Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welcome Home

It was funny that the last person I talked to outside of the United States was Wes from Salt Lake City. A white, middle-aged financier who was ideologically to the right. A pro-capitalist. My virtual arch-nemesis had it been a year ago. But the one thing he disliked about his work was that he never got to see in person the change he made in people's lives. He eventually wanted to be a teacher, that and a football coach. "That would be perfect." The old me would have cut off the conversation. Before, I would have never found that out.

Because I had only carry-on bags, the baggage claim was our essential parting point. Since I could just go straight to the customs check, I decided to take down his email with the extra time. As I tried to approach the customs counter, a harsh voice barked, "Get back there!" I looked up to see a stoned-faced guard with a real "fuck-off" expression on his face pointing at me. I tried to explain that I didn't have any more bags before he interrupted by asking, "Can't you read?!" I must of hesitated because he soon viciously repeated, "Get the fuck back there!" I then saw the sign that read "Please Wait Until You're Called." I guess I was a bit thrown off. I mean I was coming from being treated like a human being in all these third-world barbaric countries, to arriving at one of the world's most civilized societies and being spoken to like an animal.

Of course he quickly directed me to be searched and I was greeted by yet another customs agent. She was nice enough. Asked me if I had gone to Antigua when I told her I started in Guatemala. But for about 20 minutes she entered something from my passport into a computer. When she finished, I simply asked if I could know what it was about. After some nervous glances, she told me, "It wasn't personal, it was just Top Secret." I couldn't know. I asked if I could at least have the name or number of the policy that allowed this. I felt as a born citizen, I had at least the right to that. Like day and night, her tone suddenly changed and asked in, as almost a threat, if I'd like to wait and see the supervisor, then added again that I couldn't know. Since it would have probably led to more trouble than it was worth, I decided to just let it be, thanked her, and went my way.

I went out and smoked a cigarette harder than I ever smoked in my life. It helped hold back the tears. Not tears because I felt discriminated (even though I was the ONLY one checked during the 30 minute search), but because all those old feelings of anger, hate, and vengeance began to surface again. I thought I had learned to leave those behind.

"Your security is our top priority." This is my country. The land of the free.

But on my way home, I sat next to a man from Leavenworth, Washington. I never got his name but it's what we talked about that was important. He worked odd jobs that forced him to frequently travel and was actually one of the first people I met that hated to leave home. He just wanted to be with his wife. Maybe he'd open a pizza parlor or a barber shop one day. He said, "People look for happiness in the wrong places. Sometimes it is right in front of them, in the simplest things." I appreciated that.

I had many emotions in me the last few hours of my journey but I think that last interaction happened for a reason. It taught me that even in the darkest places, there can still exist hope. After 17,885 cumulative hours of traveling, I finally stepped back into Seattle, and as we parted ways at the boarding gate, he shook my hand, smiled, and said, "Welcome home."

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