Monday, January 30, 2017

That One Time When I Was Detained at the Border

Yes, you heard me, a blue eyed blond haired (Clairol) woman of 60 or so was stopped at the border because I was covered totally so looked religious in some way. We had  lived through 9/11 and we had just gone to war with Iraq. If it hadn't been a little scary it would have been hilarious.

Me in the Alhambra (Generalife) with my long skirt on, 2003
I was back in 2003 and my husband and I were returning from Spain where we had been staying for close to a month. During that period of time the Spanish people had gone into full revolt after their PM supported the USA's invasion of Iraq and the United States actually carried out that plan to go to war over "weapons of mass destruction".

On the day before the invasion, a storm of biblical proportions crossed the Mediterranean and the world held it's breath. We watched waves wash restaurants built near the sand being fill with water. The next day it was March 20, 2003. The United States invaded.

Needless to say we were being careful what we did and what we said. We were no supporter of the fact I just couldn't imagine that it would happen. It seemed insane to me. I knew in my heart of hearts that chaos loves a vacuum and we were just about to create a very large vacuum.

In the meantime in our own little world we went about our Spanish life. We shopped for cheese and Spanish hamon, ate dinner at 9 pm and lived near the beach. It was idyllic in so many ways although, as with all things, nothing was perfect.

Our son and his wife came from Saudi Arabia where they worked to travel with us for 10 days. My passport had been stolen by a gypsy in Madrid or we would have returned with them. It was very hard to send our family back without us because we were fearful for what was about to happen next. 

As a side note, their compound and the school my son ran in Yanbu was attacked by terrorists later that that spring. But that is another story.

When we returned to the airport we found that the security that was tight after 9/11 was only more strict. Airports had become a wary place to be. Everyone was very watchful.

I might be noted that the Avian flu (H5N1) had raised it's ugly head in China that spring and facemasks were recommended if you were traveling through Vancouver. Vancouver was where it spread to first in North America. That only added another odd note to the trip.

We were asked if we had masks when we checked into our airline in Malaga. We returned to the United States through Great Britain and we entered the United States through Vancouver, BC.

I had been laying on the beach that morning because we had a late flight. Our luggage was in storage ready to be taken to the airport. I was carrying a large bag with a change of clothing and room for my swimwear to be taken home.

I changed my clothes in the rest room at a hotel for our flight. I donned the light linen jacket I had been wearing almost everyday for a month over a long skirt. I wore my ugly walking shoes. My straw hat did not fit in the carryon so I wore it. My carry on was a beach bag of sorts. Honestly, I did look like a clown but I was going home and I just didn't care. I suppose my hair was a mess and I don't remember putting on make-up.

When we arrived in Vancouver from the Mediterranean coast, it was April it was snowing. The Canadians were not that excited about how frigid the airport was and I was not dressed to sit in a cold waiting room for hours. So I bought a extra large sweatshirt in the airport and put it on over my light jacket and long skirt. I put my straw hat back on my head.

We were called for our flight and I walked calmly to the gate...ticket, passport, straw hat, sweatshirt, long skirt, ugly shoes and a beach bag in hand. The Border Control took one look at me and tried to decide which group of humans I belonged to. They were pretty sure I was up to something.

I was asked to remove the hat, sweatshirt, jacket, shoes. I may have been asked to lift my skirt but I don't remember that. They went through my beach bag and seearched my wet swimsuit and towel. My husband walked on ahead and only became aware that I wasn't right behind him when so much time passed. He was looking a tiny bit concerned when I finally arrived.

We have traveled all over the world since that day almost 14 years ago. Airports have gotten their act together and we all knew what to expect up until this last week. We will see what happens next. We are traveling to Mexico for two weeks soon. It will be interesting at least.

I am writing about this today because of current events. We all are very aware of the world's concerns but in the end we all think about how actions by our government will affect us personally. I cannot imagine that we aren't all going to be touched in some way by this latest turn of events.

Any thoughts or questions?



  1. Ah yes, you aren't the only lily white girl to be detained at the border. About 10 years ago, the Mr. and I took a driving trip down Baja. At the U.S. border we were detained for over 2 hours. They took our eggs, clearly marked in an egg container from a retailer in the states. We guessed they needed something to go with the bacon they took or were planning to take from the next detainee.

    1. Going to and from Mexico is a "crap shoot" in the most real way. A button is pressed and if the light turns red they go through your luggage. Otherwise you are good to go. Very strange!

  2. We'll be going to Mexico in a few months... at least I hope we can still travel freely after god knows what DT has planned. Who knows, maybe we'll just decide to stay there and not come home for four years.

    1. I will let you know. We have not had any problems up until now we will see. Our good will is being used up at the speed of light.

  3. I have been searched to my underwear - twice. First traveling from England to Ireland during the IRA wars. Each of us were escorted into rooms. I remember being down to my bra, undershirt and undies at 18.
    Second was traveling from Switzerland to Saudi. Escorted into a room and asked if I could be checked. I was asked to remove my top- but nothing else. I was briskly checked from the waist down. I had not used our diplomatic passports to check in.
    Both searches were very respectful. I understood their concern to keep their country/planes safe.
    My third, most memorable, time was trying to change planes in Turkey from Rome to Saudi. No Turkish visa- so the customs people would not let us out of the deplaning room. With diplomatic passports we were made to stay for several hours. They refused to call anyone for us (Me and my two elementary school children). They came and got us about 5 minutes before the plane was to depart. I have never been so relieved to go someplace where I was so suppressed.
    My husband has traveled with someone who was thrown out of Nepal for expressing their political views. We also had a friend thrown out of Saudi for walking at the market with a man she was not married to.
    Travel well, bring proper ID, dress appropriately and be thankful that we live in a pretty wonderful country. That is what I think.

    1. Yes we do live in a wonderful country...I agree. I have been laughing about this incident for 14 years almost. The poor border agents knew they needed to do something with me but they were just not sure what. I will have to admit that I looked like a baglady! :)

      I son and his wife are still in the Middle East and we just returned from a trip to Dubai and Jordan. The need for security is so high.

      I will not be dressing like a clown again. I found out that it does matter. But I do giggle when I think about it.

  4. We're going to Israel March 1-8 for a trip I've anticipated all my life. Since you have traveled more than I, do you have any tips? I can't decide if pants are okay to wear or if I should find a skirt like the one you're wearing. Thanks.

  5. This is not just with you, after 9-11 US Government have been doing this more often, If you are covered completely they assume that you are some kind of exterminator's really sad.


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