Everything was changed at the airports. Once bustling airports now have masks and distancing signs everywhere. Floors are marked with red circles to stand in. I saw many people at the Islamabad, Doha, Los Angeles and Phoenix airports who were traveling in complete PPE, the dress and gears I wore when I went to cover a COVID ICU in Islamabad. It all looked very strange and weird but I was happy to travel after a year of lockdowns and travel restrictions.
While inside the plane, passengers were supposed to wear masks and protective face shields at all times. Everything went smooth till LA. I was the first one to leave the plane and super excited to be the first one to finish with the immigration desk. But Lady Luck had planned differently!
So, the trouble began when I went to the Immigration desk. Two security officials came and told me they wanted more questioning and that I should also collect my luggage. I had two bags; one empty and one with few T-shirts, a pair of jeans, and shalwar qameez to show off my rich culture in Phoenix! And there were few other items which I now regretted to carry in my bags – a packet of powder milk, black tea, green tea herbs as a guy at the store told me every herb tastes different in different countries even if it looks same, a packet of cinnamon and a jar of mixed local pickles.
I pretended I was very calm and relax, but inside me there was a storm. I was thinking of all the series I had been binge watching and stories I had been reading about drugs and human trafficking. I felt everyone was staring at me, I was the girl in the movies, being walked away by two security officials in black coloured uniforms wearing strange set of tools around their belts.
I thought what if the security guys opened my bag and found powder milk they had never tasted in their life, what if it tasted like some drug? What if they, despite knowing it’s just milk for Pakistani tea, grew suspicious? What if they read the awkwardness on my face despite all my acting skills to hide it? What if they decide to send me back to Pakistan? What if a white security officer shot me dead – me a brown girl? Etc.
They finally asked me to place my bag on the table. That was it! My legs were trembling with fear and my heart was pounding like a blacksmith’s hammer in my chest and my pulse was racing like a freight train. What if they said “Open your bag”. They didn’t.
I was cursing myself for bringing powder milk and I was so upset thinking of being deported. In the meantime, officers kept asking different sort of questions about the Hubert H. Humphery Program and its funding. I answered their questions and showed my BBC employees’ card. It was then that I heard the security official say, “Ms, please go to the ‘RIGHT’ and take the exit, walk in the roadside corridor which will lead you to American Airlines desk to collect your boarding pass”.
I was blank, looking at him in utter disbelief.
That was it, I took my bag of kilos of milk and tea and almost ran away to the LEFT just like the girl in the Queen of South series I was watching before landing in the USA. It took me 30 more minutes to go back to the same place and walk to the RIGHT side!
I landed in Phoenix for a long period of isolation in a hotel room when my Covid result (negative) was lying silently in one online folder and I had been looking for it in another online folder!
Today, I, with rest of my fellows, have all settled down. Phoenix is a lovely city and so is the ASU. I am already enchanted by the street art and murals it boasts, but that I’ll share some other day!