layer over in Abu Dhabi, and I was glad to take a walk outside the airport in Berlin (my first time on European soil!)
The vast majority of the trip was spent sleeping, reading, and watching movies, but I think two things are worth sharing. The first noteworthy event was running into a classmate in Abu Dhabi. We shared a table and wifi at the ABU McDonalds, and chatted about the term in Rome ahead of us. Small world. The second event took place in Berlin as I walked through the security line. First of all, there was no line. Having waited for over an hour to wade through security in Seattle, this felt rather remarkable. The 7 or so security personal were jovial and were excitedly discussing the small child ahead of me in line. When my bag went through the scanner, the attention of several attendants was evidently redirected. Apparently my arm and hammer toothpaste, which had been through five airports with me, was a bit too much gel-like substance for them. The lady kindly told me not to do it again, and I thought that was that. I grabbed my bags and made for my gate, when another officer asked me to come with her. We walked towards a separate room and I begin to get a bit nervous as she took out a pair of blue, latex gloves.
I was asked to put my bags on a counter and open each of them. She produced a small swab and traced the outline of each opening in the bags (I like lots of pockets, so this took some doing.) She then fed the swab into a machine, which in turn produced a series of beeps. Looking up at me she simply stated, “oh, alarm.” She asked a guard to join us in the room as she proceeded to repeat the test. I should have been getting pretty concerned, but something about the demeanor of the officers put me at ease. The guard was affable and even smiled as he explained that my bags had tested positive for explosive residue. (WTF?) A few moments later the machine finished its second test, and no beeps. They both smiled and the guard said, “That’s all! Have a great flight!”. What?
Confused, I left the room and continued to my gate. I was less concerned with the particulars of why my bag was flagged and more concerned with the way I had been treated. Throughout the whole process, everyone was calm, kind, and smiling. The subtle act of being chill had a profound impact on my experience and perspective throughout the ordeal. It made me think about the countless accounts of officers not being mindful of their manor, or worse, being aggressive and inflammatory, and what it must be like to experience TSA during your first trip to America. Second, it made me think about my incredible privilege as a white, blonde, man in the situation. Have arrived on a flight from the Abu Dhabi, I wonder how I would have been treated if I were anything other than blue-eyed and blonde. On a side note, I want to mention how impactful Joyce has been on this aspect of my life over the past year and half. It is wonderful to have a partner who challenges my worldview and endeavors to continually broaden my perspective of how I fit into the world around me.
From the front door of the airport in Shanghai to my hostel bed in Rome, I spent 36 hours in transit. Next time I’ll pack more socks.
A good reminder. Time to decompress.
If you’re going to sit in a terminal for 9 hours, it helps if it is fun to look at. I think you would call these lenticular trusses. Far out roof!
I tiny glimpse into a culture almost entirely foreign to me. Abu Dhabi airport.
First meal in Europe. TXL
Exhausted and carrying all of my worldly possessions on my back, I endevoured to keep my camera tucked away on my walk from the train station to the hostel. I had to take at least one… Roma!