Really, I felt sorry for her. Reading my passport just isn’t simple even if it is all in order. I entered as a tourist then extended and then overstayed my visa and then married and applied for residency. My Brazilian exit documents were the stuff that makes bureaucrats reach for the Tylenol. Which category did I fit in? A foreigner, but not your usual casual tourist finishing her trip, with an entry form that was severely outdated, it took her three trips from her customs station to her supervisor’s desk to figure out which forms to complete with me, which stamps to use. I’m happy to say that when it was all said and done I got permission to re-enter using the “Brazilians” line, instead of “Foreigners.” I’m giddy at this development, my friends. When you’re making a new place your home away from home, it’s the little things.
On the other side with a seven hour layover before me, I leisurely meandered my way through the U.S. Customs checkpoint. My Brazilian compatriots were filling the ropes labelled “Visitors”. I perused the signage, and unable to see one that said “Citizens” I asked an official where I should go. He quickly moved me to the front of a line of Chinese travelers. The sign said “Asian Sector Processing.” But, but….Thank you, I guess. Are you sure? I’m in no hurry; wouldn’t it be fairer to them if I just wait? The official was hearing none of it, and with little conversation Mr. Strong N. Silent plunked me at the front of the line and went back to his post.
Once they learned I was a citizen they quickly waved me through, and despite my embarrassment at being a Grade-A Line-Cutter I grinned excitedly at my very first “Welcome Back, Ma’am.” We made small talk and there were a few surprised and pleased smiles at my story of marrying a Brazilian farmer. A few more raised eyebrows at the numerous checkmarks in the wrong boxes (Got food? Are you kidding me–of course I do. Been in an area with livestock? yep. Had direct contact with caring for them? Direct contact with soil? Uhm, does cleaning out the corral count as direct?), and with a few clucks of their tongue they directed me along the green line into the comfy waiting area of the Agricultural Control section. Oops. At least I didn’t pack Francisco’s homemade cheese.
A very kind Customs officer offered to scrub the any traces of cow poo off my shoes. As I waited I watched almost the entire line of travelers from Beijing that I had skipped over file in behind me. Finally the saaviness of my strong, silent border buddy revealed itself. Their bags were opened and all sorts of crazy foodstuffs and agricultural products emerged. Confusing conversations ensued involving lots of gestures and pointing. By the time my slightly damp, throughly sanitized, and sparkling clean shoes were returned to me, the room was filling, and bag contents were everywhere. The x-ray tech had his hands full instructing them to remove belts and shoes. Grandmas waved their hands over their heads in positions that looked more like Tai Chi stances than search postures. Travelers confusedly wandered between lines and ping-ponged back and forth between officials as they earnestly tried to comply with the rules. As I surfed ahead of the wave, controlled mayhem spread behind me.
“Whenever I see a flight from Beijing,” I overheard an off-duty flight attendant confessing to a coworker, “I always run to beat the line. See that room? It’s filling up, and the flight isn’t even completely unloaded yet.”
Thank you to kindly bureaucrats that actually have my best interests in mind. They’re a rare breed and invaluable. And hey–Dear Mr. Strong N. Silent, if you ever need a favor…I’ve got your back.